Rooms with a view

"Rooms with a view", evokes not only the film of the same name, but also the magic of a domestic, landscaped setting. It is in this poetic, yet functional, spirit that the architects imagined their project for the LEGTA (Agricultural Technological and General High School) boarding house in Saint-Genis Laval.

The need to comply with very stringent energy standards (BEPAS[1]) increased the complexity of the project’s starting point which was to provide an appropriate architectural solution for an imposing programme, which would fit into an agricultural landscape and organise the relationship with the existing buildings. A co-educational 96-bed boarding house with communal areas (common room, study rooms and staff housing) in addition to the teaching facilities (250 pupils) composed of several heterogeneous entities, located on the Coin estate, 12 kilometres from Lyon.

*A Room with a View, James Ivory, 1986

The last piece of an architectural puzzle
The project has had to fit into a very heterogeneous setting with the different structures built over time to meet the growing needs. On the Coin agricultural estate which covers 75,000 m2, the old farm with its characteristic manor house features was extended in the 1970s with a second set of buildings built in the style of time to house the teaching facilities and dining room. Twenty years later the agro-food research laboratories, resembling industrial premises, were built on the outer boundaries of the plot.

In terms of the landscaping, the hilly topography offers a number of viewpoints looking out across the surrounding countryside, taking in the Monts du Lyonnais, the Pilat, and the Rhône valley. The rural nature of the setting is still pre-dominant, with orchards and remarkable woodland spaces, but the surrounding urban housing estates are gradually getting nearer.

In this context, the boarding house can be viewed as the last piece of an architectural puzzle. It both brings together the different components and reveals their true nature. It is the final full stop, organising the space and landscape, guiding the resident and the user.

An urban response
In order to meet the dual challenge posed by a dense programme covering 2,000 m2 in a rural setting which needs to interact with the original building, the designers decided to divide the project into three structures and to simultaneously reorganise the outside spaces.

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Two new buildings, facing east to west, act as the backdrop. Converging slightly, they form an angle with the manor house around a levelled off contemplation garden. The boarding house on the second floor dominates the architectural grouping. It accommodates the bedrooms and support services and extends to the west with the staff housing and technical rooms. The common room on the ground floor benefits from the advantages of all four aspects and frames the square formed by the high school. The main entrance, reception area and common room are all located in this part of the programme. At a right angle a second volume outlines a clear, simple outcrop which organises the vertical accesses, the study rooms, and the service rooms. An old hangar with golden stone pillars has been renovated to form a covered courtyard. Sheltered, but still open, it closes off and confirms the status of the central square around which the rest of the programme is built.

The overall layout uses a rift effect to treat the interface between the old and new buildings which takes the form of an old pedestrian alleyway which is used to access the service spaces for the project: student parking and staff housing. The walkways and staircases are absolutely crucial to the project. They benefit from lots of natural light and differentiated views. The bay windows in the boarding house are north-facing and positioned at different heights which allows for natural smoke control and offers views over the orchards.

Garden courtyards
The project is built across three stratified buildings, freeing up space in the gaps for tiny garden courtyards. The scale of these miniature landscaped spaces contrasts with the wide sweeping countryside surrounding the project.

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The patio between the common room and boarding house has been made into a contemplation garden. Inaccessible, it helps with the thermal regulation of the building during warm weather and offers lyrical views from the bedrooms or common room. The ground surfaces are joined together like a patchwork carpet, moving between plant and mineral surfaces, taking care to remain natural and permeable: quartzite cobbles, wooden terraces, alleyways, the square, the main avenue, the orchard etc.

High-performance buildings
The environmental approach was front and centre of the whole project and influenced all other concerns. One decisive factor was the aspect: all the bedrooms are south facing to make the most of the sunlight that is so vital, with shades used to ensure maximum comfort in the summer months. The rooms all have views of the square and the garden whilst the hallways and staircases on the north-facing side of the building enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The dual-aspect common room which has openings to the north and the south means this interior space offers maximum comfort.

The payoff for complying with the need to keep the project compact in order to meet the performance targets resides in the grouping and layering of the programmes and the easy access between spaces.

Adapted construction systems
As regards the structure, two different protocols were used according to where they performed best. The common room used a wooden structure, constructed from glulam portal frames on a concrete foundation and slab. The boarding house is composed of a concrete column-beam system with load-bearing facades, filled with a wooden framework.

The interplay between the horizontal and vertical boards creates a kind of topsy-turvy effect between the north and south facades. Facing opposite each other they create two complementary feels. To the south the slatted facade with vertical boards placed at variable intervals is highlighted with the coloured rain barrier and the spacing of the openings.

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To the north and on the east and west gables, the horizontality is emphasised by the horizontal cladding and the strip windows at varying heights. The roof of the common room is also covered with boards used this time on the roof, notably to preserve the beauty of the views from the boarding house.

Rooms with a view
Splitting the project over three buildings gave the project a certain functionality and improved efficiency. This is notably true for the bedrooms, the mainstay of the boarding house, which are housed in a separate building accommodating one hundred high school students. Each 30 m2 unit is designed for three people and contains three beds, separate wardrobes, individual aligned desks and a bathroom with a shower and two wash basins.

This unity aims to create a feeling of domestic harmony which allows each person their own privacy in a pleasant shared space. Every last detail has been thought out to optimise the use of space and enhance the user-friendliness of the communal areas. The essential features have been carefully preserved and the architects have worked hard to include details which create a sense of family living, including components that can be customised by each individual, such as the curtains and bookshelves. These bedrooms are protected, welcoming spaces in which community and individuality coexist.

[1] A BEPAS (Passive Energy Building) meets the following energy efficiency criteria: heating energy requirements of less than 15 kWh/m² per year ; improved sealing to reduce heat loss ; total energy consumption must not exceed 120 kWh/m² per year. BEPAS also complies with the French RT2012 thermal regulation requiring a maximum energy consumption of 50 kWh/m²/year

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