26.3.2009

Addition to the Centre for Contemporary Archives, Fontainebleau 77, France

This addition to the Centre for Contemporary Archives is the result of an immediate need for 28 km of archival storage while waiting for the opening of the National Archives in Pierrefitte. The objectives were clear: build it fast and inexpensively.

Located in the forest of Fontainebleau, the site is a combination of undulating terrain, water-sculpted rock formations and gnarled ancient trees. The project itself is a contrast to this with its uncompromising Cartesian form – a rational minimisation of footprint and response to programme that resulted in a rectangular prism of 32 x 64 x 9 metres. From a distance the building acts as solid background to the fluidity of the terrain. As one approaches the building, however, ones impression changes. The skin of the building starts to dissolve and become blurred, folding into the landscape and suggesting a dynamic and cinematic quality. A moiré effect occurs between the overlapping layers of earth coloured perforated steel and vibrant green corrugated sheeting, resulting in a surface of constantly changing tones and patterns with incidental reflections of the sky and surroundings. The facade itself consists of a prefabricated concrete structure, insulation, corrugated cladding and perforated steel sheeting, with each layer having its own pattern of openings to allow for ventilation and external lighting. These openings randomly overlap and obscure each other, providing a thickness and complexity to the facade. They suggest that there is an overall pattern but then frustrate the user by never revealing one. Also, their varying sizes do not correspond with traditional human-height openings and hence remove from the façade any apparent scale, making the building even harder to instantly comprehend. What seemed simple from a distance poses more and more questions as one approaches. Finally, this fluidity is reflected internally in a monochromatic world of moving bands of magenta and white. These bands of varying lengths break up the main hallways and mark storage facilities, acting as way-finders and landmarks. Through superimposition, reflection and materiality, the building plays a game of blurring its tangible limits within the poetry of its landscape; a game of perception and comprehension that positions the work happily on the border between art and industrial architecture.

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