by Jerry ElengicalOct 18, 2022
Experiences gathered by children during their formative years often go on to define large parts of their development as individuals, whether the imprints of these occurrences manifest consciously or unconsciously in their everyday personas. In essence, the provision of a safe, secure, and caring environment is fundamental to the growth of most children, and the absence of such optimum conditions can have ramifications that extend long into their future, through no actual fault of their own. Providing this sort of refuge from the adversities of the world is no easy task for any parent, from any background. There are, of course, exceptions to these scenarios, which fuel the never-ending debate of how nature and nurture intertwine to map out the course of an individual’s life. Those that are not fortunate enough to grow up in ideal home environments usually come of age in the halls of state-sponsored welfare facilities, although the successes and failures of such initiatives can vary.
These sentiments were central in the redevelopment of the former departmental nursery of the Calvados region in northwestern France, managed by the Maison Départementale de l’Enfance et de la Famille du Calvados. Here, children of ages ranging from early infancy to six years, who had been growing up in complex or difficult households were given a temporary safe haven until a more permanent and improved arrangement could be organised to accommodate them in the first few years of their lives. From 1985 to 2017, this facility, located on Rue d’Auge in Caen, had catered to this need, welcoming up to 60 children annually, until its facilities grew outdated and required replacement. At this point, an initial consultation to upgrade the nursery and shift it to a new site, was studied and universally commended by the jury, which led to the project being commissioned by the concerned authorities.
Paul Le Quernec Architectes, a firm based in the city of Strasbourg, were the ones entrusted with stewarding the completion of this sensitive venture, providing a new home for these children that would be more in line with the needs of the current day and age. Under the scheme they devised, the institution would be relocated to the commune of Fleury-sur-Orne, near Caen, on a 2,650 sqm site. Conceptually, their idea for the facility was driven by a tripartite cohort of objectives.
This consisted of establishing a physical and psychological distinction between the nursery and the areas around it to create an atmosphere of ‘safety,’ arranging the living units as individual homes that would also be interdependent, and finally, treating each volume as a ‘cocoon’ that assists in the child’s development. The firm notes in a statement, “We have sought to combine the comfort and privacy of a private residence with the fulfilment that can be offered by a community. In this setting, these children from disadvantaged family environments reveal their desire to bring colour back into their lives.
In return, the program itself took shape in a trio of structures, with different aspects of these objectives embedded in each of them, developing a multifaceted environment that still retained the same air of refuge and disconnection desired at the outset. From the entrance to the site on the southeastern edge of the finished layout, this manifests as a logistical wing that hosts the reception, administrative departments, and the medical wing on its more public southern edge, with support functions such as laundry and dining areas at its far end.
Adjacent to this, is a technical block with workshops, and lastly the majority of the site, especially towards the north, is dedicated to a housing block that contains all the residential spaces. A noteworthy element in this arrangement is a solid fence which embraces the wavy façade design of the logistical block, delineating the barrier between the public areas that parents and adults can access, from the residential wing that is almost solely frequented by children. This physical and metaphorical barrier is crucial to reinforcing the notion of safety and stability in the minds of children, so that the space truly feels like one that belongs to them and them alone.
Routes through the site follow two courses: an esplanade that flows directly from the entrance to the plot, stretching along one side of the logistical building towards the living quarters, and another peripheral path originating from the space between the logistical and technical wings to wind around the external boundary of the site and grant individual access to each of the residential cocoons. Both routes are further enhanced for safety by way of access control gates implemented at their extremities.
On the nature of the atmosphere they sought to create in between the blocks, the French architecture practice relays, “Rather than seeking to mollycoddle, the role of architecture is to reassure.” Physically manifesting this vision, the designers decided to entirely separate the children’s living quarters from other arms of the institutional design, by means of a walkway from the logistical wing, suspended slightly above the ground. The inclusion of this element recreates the feeling of walking across a moat from the wilderness into a fortified hideaway. “The crossing over this moat is as physical as it is psychological,” the architects reflect.
Undulating in its morphology, plastered in tones of pale pastel green, the logistical building boasts a noticeable degree of complexity in its layout, with a clearly defined T-shaped circulation path that bridges its two divergent wings. While the east wing is geared towards the more public functions, including the reception, changing rooms, medical, and administrative areas, along with supervised meeting spaces for parents and children, which are all ordered over two levels, the western section of the building contains laundry and dining areas. In order to restrict their entry into the complex as far as possible, the supervised meeting rooms are located fairly close to the entrance, essentially making sure they are perceived as part of the ‘outside world,’ in the words of the design team. Conversely, the logistical block has been designed for efficiency in every respect, where a simple L-shaped pathway cuts through the structure with the workshops aligned on either side of it. The structure opens on to a service yard which leads towards the residential block at the rear.
Naturally, as the centrepiece of the institutional architecture, the living units are the most eye-catching aesthetic statement between all the constituent blocks that decorate the plot. Lustrous metallic pods, with arched ridges running along their surfaces evoke the images of the metaphorical cocoons they are meant to embody. Each unit is a single storey dwelling on its own, with sleeping quarters, living areas, restrooms, and other functional areas. Access to the units is possible from the inside and outside, through a glazed lobby.
Units have been adapted to the proportions of the main user base, exhibiting a cosy atmosphere designed to make children feel secure within their confines. Voids between the cocoons play the role of external breakout zones, in the style of ancient agoras that grant residents a protected hint of the world beyond the complex. Porthole windows on the roofs and arched doorways protruding from the cocoons, permit air to circulate freely through the space, taking care of each child’s physical well-being in addition to their mental state. Plugged into a hexagonal core, which contains a domed space at its centre, with an almost sacred quality, these modules are the very essence of what this project represents to both its creators and ideally, its future users. A palette of wood and natural light, understated yet playful, complemented by sculptural furniture designs, makes the interior design come to life, as a place for the children to explore and revel in the freedom and security they have. “Instead of having a traditional home like everyone else, they will have a house like no one,” concludes Paul Le Quernec, principal at the firm.
Name: Fleury-sur-Orne Nursery
Fleury-sur-Orne, Calvados, France
Client: Département du Calvados, Laurent Carrière, Project Leader
Architect: Paul Le Quernec Architectes
Project Leader: Deborah Kempf
Team: Laure Margottin, Charlotte Metzger, Louise Dalsace
Programming, Planning, and Coordination: EXECOME, Olivier Leconte
Structure Consultant: Sertco
Economy: E3 Economie
MEP Engineer: Solares Bauen
Electricity Consultant: L&N Ingénierie
BIM: BIM Manager
Acoustics Engineer: Ingemansson France
Health, Protection, and Safety Coordinator, Inspection Authority, Utility Companies: Socotec
Distributors: Dalkia, Enedis
Earthworks, External Works, Landscaping: EIFFAGE Travaux Publics Ouest
Structural Works: NCR
Timber Structure: CPL Bois
Zinc Cladding and Façade Finishes: Marie Toit
External Aluminium Metalwork, Ironmongery: ALU BHM
External Thermal Insulation: SAS MORIN
Interior Woodwork - Furniture: CPL Bois, MAE Agencement
Flexible Wall and Floor Coverings: Michel Marie (MM KL)
Tiling, Earthenware, Screeds: Martin CMC
Interior Painting, Cleaning: K14
Elevator: Orona Ouest Nord
Heating, Ventilation, Plumbing, Sanitary: Piquot
Plasterwork, False Ceilings: ETS ORQUIN
Sprayed Plaster Nursery: ETS ORQUIN, sous-traitant : Art du plâtre