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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.

Conversion of the Fosses 9/9 BIS pit site in Oignies by Hérault Arnod Architects

February 19th, 2014 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Hérault Arnod Architects

The Oignies pit closed down in 1990, leaving a whole population out of work and in great economic hardship. The buildings, superb industrial monuments dating from the early 20th century, remained. What was to be done with them? Apart from the heritage component, what sort of development strategy would be best for the site?

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

  • Architects: Hérault Arnod Architects
  • Project: Conversion of the Fosses 9/9 BIS pit site in Oignies
  • Photography: Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

In 2005, we won the competition to convert the Fosses 9/9bis pit site in Oignies. The procedure took the form of a two stage Project Definition Commission, the first stage focusing on establishing a programme, the second on defining its architectural form. The initial brief from the client, the Hénin-Carvin Interdistrict Counsel, was very broad: “Living, working, creating in a park, human capital as the framework for a new development, an exemplary environmental approach.”

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

We proposed a site conversion programme based around the theme of music and and contemporary sound. The idea of music and sound emerged after an analysis of the site’s mining past from a social and historical perspective, but also of the regional population’s strong relationship with music, musical traditions (fanfares) and the very vibrant contemporary music scene.
The aim of the approach was to restore the positive image of the 9/9bis through a cultural project, in order to make it a centre of attraction and to revive economic activity.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

Changing image: this transformation entails the refurbishment of the existing buildings, which are preserved with all the original machines, and the introduction of innovative contemporary architectures.

Changing use: after echoing to the noise of the mine and the machines, the site is now dedicated to music and contemporary sound, with the aim of transforming a form of pollution into a creative and forward-looking theme.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

In the architectural design phase, we took the idea further: the project’s ambition is local, but also national and even international, seeking to attract a mix of visitors and users. For this reason, in addition to the revitalised historical legacy, the project needed a contemporary act that would crystallise the site’s new acoustic and musical location. To achieve this, we created a strange and mysterious object of desire, which exists nowhere else: the Métaphone®. To make this idea possible, we approached the musician and sound designer Louis Dandrel who, in close collaboration with the agency, designed and developed the sound-related and instrumental aspects of the building.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

The game rules of the 9/9bis project are clear: all the new constructions (the Métaphone®, BT01) are contemporary and innovative in style, whereas the existing heritage (the Machine Building, the entire Hanging Room) is retained, the facades left unchanged, and all the interior modern interventions are reversible, leaving the possibility of the building returning to its initial state in the future.

The whole of 9/9bis is part of the Mining Area, which in 2012 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a Living Cultural Landscape.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin


The original entrance to 9/9bis is located near the mineworkers estate. It is marked by the classical cornices on the institutional facade of the Machine Building. Our proposal was to reverse the main entrance and to create a new access from the motorway, focusing attention on the derricks and the Métaphone®.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

This road is landscaped in a series of sequences: you pass through a valley of trees, then encounter the woodland park and, in the distance the derricks and the Métaphone®, directly in the axis of the road.

Before construction began, the refurbishment of the site began with the development of the esplanade between the Machine Building and derricks (listed Historical Monuments) and the registered complex (the administrative building and Hanging Room). The esplanade consists of a black concrete lane for buses and a wide pedestrian area covered in red and black hard coating. Strips of blue Hainaut stone, benches in the same material and inset lighting punctuate the surface, which is planted with dawn redwood trees. The esplanade is lined with infiltration ditches, planted with sedges on one side and forming grassy embankments with blues tone gutters on the other.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

The design of the Pithead square employees the same materials as the esplanade, while at the base of the facades stand blocks of tuff planted with mosses and low vegetation.

The Concert Forecourt is located at the point where the Métaphone® and the Pithead converge. Here, on the square, with a view of the derricks as a backdrop, audiences will be able to watch performances from the platform stage set up for the occasion on the under the porch of the Métaphone®.

The landscape project was designed by Pierre Déat (Cap Paysages).

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin


A small office complex has been introduced near the legacy buildings.

The first office building, the BT01, is under construction. Its architecture is created by slotting a small existing building into a new overhanging section above the tile roof. The old building is reflected in the facades and underside of the overhang, which are lined with polished stainless steel, creating an ambiguous boundary between old and new.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin


Inside the Machine Building, all the machines have been preserved intact. The programme, which has changed since the project definition phase, contains the site’s general reception, a concert cafe and restaurant, a heritage trail describing the history of the site and the workings of the machines, and a sound and vision design gallery.

