The structural concrete frame is not the most eye-catching thing about the new Youth Center and Sports Complex in Saint-Cloud, France. The three-story fun palace designed by Paris-based KOZ Architects happens to be, well, colorful in the extreme. But it is the load-bearing concrete panel system that allows the building to read as a rainbow of vibrating color fields.
Prefabricated in Normandy, the panels are 8 inches thick. Their deep brown hue and textural grain evoke wood–a material that the architects originally wanted to use as cladding, but abandoned in order to improve fireproofing and acoustical performance.
The 17,000-square-foot, $5.75 million recreation center was KOZ’s first project in prefab concrete; everything had to be flawlessly planned and drawn in advance, with little scope for making adjustments later. Only the largest interior columns were poured on site. Despite significant challenges, partners Christophe Ouhayoun and Nicolas Ziesel say they would use the panel system again. “The production aspect is perfect,” says Ouhayoun.
The goals of the project were to provide large, wide-open spaces; to separate the adolescent sports area from the children’s play area; and to fit both programs on a tight lot. Commissioned by way of a public competition, KOZ was determined to do something more inventive than a typical box. The result, says Ouhayoun, surprised this well-to-do community outside Paris “like a revolution.”
Other than the riotous use of color, the design is highly rational. Interlocking spaces are carefully configured to maximize usable area. The volume containing the stacked 49-by-72-foot athletic court and multipurpose space rises to the maximum permitted height. Giving shape to the semi-autonomous activity areas, large cut-outs funnel daylight into the box. Colors on the interior walls index the program: Red for the main gym and studio, yellow for circulation and skylights, and green for the climbing wall.
Load-bearing concrete panels were an alternative to a steel-frame structure with some form of cladding. While most of the panels are more than 12 feet high, those along the prominent gymnasium elevation are a whopping 26 feet high, creating a more monolithic surface. Exterior-facing panels surrounding the street elevation do not carry any structural load, but visually accentuate the frame as a continuous ribbon. This clear articulation allows the glazed inner volumes, by contrast, to dematerialize into voids of pure color.
Although the curtain wall may look like the vitrine of a candy shop at certain times of day, its detailing is straightforward. Glass panels are fixed to an aluminum frame, which is bolted to the concrete structure.
Inside, circulation space is conceived as play space. Triple-wide corridors extend an invitation for spontaneous activity. Leading to an open roof deck, one of these passage-spaces resembles a Corbusian ramp. But the Villa Savoye was never so much fun.