• Activities and Offices: The Big Bets of Active Living

    How to respond to the evolution of a sector in constant renewal while being in agreement with the development challenges of the metropolises of our time? AZC Architects presents its vision of this topic.

    The globalization of national economies, which adopt the same principles of production, is reflected in an identical urban modeling of world cities. The territories of Paris, Montreal, Brussels, Sydney or Tokyo undergo the same phenomena of spreading, deconcentrations or urban polarizations.

    Dans la région parisienne, l’ensemble de l’organisation métropolitaine reflète l’organisation des marchés immobiliers de bureaux, tant les enjeux financiers qu’ils représentent, sont déterminants. Le phénomène est largement expliqué par l’économiste et sociologue Saskia Sassen, dans ‘Global City’.

    Today Paris is the French region in which the 'metropolitan condition' opens widely the field of possibilities in the architecture of activities. With renovations of anonymous or iconic buildings, new buildings on islands and wasteland, Paris reinforces its polarities in neighborhoods like La Défense and continues actively spreading to the peripheries, following the trend.

    The City also supports the construction of offices and business premises at favorable rates, designed to facilitate the creation of young businesses: business hotels, nurseries, workshops.

    Other, more traditional, public players are also starting to create new types of activity buildings: fablabs, innovation centers … University campuses and research centers with land, want today open their scientific and experimental activities to new, more dynamic and inclusive economies.

    An evolutionary architecture

    At the time of a vibrant culture, space must be designed for evolution and change.

    The evolution of buildings is for us a recurring concern. Subject to change of ownership, changing standards or simply a desire for renewal, each construction should, ideally, be able to play new roles whenever necessary.

    The structure as a guarantee of coherence

    Most often, the structure is a way of considering buildings in their evolution capacity. The precise analysis of the structures and the operating diagrams makes it possible to decide finely on the transformation of each one. The structure is a means of scheduling that can guarantee consistency throughout the life of a building.


    In urban areas, transformation is more than ever a fundamental subject that allows recycling and upgrading of existing heritage by bringing the building up to general standards. Paris has many buildings built during the growth cycles of the 1970s to 2000, which have the potential to be transformed into qualitative spaces and economically very profitable. The idea is not to make neutral shells ready to be "filled", but to design spaces that could free uses.

  • Example of a social and medical project
    by Margot Guislain

    Conversation about the realization of the residence Monconseil in the ZAC of the same name in Tours. This interview was conducted by Margot Guislain, architecture journalist, with the people involved in the design and construction of the Monconseil Retreat House in Tours.

    Arlette Bosch, Deputy Mayor of Tours in charge of the elderly and solidarity, Vice-President of the communal center of social action.

    Denis Guihomat, Director of the communal center of social action.

    Luc Mahaut, Director of the Trois Rivières and Monconseil retirement homes

    Stéphane Roy, Plee Constructions - Structural Work

    Stéphane Garnier, Soriba company - architectural concrete

    Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zundel, AZC - Architects

    Margot Guislain

    The architecture responds above all to a command, that is to say to a concrete need. Subject to the imperative of sustainability, it must be at the service of users to take into account their comfort and well-being. Working on projects in the medical field - psychiatric hospital for children, retirement home, baby mother unit, rehabilitation clinic and follow-up care, nursing home - request to approach each project with the necessary pragmatism.

    Program, site and budget, are three golden rules that impose their strength, their unavoidable needs, but which, taking them with patience and creativity, are an opportunity to give the building owner and building users a " I do not know what", besides who does everything.

    First, immerse yourself in the program to understand all the workings, then give it an added value by allowing other uses, through the work of details. The site dictates its laws but, in exchange, can be modeled, magnified. And the budget, which is important, which tames the project but which, by radical architectural choices, brings relief and identity. With these three parameters as guides, it is clear more than ever, that the hero of the adventure is not the architect but the project itself.

    To share this experience and inform the projects, AZC invited different stakeholders - owners, users, companies to give their point of view on the realization of medical equipment in which, together, they are involved.


