New French School Is All Wood and Window

School designs are very different in France.

wooden school window side

Charly Broyez via V2com

Design and architecture specialist Allison Arieff once complained about the design of educational buildings in the U.S.:

"School design, particularly public school design, is often lumped in with the design of other institutional structures like jails, civic centers and hospitals, to detrimental effect. My high school, for example, had the dubious distinction of having been designed by the architect responsible for San Quentin. (The convicts got the better building.) Schools fulfill a practical function, to be sure, but shouldn’t they be designed to inspire?"

Daudré-Vignier & associés + Bond Society

They do things very differently in France, where almost all public buildings are subject to public competitions, and often result in very beautiful buildings, like the Simone de Beauvoir elementary school in Drancy, a suburb of Paris. Designed by Bond Society, a young firm founded by Christelle Gautreau and Stéphanie Morio, who say they are "aware of the ecological urgency, we insist on the sustainability and the reasoned use of materials, natural, bio-sourced or from reuse." They are teamed up with Daudré-Vignier & Associés, with 25 years of experience. Over the years we have seen many young talented architects get their start, with competitions and then teamwork with more experienced firms.

school under construction
Under construction.

Bond Society

The upper floors are built out of wood, which the architects justified in the following ways:

  • Wood construction helps develop the forestry sector and constitutes a relevant alternative to an all-concrete structure.
  • Environmental quality and ecological interest: wood is a biologically renewable material, and the wood absorbs significant amounts of carbon dioxide in its cells, thus contributing to a reduction of the greenhouse effect. It is also energy efficient during installation.
  • Dry-sector prefabrication: speed and precision.
Finished classroom

Charly Broyez

Here is the finished classroom with the beams and columns still exposed, but the ceiling and lighting added between the beams.

cabinetry built in

Charly Broyez

 "Interior transparencies escape the feeling of confinement, and two double-height patios draw natural light and spatiality into the circulation patterns. Far from being simple passages, these spaces are punctuated with custom-made fixed furnishings that integrate storage and benches. The scale of the building, the flexibility of the interior layouts, and the choice of colors make it easier for children to navigate. Furthermore, the visible wooden post / beam structure is an important intention of the project and illustrates an environmental example that raises the awareness of young and old alike. "
plan of ground floor

Bond Society

Everything on the courtyard side is open and glassy, with a big swooping cover connecting them. "The school's largely glazed ground floor forms a 'center of life.' It is a place of education, social life, and interactions, extending the space beyond its simple teaching function."

swoopy cover

Charly Broyez

"Concrete construction is limited to the ground floor, the infrastructure, the stairwells, and the elevator. The stone base is a relevant response to express and protect the building. The play of lights on these materials produces a maternal softness that is pleasant for the children. The stone used in construction was acquired from the Vassens quarries in the Aisne, less than 100km [62 miles] from the project."
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte

Gisele Freund/Photo Researchers History/Getty Images

Things are so different in France. Imagine a North American school named after someone like Simone De Beauvoir, author of "The Second Sex," described as "a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism" and who had a very public and scandalous personal life.

Imagine design competitions for every school, where young architects get the opportunity to get recognized and where every building doesn't go to the design-build team with the cheapest price.

two story space in school

Carly Broyez

Imagine floor-to-ceiling glass facades instead of bulletproof concrete and secured vestibules. Where the architects can say that "usability and environmental requirements prevail in the design, which is intended to be conducive to a study environment" instead of it being a windowless fort.

It's truly a different world.

Wood facade at rear

Charly Broyez