© Hérault Arnod Architects / André Morin

The Pithead complex includes the Machine Building and the derricks. The latter, which were earmarked for development as part of the site conversion, were in the end excluded from the project because of the risks of subsistence around the old pits, now filled in.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

Our brief is primarily to design the interior of the Machine Building. The shells, facades and roofs of all the buildings were restored in 2006 under the direction of Lionel Dubois, the chief architect of Historical Monuments.

How do you tackle such a strong building? The interior is damaged by years of neglect and and water penetration. Rather than opting for the romanticism of the ruin currently in vogue, we decided, out of respect for those who worked on the site until 1990, to restore the spaces to their condition when the site was a working mine, using the original paints.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

All the machines still in place have been kept. They had been maintained and restored by the Acccusto Secci association of former miners.

The additional modern elements are few in number and easily identifiable. They are all clad in polished aluminium, which absorbs and reflects the surrounding materials so that they merge into their surroundings. The decorative elements are clad in the same material. To avoid cluttering up the space with panels, we asked the graphic designer Gérard Plénacoste to inscribe all the texts on the walls: stencils or cutouts for the titles, printed posters glued directly to the walls for more detailed texts.

The studies for the Machine Building are underway, and work is set to begin at the end of 2013.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects


This complex will be converted to house the studios of ILTV (the local television company), seminar rooms, the site administration, music and dance training and rehearsal rooms, recording studios.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

The registered complex is made up of continuous and relatively disparate buildings dating from different eras. It originally housed the site offices, technical premises, the Hanging Room and the executive shower room. The new functions require more substantial interventions than those in the Machine Building, with smaller and more numerous spaces. Rather than partitioning the existing structure, we have designed large boxes that contain the new rooms. They are made of light metal frames and can be dismantled in the future so that the buildings can be restored to their original state if desired. Work on the registered complex should begin in autumn 2013.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects


The Métaphone® is a musical building, a world first.

It is the contemporary keystone of the whole project, embodying the site’s new musical and acoustic role. An architecture of materials, sound and light, it is the iconic space of 9/9bis: a building to be looked at and listened to, an immense instrument played by musicians who may be invisible or perform live on stage. And like music, it evolves in time, a vector of fluid, ephemeral and constantly shifting harmonies of sound and light.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

The Metaphone is a living machine, both concert hall and “urban musical instrument”, whose walls generate and diffuse sound, in harmony with the play of light. The concert hall and its annexes are contained within a volume of black concrete, itself wrapped in a steel structure covered by light skin made up of scales of different materials: clear and unpolished glass, Corten steel, wood.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

This scaly envelope extends outwards and opens above the esplanade, forming a great porch protecting the entrance and terrace. Between the concrete mass and the scaly skin, attached to a fine metallic structure, technical walkways provide access to the sound and lighting equipment for installation and maintenance. On the roof, the lattice of scales extends into a 600 m² sheet of integrated photovoltaic cells. Under the porch, the red structure of the instrument control cabin emerges theatrically from the black façade.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

An overhanging stairway and terrace structure, made of Corten steel, completes the arrangement, providing another listening platform.

The instrumental components are designed with two principles of sound production: mechanical, with acoustic instruments controlled by electronic interfaces; or electroacoustic with speaker drivers mounted on plates that thereby become sound diffusing membranes. These plates are distributed on the perimeter of the building, creating an immense playing surface, an acoustic mass around which the sounds can move. The variety of timbres that can be produced is vast.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

These systems were developed and tested by making a prototype of the musical facade, composed of eight 1 m² modules, each fitted with an acoustic instrument on half its volume and a vibrating plate on the other half.

What compositions can be produced with such an instrument? The aim is to give a totally musical form to a concert hall built on a site dedicated to music. The principles take account of architectural space, material and light, but also the environment, use, maintenance and cost of the building. Sound and architecture are and must remain inseparable.

The Métaphone® is an exceptional space where musical forms can be invented that are commensurate with the architecture. The originality and power of the project will be maintained and reinforced by the musicians who, in their turn, will create pieces for the Métaphone®. For the public, it will be a “curiosity”. People will come to Oignies to see and hear it. It will act like a secular bell, marking the hours, midday or twilight. It will signal the beginning of a concert or the interval, become a peripheral sound space, though discreet so as not to disturb the neighbours … It could also be used as an instrument in an orchestral composition, with the musicians playing under the porch.

Image Courtesy © Hérault Arnod Architects

Inside, the hall is modular, able to accommodate 500 people in “seated” format and 1000 in “seated/standing” format. The walls are lined with wool felt, forming a background from which the red mass of the balcony emerges. This structure connects with the bar, which opens onto the terrace. The red of the balcony extends into the spaces of the bar and control cabin, providing glimpses of the interior atmosphere from outside.

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Category: Cultural Center

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