    Where did the decision to build Monconseil retirement home come from?

    AB: The home care needs of dependent elderly people and people with Alzheimer's disease were overwhelming. Hence the decision of our board of directors to immediately embark on the adventure of a fourth retirement home meeting these two expectations, we decided to keep the project management for the construction of this fourth establishment. From the beginning, we wanted this retirement home to be exemplary. We set up working groups with CCAS administrators and staff members: nurses, caregivers, social workers, cooks, psychologists, ambulance attendants … Every staff member let us know what they wanted: we wanted understand what an "ideal retirement home" might look like We managed to introduce some original program elements while entering into the budget envelope that we set ourselves so that people with modest incomes could stay in Monconseil.

    What is the big challenge of this achievement?

    AB: This is not an establishment realized by a large group and delivered turnkey, but of a structure which asked all the actors of the project a personal investment, made of humility before the stakes, d a healthy curiosity about innovation but also a great determination in front of administrative requirements and the follow-up of the financial commitments. This retirement home, we can say that it was the staff who made it. May he be thanked. Architects make a work of art and we want to make it inhabited. I can see now that, in terms of architecture and users, she is referring to it. Everyone is talking about the "beautiful retirement home Monconseil".

    Did you have to make concessions?

    DG: Indeed, when we defined our program, the field was not yet chosen, and we then worked on what we thought would be our ideal retirement home. We wanted a building at R + 1, with all the collective spaces on the ground floor and all the accommodation spaces on one floor because, as I said before, the teams work much more easily in a horizontal way than vertical. *

    DG: The project has benefited from previous experiences and the mistakes have not been replicated. For example, the building has only two floors, not five as is the case for another of our retirement homes. Indeed, too many levels pose operational problems because the staff can not afford, for the safety of residents, to temporarily leave a floor. Monconseil is to this day our most successful retirement home.

    What do you expect from an architect for the realization of a retirement home?

    LM: The adequacy between the architecture of the building and the needs related to the care of residents: where do we sleep? In floor, on the ground floor? On how many levels? How to locate the rooms according to the pathologies? Where to place staff premises so that it can work calmly and efficiently?

    The architect must first be able to respond to this type of questioning, the aesthetic comes second. Because it's up to the building to adapt to the users and not the other way around. If regulatory bodies engage with users and architects, we could change the standards in terms of room surface, adapt accessibility standards to people with disabilities depending on the context, since in this area, we in fact too much, not enough.

    The architect must use his talent to integrate a whole arsenal of medical equipment in the most rational way, without producing a hospital atmosphere. For example, oxygen extractors must be easily accessible, but do not hang out in the hallways. In Monconseil, the architects managed to find this place for them.


    This retirement home is one of the first buildings to come out of the ground in the Monconseil ZAC, a new eco-district in the middle of a building located north of Tours. What were the influences of urban regulation on project design?

    AZC: Our first sketch in the competition phase proposed a low construction, of a single floor, displayed on the ground, pierced with patios and protected from the urban agitation. The client's specifications - the municipal center of social action - tended towards this type of architecture. The "ideal home" that they had imagined during a long phase of consultation with all the staff could be read there.

    On the other hand, the planning regulations issued by the ZAC called for equipment turned towards the city, as high as possible and in perfect alignment with the street. In fact, the two documents had been drawn up independently, so we found ourselves faced with two divergent, almost contradictory requests.

    How did you resolve this contradiction?

    AZC: With the final sketch, it was clear that we had given up "the little house on the meadow", difficult to achieve given the constraints of urban planning, but also in terms of budget savings: everything therefore helped to guide us to the figure of the "bar". According to urban regulations, we aligned the building on the street, placed the garden entirely at the back, and gathered the rooms on two floors above the ground floor. The building then became compact. But in architecture, the memory of the first sketch never disappears altogether. The first desires resist and creep into the new project, as constrained as it is. Thus, the original small house was able to take shape with the Alzheimer unit, a small square-shaped building, entirely on the ground floor and organized around a planted patio. Through a large bay window, transparency is created that visually links the interior garden of this unit with the main one of the retirement home, which then takes the status of a large patio.

