To grasp the meaning and design philosophy of the Maison de l’Ordre des Avocats (MOdA), like that of the nearby courthouse, both by the studio RPBW of Renzo Piano, we need to examine these new works of architecture inside the events that have led to one of the biggest worksites in France of recent years: that of the Clichy-Batignolles district, in the northwestern part of the city. A site based on the transformation of the Batignolles rail yard, part of the first line of the French railroad gradually abandoned since the 1970s, giving rise to a situation and approach of great timeliness (just consider the projects now programmed for the near future in the rail yards of Milan), where the strategy of urban regeneration should be carefully examined in its phases of implementation and its developments based on diversity and mixing of functions.
The place has been substantially reimagined as an urban hinge capable of joining the city and the periphery through a synergy of factors of climate rebalancing and social redistribution, with a mixture of functions interpreted in architectural and landscape figures that thrive on variety. A large urban park (named for Martin Luther King, and the first segment to be completed) has been conceived as a central element of connection between the new parts of the area and the historical city. Now in its final phase, the urban area of ‘refoundation’ includes – as the completion of the new legal citadel – the building of the Maison de l’Ordre des Avocats, which like the courthouse is based on a design program marked by three precise criteria: transparency (physical and symbolic), a focus on the context and its renewal, and functional quality.
Placed on an axis perpendicular to the large courthouse, the MOdA follows the form of the lot in its layout solution, defining a trapezoidal figure raised with overhangs on two sides, with the aim of developing and absorbing the pedestrian spaces of the surroundings inside its perimeter, treated as part of the ground seam of the complex. The constraints imposed by the difficult conditions of the site (the presence of two metro lines and the foundations of the neighboring courthouse) which permitted supports of just 400 square meters on the 1200 of the constructed area, led to a structural solution with just five impost points, on which to place the steel skeleton that rises from the third to the eighth floor, with overhangs as large as 27 meters (towards the courthouse) and 10 meters at the apex of the front towards the street.
A sort of ship’s bow with glazed sides, which together with the parallel sides of the courthouse grant lightness and transparency to the entire complex, leaving the materials of the interiors visible. These materials are mainly fair-face concrete and wood for the full-height paneling and custom furnishings produced by UniFor, created by RPBW as ‘construction elements,’ part of the overall architecture. In their midst the double-face bookcase stands out, a Mur de Livres, the iconic element of reference that extends for a length of 30 meters, on two levels marked by a loft-balcony for access. Among these furnishings, which take the interior design into the overall architectural dimension, UniFor has produced the reception counter faced in oak with white tops and two ‘bulles de confidentialité’ or independent glass capsules for small meetings or the exchange of confidential information.
The interior design, on view thanks to the completely transparent architectural skin of the building, and the design and choice of the furnishings are joined by a technical lighting project developed in synergy with iGuzzini. Carried out by Franck Franjou, “a sculptor of the nocturnal environment,” the project had to first of all address the relationship with natural light and the outdoors, bringing essentially indirect light into the workspaces, with non-invasive elements that do not impact the gaze as ‘objects’ but instead stand out for the qualitative value of the light source, in keeping with the philosophy pursued for some time by the company iGuzzini. The choice of indirect lighting brings out the material quality of the concrete ceilings, using site-specific products alongside fixtures already in production, such as the iconic Le Perroquet spotlight designed by Renzo Piano himself.
The project thus takes the large bulk of the courthouse onto an urban scale (a work from 2017, winner of the Èquerre d’Argent for architecture), inserting it in a harmonious way in the new fabric of ZAC Clichy Batignolles, mixing the activities connected with the judicial citadel with shops on the ground floor, which help to activate social contact in the plaza and the surrounding streets.
Project Renzo Piano Building Workshop - Photos Sergio Grazia / courtesy of RPBW