Interview with Sébastien Girardeau (Dauphins architecture).
Having looked at your work and achievements since 2007, I noted an emphasis on biosourced projects and working in partnerships. How would you describe the agency today?
For each project, living is at the heart of our thinking. In architecture, this is manifested by how people use places - the anthropogenic character of architecture. We explore topics such as freedom, flexibility, historical and cultural context, symbolic figures of architecture as well as landscape.
We work in participatory ways as life is also represented in the fauna and flora that inhabit spaces. We have an interest in greening the building by finding refuges for biodiversity and integrating the landscape.
The use of environmentally friendly and healthy materials, and bio-climatic design bring real comfort and reduce energy consumption, while respecting the surrounding environment.
In my opinion, the agency’s position articulates these different concepts; the ultimate objective being to strive for a sustainable and ecological common good.
I have just visited the Alzon site. What is ’the story to be shaped’ here by the architect?
We are in a future place of learning. The aim is to provide a place for educational opportunities. The pedagogy of the future school is part of a singular approach to national education standards. From this point of view, ‘the story to be shaped’ is to let this educational project grow.
What have been or are the main constraints of this site?
The site itself was a first constraint because it is marked by a wetland. We have preserved it in the project and proposed it as a place of pedagogy, to be included in the construction of the school. It could be an ecological classroom, with rainwater recovery, composting, vegetable gardens etc. The wetland is a real issue because it limits space, which reduces storage and site access and potential for flooding brings additional complexities.
Another major constraint is time and the pace is set by the start of classes when the school re-opens.
Who made the choice of wood/straw biosourced materials?
The choice of materials like straw and wood fibre insulation and the wooden structure was formalised by the project management team during the competition phase. These materials contribute to the project identity and the inauguration of the site was symbolized by the laying of the first straw bale. I believe sustainable materials echo the institution’s pedagogy and values.
When and how do you imagine users will take ownership of the site?
The first students arrived back in September 2019, on one part of the site, while construction work continues on the other side. It is difficult to imagine how users will appropriate the place. What is certain, and very interesting, is that we can observe how students and teachers will use classrooms and other areas while construction work is ongoing.
Can the construction work be modified before completion?
The sides of the teaching buildings have been designed to allow modification of internal distribution, thus guaranteeing flexibility of the frame and uses. The wooden floors are supported by the façades, thus freeing interior space. Moreover, flexibility of design allows us to modify certain partitions, thereby linking several rooms together.
In terms of interior comfort, what principles were used for heating and ventilation? Can you tell us some of the technical elements involved ?
For comfort, the first focus is on passive systems which don’t require energy to operate. Straw provides excellent thermal insulation, which protects against cold in winter and heat in summer. The orientation of the buildings, the position of windows and blinds benefit from solar gain in winter while protecting against overheating in summer.
A passive natural ventilation system allows air to be renewed for a large part of the year. In winter, a double-flow mechanical system preheats incoming air. It is therefore a natural/double flow water ventilation system.
A biomass boiler provides additional heating in winter.
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