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The art of industry: appropriating industrial processes, this workshop building is a huge perpetual laboratory capable of infinite extension.

The Grands Ateliers takes as its maxim Jean Prouve's assertion 'I abhor designing without constructing'. For grand', therefore, read 1:1 -- the monumental realism of the full-scale prototype. Funded largely by central government, it will serve as a common workshop facility for 13 art, architecture and engineering colleges and local schools. Pascal Rollet describes the building in terms of a 'neutral architectural machine', dedicated to the cause of prototype experimentation and the demystification of disciplinary differences.

This is a building stripped bare; the purest possible material equivalent to its diagrammatic form. Its relationship to site, its materials, its organizational dynamics and its structural logic, are rendered acutely transparent. Like an anatomical diagram, all of the studio's functional organs and skeletal members are visible; each distinct, coded even, in a spectrum of raw, industrial surfaces. The industrial specifications of the building demanded a flat site. It is, therefore, embedded in the undulating, edge-of-town topography of Isle d'Abeau (a peripheral new town of Lyons).

Cor-Ten steel walls and embankment spurs, reminiscent of the architectonic sculptures of Richard Serra, suggest that the scene is at least in part inspired by the frontier spirit of American Modernism. But despite that reference and the degree of reduction, the tenor of the building is not one of minimalism. It is, rather, an architecture of expressionism, of absolute, graphic clarity.

The core of the complex is a 70m x 50m concrete platform. Rollet likens this to the deck of an aircraft carrier -- a surface on which a constant process of material exchange unfolds. That process is essentially one of a perpetual, laboratorial building site, a daily routine defined by the regular intake of raw materials and the ongoing clearing and cleansing of the workshop spaces. Water is thus a ubiquitous medium of the atelier's functional life and, thanks to the inverted pitch of the canopy and recycling equipment in the concrete core, it is purportedly self-sufficient in that aspect of its consumption.

The array of internal volumes is organized around an east-west axis, manifest by corridors on all three levels, echoing the position of the canopy's central drainage channel. The ground floor corridor from the east door opens Into the 15m x 30m space of the main hall. Above, gantry walkways of the first and second floor corridors provide vantage points onto the hall and access to the mechanism of its rolling crane. The composition of the southern half of the studios is subservient to the mobility of the crane. The hall opens at each end to take on a 'summer disposition', doubling the volume of space which it serves. Provision has also been made for the future continuation of the hall eastward, into the space presently occupied by a polycarbonate exhibition box, should a proposed two-thirds extension of the complex be confirmed.

If the main hall is essentially an adaptable tent structure, then the concrete block to the north of the central axis acts as its sedentary counterbalance. All student and personnel support facilities are to be found, principally, on the first and second floors--classrooms, offices, changing rooms--like a series of cave openings in a sheer cliff face. Beyond that slice of concrete, a row of five metal storage sheds forms the studio's north elevation, with openings between the west-end units to allow immediate fork-lift truck access to the main hall.

The studios have provided the opportunity for the second collaboration between Lipsky-Rollet and the graphic designer Ruedi Baur--best known for his signage scheme for the restored Pompidou centre (AR May 1994). The first, for a school for electrical engineers at Valence, resulted in a facade graphic of binary code digits, heat-bonded onto glass sun-screens. At Isle d'Abeau, Baur's graphics occupy the building's interior wall and floor surfaces, taking the, ostensibly, purely functional role of directional, hazard and equipment indicator signs--for fire alarms, first aid kits, and so on. But Baur's scheme is also interpretative, both of the mandatory codes of the standard industrial signage on which it is based and of the nature of the building it inhabits. They are equally spatial interventions, sliding though architectural space as opposed to simply marking surfaces, staging a movement from diagram to gesture.

The southerly elevation--the 'window' of the main hall, and frontage onto a road and public space--provides the closest thing to a facade surface and identity for the studios. Its regular grid structure of aluminium frames and polycarbonate have been layered with an additional, semi-transparent, plastic sheeting. This has a particular referential as well as functional value: it is an American product, derivative of the reflective foil used on satellites, sprayed gold on one surface, silver blue on the other. However, this elevation is not conceived to support a static identity, but is itself to play a vital role in the experimentation process. It will provide a south-facing test grid for facade surfaces developed within the workshops. The studios will thus have the newest products of its community's creativity grafted directly onto its skin--an abstract mosaic billboard, symptom of its radical, internal anatomy.
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Title Annotation:Grands Ateliers in Lyons, France
Author:Wilson, Robin
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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