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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

La Passerelle in Trévoux, France by Pierre Vurpas et Associés Architectes

January 25th, 2014 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Pierre Vurpas et Associés Architectes

The project enhances the historical building of the Trévoux hospital, located on the old ramparts. It has been built on the site of the former annexes and outbuildings.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

  • Architects: Pierre Vurpas et Associés Architectes
  • Project: La Passerelle
  • Location: Trévoux, France
  • Photography: Studio Erick Saillet, Pierre Vurpas
  • Client: Communauté de communes Saône Vallée (CCSV)
  • Project Manager: Pierre VURPAS et Associés Architectes
  • Structural engineering: Tecbat
  • Cost of work: Demolition, asbestos removal,
  • Works: €4.7 million ex. VAT
  • Furnishings, scenography, signing: €470,000 ex. VAT
  • Surface area: 2,800 m2 net surface area (including 1,150 for renovation and 1,650 extension)
  • Total useable area: 2,000 m2

Image Courtesy © Pierre Vurpas

A stone pebble cut like a diamond, a mineral forecourt that reaches out to draw in passers-by, a glass façade like an ever-changing skyscape, gilded like copper, words from the old French dictionary engraved into the glass panels, illuminated by curtains of woven metal: La Passerelle, a new cultural space for Trévoux, slots into the gap next to the hospital like a missing piece of the puzzle creating a perfect blend of history and contemporary architecture.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

The programme is inspired by the town’s rich literary and architectural heritage, creating a forum for education, culture and sharing which brings together a music school, a multi-media library, a CIAP (architecture and heritage centre), an old pharmacy, an exhibition hall, and a multipurpose room fitted out as a cinema.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

The challenge for the design team was to produce a contemporary facility that would be open to the town and today’s world, on an exceptional site. Through a radical, yet gentle, confrontation this project makes the history of this town on the banks of the river Saone visible for all to see.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

Tuning into a place and its history

To fully understand the subtleties of the project you need to take look at the little-known history of Trévoux. The town, located 25 kilometres north of Lyon, played an important role as a regional agricultural storehouse, because of its close proximity to the city of Lugdunum and the river Saone. This role led the town to develop as a port and toll gate. In the 16th century, Trévoux was the capital of the Dombes and as it was not part of the kingdom of France, it had its own parliament and minted its own money. As an independent territory, it welcomed writers and thinkers and authorised the publication of works such as the Trévoux dictionary and journal, and as such became a source of great intellectual effervescence during the age of enlightenment.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

One of the independent principality’s main attractions was its status as a tax haven. Indeed in Trévoux the gold drawers, who produced the gold and silver wires used by the Lyon-based silk makers, did not have to pay the tax on royal wire drawing. This gave the industry considerable impetus. In 1762 the town became part of France, and although it lost its tax privileges, it preserved this industrial heritage and continued to produce a tool required for the activity: draw plates. Draw plates are plates pierced with conical drawing holes through which metal is drawn to form wires. Over time these draw plates were made with increasingly harder materials: fired oak, iron, steel, ruby, and sapphire. In 1965, a worker in Trévoux managed to pierce the hardest-wearing material of all: diamond. Trévoux then became the capital of diamond draw plates.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

This rich history is reflected in the town’s unusually high quality, prolific urban and architectural heritage. The hospital built into the ramparts, the parliament and the church, the castle, the small, steep medieval streets, the footbridge and its extension etc.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

However, Trévoux’s character has not only been forged by its history, but also owes much to its geographical location. Although the river Saone flows from north to south, Trévoux is located on a large meander which forms both a south-facing beach and a natural port. The site has unusual potential from a landscape perspective thanks to its own visibility and its views of the river. The town is built into the slope at the foot of the Dombes plateau, and follows the site’s topography, revealing its power.

Image Courtesy © Studio Erick Saillet

Blending into the town’s fabric

The project forms a continuum between the respectful enhancement of the historical building, and the use of contemporary language in the new facility. From an urban planning perspective the aim is to recreate the alignment of the ramparts to present a continuous front along the banks of the Saone. The demolition of the annexes has allowed the south facade of the hospital to be shown in its best light, re-orientating the building towards the river and opening it out onto the newly-created Place du Pont. The multi-media library fills the space left between the hospital and the renovated hotel.

Image Courtesy © Pierre Vurpas

To the north, on the side facing the town, the facade is aligned with the hospital at the edge of the plot, in front of a small paved square. The Ruelle du Cornet, the oldest alley in the town, has been restored and access through to the small square re-established. The overall dimensions correspond to those of the hospital and the building connects with the neighbouring houses at their highest point. The flat roofs, visible from above, like all the buildings in Trévoux, are covered in vegetation or with bricks laid edgeways so as to blend in with the colour of the surrounding tiled roofs.

Image Courtesy © Pierre Vurpas et Associés Architectes

Opposite, the Pavillon des Arts, like a stone pebble, reorganises the public space. It frames the new Place du Pont, guides pedestrians with its angled walls, and protects the multi-media library from noise and visual disturbance from the traffic on the quay.

A mixed programme – simple organisation The programme is ambitious, specialised and generous in terms of the facilities included. It combines memory, culture and education and forms a strategic project with a strong commitment from the client.

Image Courtesy © Pierre Vurpas et Associés Architectes

The music school is situated in the south wing of the renovated historical building. This location allows it to operate independently whilst remaining highly visible and benefiting from the nobility and prestige of the building.

Extensive renovation work was undertaken based on the work carried out in the 1980s which divided the large wards into two floors. The ground floor houses the administrative services and a small rehearsal room whilst the two upper floors accommodate the rooms for private and group lessons, with a structural layout that ensures the best possible acoustics. The attic space has been fitted out with a view to a future extension. The different programmes are connected. Firstly, there is a passage between the music school and the multi-media library via the in-house departments that is not open to the general public. The library’s music and music-related collection is also made available to music school pupils. Secondly, the proximity of the Pavillon des Arts facilitates access to the rehearsal / concert room.

Image Courtesy © Pierre Vurpas et Associés Architectes

Opacity, transparency, reflections

Between opaque and transparent, smooth and rough, thick and thin, the materials that make up the facades have been worked with precision to form a series of skins that characterise the project. The balance between fully transparent and fully opaque is symbolic of the connection between past and present. There is no intention to imitate the site’s heritage, but rather to express it simply and subtly.

The transparency comes from the luminous, effervescent glass facades that are the hallmark of this project. The facade of the multi-media library stands face-to-face with that of the Pavillon des Arts. Facing due south, the double glass wall benefits from a solar gain, whilst acting as a thermal filter and service duct. Facing due north, the single-glazed windows create simultaneous echo and mirror effects. Entries from the Trévoux dictionary are screen printed onto the facade, bringing it to life whilst preserving the river views. On the ground floor they were chosen by a committee, on the upper floors they were selected for their graphic potential.

Image Courtesy © Pierre Vurpas et Associés Architectes

To the south, hang curtains woven from copper-coated and enameled wires, echoing the shimmering river and the gilt-edges of the precious old books. They are suspended from guide rails and can slide across each other. They are the result of research carried out with the designer Sophie Mallebranche, a specialist in metal weaving. The irregular mesh creates effects which change according to the time of the day and the season.

A wire drawing mill is displayed in the inner-courtyard of the hospital. The wire drawing mill is the predecessor of the draw plate and there are just three specimens in France: in Paris, Lyon and Trévoux. Reconstituted in 1999 from Diderot and Alembert’s encyclopedia, it is made up of a vertical capstan operated by four men, which drives a cable on the end of which a serrated pincer holds the metal ingot to be drawn.

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Category: Historic Site

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