The most ambitious objective of the ZAC (Zone d’Aménagement Concerté, a French legal definition for a specific development zone) in the Porte des Lilas area located in northeast Paris is to modify the relationship between Paris — encircled by its beltway, the Boulevard Périphérique — and the incorporated suburbs situated immediately outside this beltway.
It is not a question of effacing the presence of this infrastructure, which is so important in the life of the Parisian agglomeration. It is a matter of giving it a new identity, of transforming it into a passing phase in which one can discover the evolution of the city. It is not a matter of denying the particular natures of two urban fragments built in two different eras, but rather of transcending overly strident contrasts.
The site destined to house the project that was the object of this competition is ideally constituted and positioned, and fits perfectly into the logic of the ZAC as we interpret it. The site is situated toward the southern limit of the development zone, in continuity with the green spaces of the Quartier Fougères, which opens new perspectives on Bagnolet; in continuity with the system of sports installations and public areas; and also in a position of extreme visibility from the Périphérique.
We have a free space on the slab covering the Boulevard Périphérique and a building site to be built with a dense and important program.
Our approach was therefore to exploit these advantages to their maximum potential and to develop our project following three major directions:
First direction Profiting from the free space. This is a rare occasion in such a dense context. And also a possibility offered for best inserting the complex within the landscape system of the ZAC, from the Plaine Saint-Denis zone to the Bagnolet area. We therefore immediately decided to structure our project in such a manner as to not occupy the slab with the two sports pitches as foreseen in the program, but to preserve a part for the realization of a park — a filtering space, a pause, and a visual surprise in the context of the Périphérique.
Second direction Imagining a system that guarantees the continuity between the neighborhood and its services. In locating the gymnasium underground, we created a quite permeable entry hall on the street level, and on the first floor, a sports space in direct continuity with the slab over the beltway level; the second sports terrain, which was foreseen on the slab, is located here.
Third direction Conceiving a building with a compact and unified image, which maintains the autonomy of its functions. At the neighborhood level, the user clearly perceives and can easily access the three programs; he or she also sees an ensemble where the volumes of the gymnasium, the Youth Center, and the Center for Psychological Adaptation alternate with these luminous patios filled with vegetation, which animate the route along the façade. At the scale of the city, and especially in its relationship with the ZAC and the Périphérique, the three programs blend seamlessly.
This building — which appears as a pure object from the exterior — is, on the inside, a living system where we wanted to put into place a plan of visual relationships both rich and varied while giving each activity occurring within its proper due and allow for their respective intimacy needs.
The gymnasium hall is at the heart of the project. It creates a relationship between the bank of vegetation, the sports pitches, and the garden area on the artificial slab to one side and, on the other side, the large entry hall and rock-climbing wall, opened up by the large bay windows on the room.
The goal is to create a positive atmosphere, where one can appreciate the energy of the sports practice while being protected from acoustic disturbances and possible negative visual interferences that could distract or prove tiresome. The colors and the interior finishings of the room contribute to the definition of this ambience.