College Descartes - Mons en Baroeul (F)

A school that focuses on communication

College Descartes is an example of a successful French public building project where the choice of materials plays a key role in identifying the building's functions
Roberta Chionne
Jean-Yves Joly
Année de réalisation

Is it possible to design a school that is integrated into its surroundings, brightly coloured, naturally well lit, environmentally friendly and functional? College Descartes, built in Mons en Baroeul in 2008, proves that a project of this kind is indeed possible. The winner of a competition launched by the Conseil Général du Nord in 2004, the high school project is the work of Thierry Grislain from Lille-based practice TGMP Architectes et Associés, a firm that specialises in school building projects for the public sector.
The school stands on a corner lot at the heart of a heterogeneous urban fabric. The project was seen as an opportunity to redevelop a roadside front with a view to fostering urban and social integration with the surroundings. For this purpose, the architects chose to focus on the concept of disseminating knowledge and promoting integration between the school and the urban community by creating a main façade that clearly identifies the spaces devoted to the key functions: the entrance, the library, the cultural room and the stairway connecting the various floors.
The functional organisation of the school is openly stated on the façade through the use of an alternation of materials and a cadenced architecture that defines the various volumes arranged around the central hub made up of the entrance and library. On the left is a wing reserved for teachers and specialist subject rooms; on the right is a wing for classrooms that communicates with the playground.
The white bricks of the facades, which serve as a kind of visual leitmotif identifying the building as a uniform entity, alternate with the use of other materials that define the individual natures of the various spaces. For the atrium and the large staircase the chosen material is glass, which affords not just good natural lighting but also visual permeability between the exterior and the school. The library volume, conceived as a kind of receptacle of knowledge projected outwards into the city, is framed by a red metallic band symbolising the presence of the school. The culture room features terracotta tiles and adopts a different architectural language, while black bricks are used to identify the sports hall and auxiliary buildings and to differentiate the ground floor spaces from those of the upper floors.
The materials chosen for the interiors also play a key role in defining the functions and achieving the graphic impact sought by the project, which exploits the emotional appeal of colours and the visual resonances created by the geometry of all the elements, such as the floor patterns, the lateral and overhead windows, the lighting fixtures, the doors and the furnishings. The floor covering marks out routes and translates the design intentions into visual compositions, starting out from the visual and material continuity between the pavement – considered the primary location for relations with the city community – and the entrance and internal courtyard spaces. Paved with porcelain tiles with a rough, dark texture, the surface is interrupted at certain points by narrow strips with a smooth, white finish, like shafts of light projected from above. Inside, where porcelain tiles are used in the transit zones, the common spaces, the classrooms and the canteens, the arrangement of the tiles not only contributes to the definition of space but converses with the forms of the other project elements. The creative use of this material, and in particular of the Meteor and Lavagna finishes from Casalgrande Padana’s Pietre Native collection, won the project an honourable mention for the Public Building section in the 8th edition of the Grand Prix award, the international competition that selects and honours projects that have succeeded in making best use of the technical characteristics and aesthetic potential of porcelain tile produced by Casalgrande Padana.

Casalgrande Padana, Meteor and Lavagna series
porcelain stoneware
30x30, 30x60 cm
Meteor Bianco, Meteor Nero, Meteor Grigio, Lavagna Bianca, Lavagna Nera
Caractéristiques techniques
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): ≤0,1%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): compliant
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): compliant
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): N/mm2 50÷60
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): R10
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant
Certifications et prix
ISO 14001
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