by Gautam Sen, Avik ChattopadhyayJan 13, 2021
Bridging the busy city and the picturesque countryside of Toulouse in France sits the MEETT Exhibition and Convention Centre, designed and constructed by international architecture firm OMA in partnership with PPa architectures and Taillandier Architectes Associés. Their winning competition entry is a project that revolves around architecture, infrastructure, urbanism, landscape and public space.
It was almost a decade ago, in 2011, that the team won the competition to design the new Parc des Expositions that called for a new gateway to the city’s innovation zone. The design serves as an antidote to the sprawl of a standard exposition park, in order to protect the vulnerable countryside from the pressures of urbanisation. Conceived as a 155,00 sqm building, the design adopts the diverse program of MEETT to relate the two faces of Toulouse.
The expo reinforces the intertwined relationship of interior-exterior at various scales, transforming the typically introvert typology into an extrovert one. Throughout the project, indoor and outdoor spaces are combined to build connections with the infrastructure - tramways, roads and airport - to the engulfing countryside.
Following the conventional expo layout, the masterplan is based on a systemic three-metre grid, presenting countless opportunities to split the use of the ground into agglomerations of 3x3 metre cells. Navigation routes have been made instinctive and the compactness of the expo reduces the distances that visitors would need to traverse.
Designed as an active strip, the horizontal and compact structure is divided into three parallel bands - a reception area to the centre, a row of modular exhibition halls to the north, and a convention centre and multi-function event hall to the south.
The central strip contains a 32,700 sqm reception area that greets visitors at the ground floor, further pointing then into the exhibition halls, the exterior expo and the convention centre. The open building functions as a stately entrance straight into the heart of MEETT, maximising the use of natural light and introducing glimpses into the expos from the parking lot.
Titled the ‘Rue Centrale’, the fully pedestrianised space functions just as its name suggests - a circulation ‘street’, an information centre and a public space concurrently. Raised above the Rue Centrale is a four-storey parking space for 3,000 cars, covering a spine where amenities and access to the hall are concentrated. The silo car park occupies the centre of the project to relate it with the surrounding landscape.
The northern strip of exhibitions manifests as a single 700-metre long space composed of a series of black boxes, some on the ground and some levitating in the air. White steel profiles for the structure and a polycarbonate skin for the facade create a regular composition, which emphasises the colossal scale of the building.
The bright and pleasant Exhibition Hall offers 40,000 sqm of presentation area, which can perform either as one large exhibition space or seven modular halls, divided by a mechanised curtain. Reception and VIP areas are situated on two mezzanine levels at either end of the hall, overlooking the exhibition space. The translucent facade of the Exhibition Hall invites the scenic landscape and generous daylight indoors.
A multi-function Event Hall and a Convention Centre together form the southern strip of MEETT. Designed as a machine, the entire building can be transformed into additional exhibition spaces on two levels. The space is able to change into a large number of arrangements - from small meetings rooms to an open plan layout - using a system of movable vertical shutters and horizontal partitions. The event hall can also continue onto the exterior event square through a 13-metre sliding facade on the eastern face.
MEETT also operates as a transportation centre with a tram station, a bus station, a taxi stop and a reception area for cyclists. Directly in front of the transportation hub is a 170m long public plaza that provides a single entrance route to the expo. Predicting further urbanisation of the area, the hub on the eastern side of the expo has the potential to accommodate more infrastructure.
Both monumental in its scale and subtle in its overall impact, MEETT will be a new gateway to Toulouse, connecting the agricultural landscape to the north with urbanised plots dedicated to aeronautics to the south.
Name: MEETT, Toulouse Exhibition and Congress Centre
Status: Completed, opened September 26, 2020
Owner: Toulouse Métropole
User: GL EVENT
Contributors: Toulouse Métropole (199M€), Région Occitanie (45M€), Conseil Départementale Haute-Garonne (45M€), Tisséo Collectivité (22M€)
Address: MEETT, Chemin de l’Enseigure, 31 840 Aussonne, France
Partner: Chris van Duijn, Ellen van Loon, Rem Koolhaas
Project Manager: Gilles Guyot
(Text by Ankitha Gattupalli, intern at STIRworld.com)