The site for the new secondary school for 600 pupils offered the opportunity to build a significant public facility in an extraordinary place, located in the midst of nature but still close to the centre of town. The goal that architectes cactus had set for themselves was to create a compact, highly functional building that robustly embodied the principles of sustainability and that harmonised well with its surroundings. The architecture of the building was to represent its societal function as a place of learning.

Project details

Project “Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France
Client Conseil Général des Bouches du Rhône
Architect architectes cactus – Rey Lucque et associès
Façade panels used Argeton Barro emaillé in 6 colors

“Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France

“Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France © Philippe Piron

“Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France

“Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France © Philippe Piron

Collège Nathalie Sarraute

“Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France © Philippe Piron

Collège Nathalie Sarraute

“Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France © Philippe Piron

Collège Nathalie Sarraute

“Collège Nathalie Sarraute” in Aubagne, France © Philippe Piron

The building and the surroundings

The structure fulfils these conditions by keeping the centre of the site, a south-facing clearing in a pine grove, free and by forming a protective angle around a natural amphitheatre. A courtyard below this theatre links the school’s various facilities, the teaching area, the gym and five houses with official apartments. The buildings located on the lower seam of the site form an impressive façade behind which the classrooms are arranged in accordance with the topography of the area, keeping the view towards the Garlaban massif unobstructed. To a large extent, the park was kept in its original state.

Wind and sun determined the design

The main structures are laid out on an east-west axis, so that the classrooms and laboratories have a northerly or southerly orientation. The lower courtyard is protected from the Mistral; the large roof canopies of the building keep away the rain; and the hilly grove provides shade from the setting sun.

A translucent cage

The gym is set into the hill with the outdoor sports facilities on its roof. It is clad on its visible exterior wall with natural stone, thus discreetly continuing the retaining walls of the road. The administrative and assembly areas are located next to the main entrance. Their markedly box-like structure is clad over its entire height with enamelled terracotta baguettes. These façade panels form a translucent cage mounted in front of the windowed walls, their colours recalling the surrounding landscape. The manufacture of the baguettes is based on local artisanal traditions. The classrooms open out to green rooftop terraces. Carpentered wooden fittings, some of them with glass inserts, separate the rooms, offering an airy contrast to the concrete walls.
 
The ancillary technical rooms, bicycle shed and custodial quarters are found on the underground floor. The entry hall and cafeteria are grouped around the interior courtyard on the ground level. The science and computer science rooms, the library and the administration and faculty rooms are on the first floor, with the classrooms above, at the level of the treetops.

Related inspiration articles