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Composites and architecture: the perfect couple

News International-French

20 Apr 2011

The Diamond is an extraordinary space, a time sculpture, a homecoming moment, a haven of calm in the scenographic landscape of the Caen memorial. The visitor moves from a dark to a light space, very crystalline, musical; moving down, winding round. A crumpled work, a suspended staircase, its skin light and translucent, with mother-ofpearl scales or petals.

(Published on July-August 2008 – JEC Magazine #43)

 

The Diamond, 2002, Caen Memorial, City of Caen (for the scenography agency, Zen+dCo)

Project: Zen+dCo, Zette Cazalas (museographist)

Design: artificial-architecture, Luc Boulais (architect)

Construction: PYRRHUS / ACME,Thomas Brant and Rémi Cuvelier (Composites company)

 

The Diamond is an extraordinary space, a time sculpture, a homecoming moment, a haven of calm in the scenographic landscape of the Caen memorial. The visitor moves from a dark to a light space, very crystalline, musical; moving down, winding round. A crumpled work, a suspended staircase, its skin light and translucent, with mother-of-pearl scales or petals.

 

From a technical point of view, the diamond consists of a broken metallic structure that supports a concrete slab and staircase. The assembly is dressed in laminated polyester panels produced using low-pressure injection, with random colouring. Each resin petal is jointed at the centre to allow each to move freely with respect to the others.

 

 

Jean Jaurès nursery, 2006, Paris 19, City of Paris (for the BJAA architects agency)

Project: BJAA, Arnaud Basselier and Patrick Jarzaguet (architects)

Design: artificial-architecture, Luc Boulais (architect)

Construction: PYRRHUS / ACME, Thomas Brant and Rémi Cuvelier (Composites company)

 

The Jean Jaurès nursery harbours behind its geometric stone and glass façade “bubble” objects, like tree-houses suspended from the balcony. These bubbles are designed to appeal to the child’s sense of play, festooning the inner courtyard. Offering shelter within and without, they call to mind the egg, the nest, the maternal womb.

 

Simple in form, but complex in structure, the shells are cut out digitally in the foam then moulded into polyester resin laminates. They have been entirely prefabricated in the workshop and transported by lorry. The connections between the ovoid forms and the concrete structure of the building are integrated in the mould, so facilitating on-site assembly.

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH LUC BOULAIS, ARCHITECT

JEC Composites Magazine: Do you have any specific skills in the field of composite materials, and since when have you been using them? How did you get involved in composites?

MR. LUC BOULAIS: I first discovered composite materials when I was 15 and I wanted to make my first snowboard. Some time later, when I was studying to be an architect, I visited the house of Mr. Pierre Coleu at Tain l’Hermitage in the Drôme department, which was built as a shell assembly made of composite sandwich panels. When my studies were over, I took a Design option that gave me the opportunity to learn all about plastic materials in general. Thanks to these experiences, I have been able to test, explore and – today – attempt to develop projects involving plastics and, more specifically, reinforced plastics.

 

JCM: What are the main properties that you look for in composite materials?

L.B.: Composite materials strike me as extremely versatile in their capacity to accommodate various properties depending on how they are processed. They can be both rigid and flexible, capable of taking complex shapes, water-resistant, resistant to chemical agents, and so on. In absolute terms, they allow for extraordinary creative freedom.

 

JCM: What types of composites do you use in general? And what do you use them for?

L.B.: Projects such as the walkway for the Chomel school complex, or the shells of the Jean-Jaurès nursery, which were produced using polyester laminates on a Nidaplast or PU foam honeycomb by the Acme company.

 

JCM: What are the constraints and limits to the use of composites in the building sector?

L.B.: The constraints are often linked to standards, which do not provide for the use of composite materials in the building industry, or at least in France at any rate. The engineers capable of handling these materials tend to be working in the aerospace and naval aviation industries and so they do not necessarily have any references in the building sector yet.

 

The quality control firms do not have the requisite knowledge (structural, resistance, testing, etc.) of composite materials, and so the capacity of companies to cater to the needs of the building industry (sizing of parts, specific constraints, etc.) is still fairly limited. The whole chain of production is in need of convincing, winning over and being made aware of what composites have to offer – from the customer through to the building firms.

 

Environmental issues are also having an increasingly constraining influence.

 

JCM: Do you use composites for manufacturing structural elements?

L.B.: Yes, composites are used for their structural performance (in sandwich panels to meet insulation requirements), cases in point being the shells of the Jean-Jaurès nursery and the Chomel walkway.

 

JCM: Do you have dreams of extraordinary projects involving composites?

L.B.: Houses in composite materials, or even office or apartment blocks in “non-standard” form (this refers to an architectural trend defined by Frédéric Migayrou on the occasion of the “non-standard architectures” exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in 2003).

 

Chomel walkway, 2007, Paris 7, City of Paris

Project : artificial-architecture, Luc Boulais (architect)

Design: Davide Paterna (architect), Derek Metz (engineer), Jorge Nunes (artist)

Construction: SCGE (general contractor), PYRRHUS / ACME, Thomas Brant and Rémi Cuvelier (Composites company)

 

The project consists in improving the conditions of access to the Chomel school complex in the 7th arrondissement of Paris for persons of reduced mobility with, in particular, the creation of a walkway linking the yard of the infant school to the yard of the primary school.

 

 

The production of the walkway presented here is tailored to meet the site constraints: bridging a span of 11 m while allowing as much light as possible through to the patio in order to preserve the natural lighting for the refectories.