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Lycée Leonard de Vinci, Paris, COSA, Tank Architectes

Grass, Glass and Steel: Lycée Léonard da Vinci in Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Around 1,200 pupils attend the Lycée Léonard da Vinci, an advanced secondary school with a technical emphasis in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which is situated west of Paris. The task that faced the two architecture studios − Tank of Lille and Cosa of Paris − was a logistical tour de force: the existing school building was to be demolished in stages while a new building was erected in the same place, all during normal school operations. The architecture of the new building more than meets this challenge. It appears to have been poured from a single cast in a skeleton structure of steel and glass clearly inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s modernism. The architects deftly took up the slope of the terrain in the inner courtyard, which rises by one storey from the road to the west to the rear façade. On the longer sides, the architects had portions of the grounds dug out and braced with gabion-cage walls in order to ensure sufficient daylight on both sides of the technical classrooms in the basement.

The school administration and communal areas such as the library and cafeteria are accommodated on the recessed first upper level, where outdoor terraces flank both sides of the longitudinal tracts. Broad passages connect the inner courtyard with the urban sphere, while an open steel bridge extends obliquely over the yard. The classrooms are located on the jutting topmost storey. The entire building is based on a steel skeleton framework with a 3.6-metre grid as well as a façade and extension grid of 1.2 metres. The interior walls on the upper floors are not load-bearing; this ensures flexibility in these spaces. An unmistakable component of the architecture are the exterior façade blades that fulfill several functions at once: they cast shade, bear the narrow maintenance balconies on the upper floor and reinforce the tall glass façades in the basement. Their depth varies according to direction and thus depends on the expected angle of the sun’s rays.

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