Dominique Coulon has completed an important public works project in the town of Montmorency, in Île-de-France, a suburb of Paris. The new Regional Court and Industrial Tribunal stand to the south of the town centre overlooking the redeveloped Place Pierre Mendès France, which underlines its monumental appearance.
Dominique Coulon is known for his ability to address architectural projects in difficult contexts, such as Josephine Baker school in La Courneuve, a Parisian suburb, where the new building concretely improves people’s quality of life(comment in Floornature). In Montmorency it is not a vertically oriented banlieue that forms the background, but little private homes and low buildings in an anonymous urban fabric that threatens the disappearance of places of social aggregation.
Previously divided into two separate buildings which have become inadequate in size, the labour tribunal and the regional court will be housed in a new building commissioned by the General Council of Val-d’Oise, which partially funded the construction of the new courthouse. It is nothing like the imposing structures we are used to seeing in courthouses in western capitals, where architecture was historically used to symbolise the exercise of power and the ideal of good administration. It still has a monumental impact, but the structure may be broken down into asymmetric volumes, perhaps closer to the architect’s vocabulary than to a typological purpose. As Coulon himself notes, the historic symmetrical composition of the main façade is gone, and in its place is an irregular wall alternating full and empty volumes, in which the entrance is in a secondary position at one corner of the square, but all the attention is focused on the opposite corner, where an empty space as tall as the building itself opens up, in which the foliage of an oak tree appears. Thus Dominique Coulon opens up the dialogue between the building and the city, between the headquarters of the institution and the people.
The choice of external cladding is of great interest, three different solutions whose simultaneous presence fits the new building into an urban context characterised by multiple overlapping formal solutions. The main façade to the north, overlooking the square, is formed of two volumes, grafted one onto the other without appearing to touch: the first, with a sunbreak in three different types of wood, is suspended over the second, covered with slate-grey bricks. Walking around the complex, from its almost square floor plan, at the southwest corner we come across the “mashrabiya”. A traditional feature of Arabian architecture, this type of screen, normally associated with bay windows in middle eastern homes, has now become a part of the global architectural vocabulary, especially in France, due to the country’s historic links with North Africa. Dominique Coulon uses it to shelter the courtrooms and service areas on the ground floor without depriving them of sunlight.
The whole project revolves around two big empty spaces created to capture, mitigate and orient light: a covered courtyard joining the 4 levels and an uncovered one used as a garden, with the courtrooms facing onto it. Each element contributes to restoration of a more fair and direct relationship between the nation, the city and the community. A “break” in the building forms a vertical scenario for the square which everyone, inside and outside, can enjoy.
Design: Dominique Coulon et associés, Architectes
Client: Ministère de la Justice, Agence Publique pour l’Immobilier de la Justice
Location: 137-143, avenue Charles de Gaulle 95 160 Montmorency, Île-de-France (France) (GPS : N 48 58.404, E 2 18.645)
Total usable floor space: 2110 sqm
Project start: 2007
Completion of work: 2013
Engineering and consultants:
Structural Engineer: Batiserf Ingénierie
Mechanical Electrical Plumbing Engineer : BET G. Jost
Cost Estimator: E3 Economie
Landscape: Bruno Kubler
Acoustics: Euro Sound Project
General contractor SNRB
Subcontractors: AP ingénieries (structure)
Dacquin (deep foundations)
Vollmer (exterior joinery)
Antunes (external insulation)
Ponelle (metal works)
Luso plaque et plâtre (plastering works)
Botemo (interior wood work)
Sopimep (wood furnishings)
Boulenger (resin floor)
Tempere (heating and ventilation)
Photos: © Patrick Miara, David Romero-Uzeda