    As we won the competition in front of a jury made up of CCAS members, elected officials and the chief architect of the ZAC, it is likely that our final project was able to reach consensus, that is, to reconcile the ideals of the CCAS and the realities of the ZAC Monconseil.

    Bar more concrete: the association can be scary. How did the choice of concrete prevail?

    An all-wood building would have caused summer comfort problems at room temperature, and this is particularly important for a retirement home. Not only does concrete have the advantage of having good thermal inertia, but it is also cheaper and more environmentally friendly than wood since, in Europe, cement plants are never far from a construction site. Moreover, in Tours, there is a real tradition of concrete: companies have a real know-how which it would be a shame not to take advantage.

    And then, a great opportunity to work concrete in a very particular way came during the studies: the CCAS came to ask us for a fresco that animate the facade by evoking the lives of residents. With reason, it seemed to them necessary that the retirement home is not anonymous, but displays its identity in this new district of Tours. We seized their request, but rather than a painted decoration, we proposed to them to play with the same material of the concrete so as to reveal, by means of a sandblasting, motifs of tapestry on all the facades. This is a direct reference to the history of Tours which, as a former city of silk, supplied the kingdom of France in fabrics of all kinds. With such a finish, the concrete, even raw, becomes here velvet.

    Looking back, how do you see this achievement today?

    The contest was won in 2006: today, we would have held more on our belief to break the building into several plots. But in return, the linearity of the bar, more economical, allowed to implement the materials in a more noble way: the concrete facades have a very special finish thanks to this tapestry effect, the windows are aluminum, the fake ceilings are in perforated metal and not in fiber and the furniture has been chosen to measure. But what is most important in this building is the absence of overbid: there is no extraordinary lighting but generous interior spaces and everywhere bathed in natural light. Indeed, the dimensions of the windows are such that the total glazed area of the building is almost twice the minimum required by the regulations. And that's a lot ...

    Architecture and technique

    Do you think that architecture has fulfilled its mission here?

    LM: The architects have created small friendly living units with a common space in the center of each floor and smaller, room-sized, traffic-oriented lounges that allow you to sit quietly within a few minutes. each. With such a gradation of the collective to the private, the intimacy of the rooms is preserved without sacrificing the meeting. For those who need to be reassured by the presence of the staff, it is even possible to keep the door of the room open without suffering noise. This possibility of isolating oneself in a community life is important for residents who, very often, suddenly move from the private world of their home to the collective one of the retirement home. Everyone needs to have both a social living space and a place to meet oneself.

    The design of the unit for people with Alzheimer's disease, with rooms on the ground floor and an interior patio where they can walk safely, also contributes to a good architectural reflection.

    What were the first impressions of staff and residents when they arrived?

    LM: The corridors appeared to be huge and at first the staff even wanted roller skates! But finally everyone was satisfied with the organization, very rational, floors. The light gray circulations and collective spaces also raised fears: the staff felt they were in a hospitable world! But he understood this choice when the colored furniture arrived. This has all balanced and done away with this first impression! In the same way, the differences of colors on the doors and the small vestibule of entrance of each room give marks to the residents. However there is a flat to put on the red - considered too violent by many - some rooms, which have had trouble finding takers. And a flat too on the too light shade of concrete in the garden, which causes dazzling.

    Concrete does not always have a good image in the eyes of users. What about here?

    DG: Thanks to the motifs that run through the façades and recall the history of Tours and its former silks, it is no longer just concrete walls. The tapestry effect produced is the architectural "mark" of the establishment. It is important for residents and their families to have a beautiful building in which they can identify. He is neither sad nor old and not fragile: he is solid and contemporary.

    During the development of the project, on which points did you have to reframe the architectural design?

    DG: The only doubt that there has been concerns the choice of colors made by the architects. We had to find a deal by reducing the too much, and reducing the painted surfaces in the rooms. But the result, they continue to be controversial: there are those who do not like the red, too violent, others green … Sometimes, the rooms are difficult to attribute. On the other hand, in the circulations, the colors of the furniture are cheerful and pass very well.

