The regional learning center of Gennevilliers appears as a set of two parallel and monolithic naves. These are cladded by a siding shingle of terra-cotta which covers the façades and the roofs, giving it continuity and unity to the different volumes created. Designed as an open end of the building, the Northern facade includes a high and smooth glass wall which becomes their showcase.
Background Every city, every neighbourhood, every plot of land has some special element that gives it an identity and forges the spirit of the place. This is a particularly special site due to the length of the plot on which the Training Centre is to be built and the close proximity of the façade to the railway tracks. These parameters convinced us to come up with an elongated geometric design that used the width of the construction site to its maximum potential. The building is made up of two parallel “bodies” or “naves” that appear to be distinct and of differing lengths, separated by a gap running down the middle. It is mainly a difference in shape that sets them apart, because the materials that are used lend the project a necessary sense of unity.
Operational aspects Like any training centre, this one provides two different types of teaching: vocational training based on woodwork, carpentry and elevator maintenance, and more general education. Vocational training takes place at the bottom of the building because this is also the symbolic basis of the institution. We have tried to provide pleasant, well-lit, practical and welcoming working spaces and have designed them with the wellbeing of their users, i.e. administrative staff, teachers and students, in mind.
Using the large foyer as an official reception and exhibition area enables us to present a good image of the institution and of vocational training as a whole. This foyer is visible from the outside concourse through a large pane-glass window that provides a glimpse of its colourful doubleheight interior. The corner of the “eastern block” has been scooped out to form a porch and guide visitors towards the entrance and the caretaker’s office. The monumental scale of the foyer and the grand central staircase orchestrate the movements of students going up or coming down from the cloakrooms, classrooms and workshops. A first flight of stairs serves an intermediate level housing the cloakrooms, which open out onto a mezzanine overlooking the double-height workshops.
This landing also gives access to the resource centre and the library, which are located at a strategic crossroads. The second landing leads to the administrative offices, the recreation area, the sports hall and some normal rooms. The workshop where elevator maintenance is taught is the institutional figurehead and is located at the northern tip of the “western block”. One approaches this northern end from front on and it is built entirely of glass so that visitors can see the students at work as well as moving elevator cabs. This practical architectural design ensures that this part of the building showcases the centre’s professionalism. The recreation area can be accessed via the entrance to the first floor and also from the central gangway leading to the classrooms. There is a soundproof wall running along the railway tracks to protect the centre from noise. This empty space could also be used for a future extension to the centre.
Architectural identity Memory can also give a site or a place it identity; in this case it is the memory of the large SNCF railway hangars and industrial architecture that has shaped the local landscape. By definition the Gennevilliers Training Centre bears the marks of this memory.
Vocational training such as this is about passing on a specific craft and sometimes a tradition. Our architectural project aims to promote these professions without lapsing into nostalgia and to echo the architectural heritage of the large brick buildings with their unusual outlines. The project is therefore divided into two parallel “naves”. Their roofs are covered in terracotta shingles and the terracotta cladding on the vertical outside walls gives continuity and harmony to the buildings like a thermal coat. The roof ridgepoles rise and fall according to the height of the interior spaces to create an impression of movement. Their undulations give the building a dynamic and contemporary look. Playing with the width of the two “blocks” lightens the outline and almost makes it seem as though they stood independently of each other. The northern end is cut away to reveal the building’s inner workings, like a Swatch. The surroundings move from dark to light, from the wings to the limelight – and this duality is typical of the Training Centre.