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French Architect Designs Schools That Are Works of Art

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At the start of a new school year, elementary school teachers make pilgrimages to art and school supply stores, searching for brightly colored posters and bulletin board decorations that will make their otherwise drab, standard-issue classrooms into a more engaging learning environment. Teachers at the Niki-de-Saint-Phalle school in the Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, however, won’t have to worry about that kind of thing; their entire learning environment has been professionally designed by architect Paul le Quernec into a multi-hued, modernist educational paradise.

The school in Saint-Denis is a dual-purpose space, used to teach both preschool and elementary-aged students. Le Quernec drew inspiration from the left and right hemispheres of the brain to design the two wings, reasoning that children of different ages learn in different ways. For the younger children, le Quernec designed rooms with soft curves in varying shades of orange, conveying a gentleness of approach while hoping to stimulate creative thought with the warm, bright hue. Older children, whose education requires more structure, sit down to desks in more angular spaces, painted green to foster concentration. The school’s external façade effectively melds the two color schemes, cleverly constructed from painted wood in such a way that the building appears to be orange from some angles and green from others, depending on where the viewer is standing.

Book lovers will especially appreciate le Quernec’s design for the children’s library, painted in soothing white with warm light and plenty of benches and igloo-shaped reading nooks. Rose-hued corridors lead children through the airy entrance hall to the school’s two playgrounds, and light comes from a combination of whimsically shaped floating lamps and the sunlight filtering in through large transparent doors and windows. Even the fire extinguisher has its own purpose-designed space: in a stark white hallway, a bright red nook shaped like a flame denotes where one can find the necessary fire safety equipment.

Despite the deliberate logic evident in every detail of the Niki-de-Saint-Phalle school, le Quernec admits that his reasoning is based less on hard science and more on an artistic sensibility: “My answer will be considered as very pretentious or very irresponsible, but the truth is that I draw these spaces with my intuition and my childhood memory.” It is a style that carries through to his other designs for school buildings, evident in the enormous open reading space of a nursery school library in Illkirch, the quirky cafeteria chairs in an elementary school in Briarres and the multicolor polka-dotted exterior of a school in Montpon.

Le Quernec’s conceptual architecture doesn’t stop there. A nursery in Sarreguemines, designed in collaboration with architect Michel Grasso, bears no small resemblance to a cell of the body. The nursery itself is the nucleus, enclosed by gardens representing the cytoplasm and a surrounding wall as the cell membrane. The red-and-white entrance is explicitly intended to be “vaginal,” with the building’s general curves and non-linearity meant to evoke a sense of uterine comfort in both young children and their parents. Though the design itself may be subtle, le Quernec’s nods to his inspiration are not. If walls could talk, le Quernec’s school buildings would have plenty to say.

[h/t Wired]

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Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen
Norway Opens Another Spectacular Roadside Bathroom
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen

Norway’s National Tourist Routes will change how you think about rest stops. As part of a decades-long program, the Norwegian government has been hiring architects and designers to create beautiful roadside lookouts, bathrooms, and other amenities for travelers along 18 scenic highways throughout the country. One of the latest of the projects unveiled, spotted by Dezeen, is a glitzy restroom located on the Arctic island of Andøya in northern Norway.

The facility, designed by the Oslo-based Morfeus Arkitekter, is located near a rock formation called Bukkekjerka, once used as a sacrificial site by the indigenous Sami people. The angular concrete and steel structure is designed to fit in with the jagged mountains that surround it.

The mirrored exterior wall of the bathroom serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it reflects the scenery around the building, helping it blend into the landscape. But it also has a hidden feature. It’s a one-way mirror, allowing those inside the restroom to have a private view out over the ocean or back into the mountains while they pee.

The newly landscaped rest area near the bathroom will serve as an event space in the future. The Bukkekjerka site is already home to an annual open-air church service, and with the new construction, the space will also be used for weddings and other events. Because this is the Arctic Circle, though, the restroom is only open in the late spring and summer, closing from October to May. Check it out in the photos below.

A bathroom nestled in a hilly landscape
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

The mirrored facade of a rest stop reflects concrete steps leading down a pathway.
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

A person stands outside the bathroom's reflective wall.
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

A wide view of a rest stop at the base of a coastal mountain
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Trine Kanter Zerwekh / Statens vegvesen

[h/t Dezeen]

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Snøhetta
Norway's New Hotel in the Arctic Circle Will Produce More Energy Than It Uses
Snøhetta
Snøhetta

A new hotel coming to Norway’s section of the Arctic Circle will be more than just a place to stay for a stunning fjord view. The Svart hotel, which is being billed as the world’s first "energy-positive" hotel, is designed to “set a new standard in sustainable travel,” according to Robb Report.

Built by a tourism company called Arctic Adventure Norway and designed by Snøhetta, an international architecture firm headquartered in Oslo, it’s one of the first buildings created according to the standards of Powerhouse, a coalition of firms (including Snøhetta) devoted to putting up buildings that will produce more power over the course of 60 years than they take to build, run, and eventually demolish. It will be located on a fjord at the base of Svartisen, one of the largest glaciers on Norway’s mainland and part of Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park.

A hotel stretches out above the water of a fjord.
Snøhetta

The design of the hotel is geared toward making the facility as energy-efficient as possible. The architects mapped how the Sun shines through the mountains throughout the year to come up with the circular structure. When the Sun is high in the winter, the terraces outside the rooms provide shadows that reduce the need for air conditioning, while the windows are angled to catch the low winter Sun, keeping the building warm during cold Arctic winters. In total, it is expected to use 85 percent less energy than a traditional hotel.

The sun reflects off the roof of a hotel at the base of a glacier on a sunny day.
Snøhetta

Svart will also produce its own energy through rooftop solar panels, though it won’t have excess energy on hand year-round. Since it’s located in the Arctic Circle, the hotel will have an abundance of sunlight during the summer, at which point it will sell its excess energy to the local electricity grid. In the winter, when it’s too dark for solar energy production, the hotel will buy energy back from the grid. Over the course of the year, it will still produce more energy than it uses, and over time, it will eventually produce enough excess energy to offset the energy that was used to build the structure (including the creation of the building materials).

“Building in such a precious environment comes with some clear obligations in terms of preserving the natural beauty and the fauna and flora of the site,” Snøhetta co-founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen explains in the firm’s description of the design. “Building an energy-positive and low-impact hotel is an essential factor to create a sustainable tourist destination respecting the unique features” of the area.

Svart is set to open in 2021.

[h/t Robb Report]

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