Graphic interpretation: Le Signe National Graphic Design Centre
Builder: Stadt Chaumont
Location: 1 Place des Arts, 52000 Chaumont (FR)
The complex integrates itself into an interesting urban context. A former bank building at the south of the plot was reactivated in the course of the restructuration measures and now adjoins the new building in the project to form a functional ensemble. Instead of disregarding existing sightlines and structures, the new building responds and deliberately incorporates them to new effect. The design joins the two buildings together on the western side of the site, grouping them around a central outdoor space that opens up towards the lively Place des Arts in the east.
The main entrance is located in the existing building and can be reached from the forecourt, itself slightly raised and accessible via a system of broad steps. The new building is adjoined at ground level to the courtyard-like space and has a unitized façade that includes mobile elements for extending the exhibition space to the outer walls.
Despite its size the new building does not seem monumental in impression but rather resembles a compilation of planes that make an almost filigree effect. Seen from the outside, the appearance of the new building changes with every shift in vantage point. In some cases the façade elements are juxtaposed; in others they are intentionally superimposed to form intermediate spaces in an effect that prevents people from seeing inside. Other places on the façade seem to almost provoke views into the building.
The discrepancy between material and execution is particularly striking in the contrast of heavy stone and the slenderness of the panels, which differ in height and width for a lively effect. Used to form walls, roof elements and also the floor of the roof terrace, they have a 5-mm limestone outer layer and incorporate a glued aluminium honeycomb core, epoxy-saturated fibreglass and sheet metal reinforcements, with the result that they are a mere 12 cm thick.
A grid of fine dots covers all surfaces, lending the panels a graphic structure. The planar elements take up the signe ("sign") theme in that three of them can be used as screens for displaying information. Whether advertising for in-house events or announcements, symbols or illustrations – the architecture serves to mediate between indoors and outdoors.
The room programme comprises smaller, separated-off areas in the existing building and large exhibition spaces and a roof terrace in the new one. Natural light is admitted through large areas of glass differing in size according to the positioning of the facade panels. The combination of black on the undersides of ceilings and the sober grey of the fair-faced concrete on certain walls and floors results in a tranquil atmosphere.