    That a shell company makes tapestry patterns is rather unexpected. How did you respond to this order?

    SR: For this type of work, we work in collaboration with Soriba, a very specialized company in the realization of concretes with particular finishes: texture, relief, patterns … What was the case at Monconseil retirement home where the facades concrete are covered with a plant motif of four meters by four which is repeated to form a huge tapestry, evoking the history of Tours and its former silks. Our technical design office - Haller - first designed all the concrete panels according to their location on the facades, the size of the windows, the plans of reinforcement, particular for each of them as these panels are not laid in cladding but constitute the very supporting structure of the building.

    These preliminary studies resulted in a façade layout plan from which Soriba was able to realize, one by one and very meticulously, a hundred panels, none of which are quite similar to the other. Thanks to this high level of precision, the construction company Plee Constructions has assembled the facades by assembling the panels to the nearest centimeter to ensure the continuity of the upholstery on all sides of the building. Imagine: one mistake on the study and the prefabrication of a panel and it is all the others that should have been remanufactured!

    SG: We first thought to reproduce the vegetal motif of the tapestry with the technique of stamped concrete. But we proposed that of the stencil, from a stainless steel plate on which the pattern is reproduced by laser cuts.

    First, we just put the steel stencil on the panel following the calepinage made in design office. In a second step, we attack the concrete by projection of sand, air and water with a machine (process called hydro sandblasting), as if we passed the panel to Kärcher. In this way, in the hollows of the stencil, the thinnest and lightest components of the cement are detached from the surface of the concrete, revealing the thickest and darkest aggregates. This results in a darker shade of the pattern reproduced on the concrete.

    It is therefore by contrast between light concrete and dark concrete that the pattern is drawn. But his complete design overlapping several panels, it was necessary to position the stencil each time differently to reproduce in its entirety. This required a long and careful preparation that we carried out using a suitable software.

    What satisfaction do you get from such an original realization?

    SR: On most of the buildings we build, our work is not visible once the site is finished, since the masonry is usually covered with a siding or plaster. On the other hand, at Monconseil retirement home, the concrete is still there, showing a complex implementation, with a very original finish. When we pass the building, we turn our heads towards the building, happy to have participated in its construction.

    SG: The requirement of the architects was very great and was granted with our technical imperatives. The prefabrication of the panels in the workshop made it possible to work quickly, cleanly, sheltered from the dust and the hazards of the building site. In addition, thanks to the use of silicone, the joints between the panels are very attenuated, and what we see first, it is therefore a facade upholstered.


    Why did you choose the Zündel and Cristea project?

    DG: It was the project that seemed closest to our ideal home. We wanted indeed spacious and pleasant corridors that are indoor walks. Because we must take into account that most older people leave very little outside because of mobility problems and in summer they suffer from heat. Residents must therefore want to walk inside the building, which is the case in Monconseil thanks to the small rooms that punctuate traffic, the abundance of natural light, the views of the outside …

    Another important criterion: the realistic operating costs in the Zündel and Cristea project. Other projects were discarded only because they did not take them sufficiently into account. For example, the green walls: it's beautiful but it's not for us, we do not have the means to maintain them. It must be realized that this is primarily a nursing home that depends on social assistance.

    What made you think that the operating costs would be acceptable in the selected project?

    DG: Its architectural sobriety that does not prevent the aesthetic dimension: the facades, even if they are very original, do not require more maintenance than the usual remodelings, widely spaced in time. We also saw that to clean the glazing there would be no need to use a basket or to call a mountain climber, as is the case for another of our establishments, because of its entirely glazed facades of which the windows do not open.

    It is a whole set of details like these, which one does not necessarily perceive during the contest, and which make flambé the costs of maintenance. But when we have been scalded, we pay attention. In this sense, this project was able to benefit from the realization of our three previous retirement homes. In this type of establishment, we prefer to put the means at the service of residents rather than spend our time repainting the walls and mowing the lawns …