For institutions intended to mould the minds of the next generation, the sterile, pragmatic designs of most elementary schools offer little in the way of inspiration. But in the Paris suburb of Drancy, the recently unveiled Simone de Beauvoir School is reimagining outdated conventions. Designed by Bond Society and Daudré-Vignier & Associés, the school is appropriately named for a paradigm-setting feminist philosopher.
It starts with context: the architects faced several challenges in integrating the building with its primarily residential setting. Flanked by two high-rise apartment towers, the school joins a nursery and kindergarten on the same site, both of which are more traditionally designed. The new building’s inward-facing design is largely informed by consultation with the City of Drancy, as well as the need to create privacy from the adjacent public square.
From afar, the structure reads as the impermeable box many have come to associate with schools — with one critical change: the materials. Here, brick and concrete are cast aside in favour of a limestone plinth and eco-friendly timber, both of which were locally sourced. The resulting building evokes the softness and vitality expected of an environment that nourishes young minds. Come closer, and the façade dissolves into a slatted wooden screen that filters light with a warm, ethereal and almost forest-like quality.
At the core of the design are “spatial quality, functionality, and sustainability,” according to the architects. These priorities take hold in the interior. The L-shaped structure is efficiently planned to include a reception hall, multi-purpose room, 10 classrooms, communal leisure spaces and a school restaurant.
A minimal palette of white walls, exposed timber post-and-beam construction and custom millwork defines the classrooms, serving as a blank canvas for students’ vivid displays. Though the hues may seem reserved for a building designed for children, the materials were chosen for ease of navigation.
Selected for its environmental benefits, wood is both biologically renewable and efficient to install, with the design taking advantage of fast and precise dry-sector prefabrication. The decision to expose the structure was also well considered — the architects hoped to set a precedent, exposing the next generation to sustainable practices early in their education, all while reducing material costs. Double-height circulation spaces and interior transparencies foster a feeling of openness, while classrooms are flooded with warm natural light through generous west-facing windows that offer views into the lively playground below.
At the front of the building, sharp geometric angles are balanced by an undulating wooden canopy, framing the courtyard playground and connecting the building to the adjacent kindergarten. Here, the architects foster connection with a glazed ground floor, offering views into the school’s “centre of life.” The courtyard seeps into the building through an open-air educational garden, flanked by the leisure centre and multi-purpose rooms. It’s just one way the school’s design has informed its students’ education, both in and out of the classroom. And, if this is any prototype for schools of the future, the next generation is in capable hands.
Designed by local firms Bond Society and Daudré-Vignier & Associés, the Simone de Beauvoir School celebrates the efficient beauty of timber design in the Paris suburbs.