Being commissioned to renovate or redesign a facade is not high on a designer’s list of “wish-I-could-do’s”. The challenges – or hurdles – involved in turning an aging building into something new and attractive are substantial, especially when the facade is old, but not old enough to warrant being revered as being of historic interest and value.
The Pont de Sèvres Towers, which were renamed CityLights subsequent to complete revitalisation and restructuring, were built in 1975 by architects Badani and Roux-Dorlut. Bearing witness to the architectural modernity of the era, they stood high and dense in the midst of a barren urban territory. The restructuring turned this sense of "isolation" into an asset, on a socio-economic as well as an urban level. The project not only comprises a renovation and restructuring of the original complex, but in addition an unveiling of the towers’ self-evident resources. The site is now very well connected to the public transport system. There is a métro stop right outside the building, and with the stations in the Greater Paris network now all connected to the Pont de Sèvres Towers, CityLights has become part of the heart of the city. The towers are therefore an integral part of the project to expand the French capital to create "Grand Paris". In addition to their major territorial impact, these supplementary elements have added to the morphology and mutation of the buildings.
An open, sheltered campus
While the towers were originally cut off from their environment, they are now entirely and organically linked to it through a grid of pedestrian routes connecting them to the new Trapèze district. The wasteland where the former Renault factories once stood has now been replaced by office and residential buildings, both new and refurbished.
The designers conceived a range of spaces in order to open the project to the outside: a large plaza in front of the towers, walkways to all sides, and gardens. The project is now physically anchored within the city. The 53,000 square feet space created at the ground level connects the towers to their environment and embeds them firmly into the urban space. The welcoming entrance areas, walkways and communal spaces support a new type of work environment, suitable for today’s world.
An unveiling process
The decision to rehabilitate such a large architectural project is based on a contemporary logic steeped in efficiency and reality. Such projects possess undeniable design and geometrical qualities. The hexagonal floor plan, for instance, with its central core comprising floors of offices, offers 360° views of Paris and the western suburbs. All of the work spaces receive direct daylight, and the open offices are narrow so that no more than twelve people are ever visible from any given point. The
architecture of the buildings is denser than it would be, had they been conceived nowadays. One of the goals of this project consisted of unveiling these assets.
With their prism-like shapes, the buildings are very efficient when it comes to capturing light. The traditional juxtaposition of north and south no longer applies here. The angles and forms integrated into the facades function in a similar way to optical instruments. Sunlight penetrates the buildings and is also reflected by the crystallised facades, enabling all offices to benefit, whichever side of the building they are located on.
This urban complex forms a prow at the entrance to Boulogne-Billancourt, which can be seen from the highway down the hill leading from Meudon.
While respecting the historic value of the complex, the rehabilitation process of the Pont de Sèvres Towers allowed for a totally new structure to be created, which is in line with current norms and sustainability requirements. The name CityLights, chosen by the project management, describes perfectly the subtly sparkling "bracelets" that embrace the buildings and underscore the presence of the towers against the night sky. Light is woven into the tower facades at different levels, in workplace spaces, dining areas, the auditorium, and the campus that opens out to the city below.
Natural light brings architecture to life, and electric light can play the same role in interior spaces. The lighting required to read a book or to work on a computer is dramatically different from the lighting you need to move through a building. User needs must be addressed at the start of the lighting design process to ensure people not only feel comfortable in the space and are able to perform visual tasks, but to help generate the feeling the space is theirs. The same applies to exterior lighting designs. And just as light can be applied to shape or even transform spaces, so it can be designed to shape and transform building facades.
CityLights is an integral part of the public realm. The LED lighting that has been installed within the folded elements in the facade underscore the rhythm of the facade and lend the renovated structures a new lease of life – a gesture to all those using, or working and living in the buildings. A celebration of urban life, an adornment that speaks of pragmatism coupled with design appeal, to enhance the public realm and to reveal who that belongs to.
The project is a fine example of how light can be designed to create something cool that clearly has character. During the daytime, the designed section of the facade is visually barely noticeable. At night it is the light that makes the difference.
Client: SAS des Tours du Pont de Sèvres
Architecture: Dominique Perrault Architects;