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In the 13th arrondissement, the former Lourcine barracks and its parade-grounds courtyard have been sensitively – yet dramatically – re-invented. Now part of the law faculty for the University of Paris 1, the 19th-century military complex has been adapted and expanded to house classrooms, offices and a lecture theatre, while the sloping grounds around it have been integrated into a landscape that invites life into the site.

Paris firm ChartierDalix architects fully maintained the structure of the former barracks while carving out new underground spaces – which house the marquee 500-seat lecture hall – beneath the courtyard that sits at the heart of the historic milieu.

This square courtyard and former parade grounds is enclosed on all four sides – by the original Lourcine barracks, erected in 1875, and a pair of 20th-century additions that completed the full-block military campus. To animate the quad, ChartierDalix devised a new outdoor circulation scheme centred on the plaza that fronts the new subterranean addition.

While the bulk of the new structure sits below ground – maintaining the generously scaled open space above – the designers prioritized a feeling of openness and an abundance of natural light. Fronting the new plaza, full-length glazing is framed by an envelope of weathering steel, creating both a visual focal point and an intuitive “front door” for the campus. The same rusty steel patina also accents parts of the courtyard, fostering a sense of cohesion.

“The project aims to make the most of this Parisian heritage, taking a precision approach that will as far as possible retain the existing spaces and preserve the historic character of the site,” the firm says.

Featuring 27 teaching rooms, ample study spaces, a 2,000-square-metre library, a lecture theatre, 1,500 square metres of administrative offices and a pair of service apartments, the Paris block is now home to an almost 10,000-square-metre education hub.

Inside, an impressive sense of aesthetic unity ties the campus together, all while respecting the character of the older buildings. Throughout, simple – almost spartan – finishes are paired with soft lighting and warm wood touches.

A sort of industrial aesthetic pervades, one that is emphasized by lighting fixtures that emerge from ceiling-suspended steel pipes.

Raw concrete and exposed ventilation accentuate the pared-down spaces, lending ChartierDalix’s occasional flourishes – like the sinuous spiral staircase – a contextually stronger presence. And even in the windowless subterranean passages that connect the campus, weathering steel walls create a rich, moody atmosphere that brings to mind the sunlit courtyard just above the roof.

ChartierDalix Transforms a Paris Barracks Into a Striking Law School

Anchored by a showpiece courtyard above a new 500-seat lecture hall, the elegant education hub replaces an erstwhile military complex.

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