Jean Carrière Nursery School Nimes, French Education Building Design

Ecole Maternelle Nimes, France : Jean Carrière Nursery School

Nimes Nursery School, southern France – design by Tectoniques

20 Sep 2012

Jean Carrière Nursery School, Nimes


Ecole Maternelle Nimes

Design: Tectoniques

Ecole Maternelle Nimes: Jean Carrière Nursery

Photos © Jerome Ricolleau

Jean Carrière Nursery School, Nimes

A school in the shade of the plane-trees

The Jean Carrière nursery school in Nimes (southern France) is located in the Haute Magaille neighbourhood, south-east of the city centre, in an area of low-rise housing.

Existing large plane trees form a remarkable framework of greenery, create a warm atmosphere, and act as natural climate regulators. The proposed scheme preserves most of them and associates them actively with the architecture. The second major factor concerns the habitability of the site, which is subject to a major constraint related to drainage. The street that runs alongside the scheme is a storm water run-off corridor.

The flood risk prevention regulations put in place by the City of Nimes limit occupation of the ground floor and require the classrooms to be placed on the first upper floor. This arrangement, which is quite atypical for a nursery school, is turned to advantage by the architects, who propose a building that is suspended in the foliage of the plane trees. From the classrooms, the children have a unusual pleasant view of the school’s natural setting.

Ecole Maternelle Nimes: Jean Carrière Nursery

To establish some architectural complicities

A large part of the programme is placed on the first upper floor to comply with flood protection requirements for the area. As a result, the architecture is unique among the design schemes produced by the firm. The building seems to float a few metres above the ground, like a vessel hovering at the height of the roofs of the surrounding houses. This atypical arrangement could have resulted in a distance between the facility and its environment, or in a denial of the context. But this is not the case. It was necessary to avoid any direct architectural complicity with the neo-traditional low-rise housing that surrounds the project. The facility had to be placed clearly within a contemporary perspective, since the client had no doubt on this issue.

Ecole Maternelle Nimes: Jean Carrière Nursery

Simple organisation

In order to reduce the mass and impact of the scheme, the building is broken down into four volumes, which seem to slide between the trees. These volumes, occupied by the classrooms and the leisure area, rest on a series of solid stone walls arranged on the east-west grid lines, and on the north-south lines of slender metal columns. This heavy-light contrast is one of the distinguishing features of the scheme. The cross-shaped plan allows simple, clearly visible operation. The circulation areas are not just ordinary corridors. They are treated like habitable areas, widely open to the landscape, with views in all four directions. The partitions between the classrooms and the circulation areas are partly glazed, to allow through views from one external wall to the other. The internal atmosphere is similar to an open-plan office area, as opposed to the conventional type of corridor confined between enclosed classrooms.

The ground floor contains the canteen, the multi-purpose room, and the ancillary and service areas. These areas are divided into two self-contained blocks, to preserve the openness and transparency of the whole. The unconstructed areas in the west are used for the schoolyard and the covered playground area, while the east side is used for parking. The covered playground area is extended by raised timber decking, which is itself extended by a lawn play area. At the south-west corner, a storm water retention pond forms a wet garden, inaccessible to the children, which physically represents the site’s liability to flooding. On the upper floor, the five classrooms face east. The offices, rest areas, computer rooms, library and leisure area are arranged along the east elevation. The building services plant rooms occupy the central strip.

Ecole Maternelle Nimes: Jean Carrière Nursery

Bioclimatic design

The scheme’s environmental objective is one of the requirements stipulated in the brief, but it also corresponds to the architects’ habitual general motivations. The Jean Carrière school meets the low energy consumption building criteria, and it has BBC-Effinergie certification (with consumption lower than 40 kWh of primary energy per m2 per year). It has also received the “label Or” (Gold Label) certification of the Bâtiments Durables Méditerranéens association for sustainable building. The architecture’s “passive” behaviour is fundamental for adapting to the Nimes climate, and the scheme’s architectural style is mainly a result of this bioclimatic concern.

In particular, one may mention the protection of all exposed façades (with double solar protection: fixed horizontal protection and adjustable vertical protection), appropriate management of the construction’s thermal inertia capacities (sufficient for night-time summer cooling, but not too much to allow the building’s good response for intermittent use), extra insulation, particularly for the roof (with a ventilation layer under the built-up roofing membrane, then 43 centimetres of accumulated insulation consisting of cellulose wadding and wood fibre), natural ventilation of external wall membranes, good airtightness (1.14 m3/h.m2 measured by the “blower door” test during and at the end of construction work), bioclimatic use of existing trees in the west and south, and the performance of the timber-framed building envelopes.

Ecole Maternelle Nimes: Jean Carrière Nursery

A Meccano-like combination of construction elements

The choice of light construction, that is, with low thermal inertia, required a specific strategy for responding to the requirements of the Nimes climate. The building is mainly constructed in timber (structural frameworks of elevations, floors and roofs). In addition, a primary structure in industrial structural sections is used for the cantilevers. With these industrial structural section, it is possible to have relatively slender pilotis “pile-columns” on the ground floor, and also to comply with the height requirement stipulated by the local planning regulations (a timber primary structure would have had very negative spin-off effects in the habitable areas, which already have minimum heights).

Overall, the scheme applies a principle of the combination of three categories of materials: wood and products from plant sources, steel, and stone and concrete masonry. Every material is used where it is the most effective: wood for building envelopes and minor floor structures, steel for large spans, cantilevers and columns, and masonry for elements that ensure structural stability. This constructional combination is a distinguishing feature of the Jean Carrière nursery school and, more generally, of all schemes designed by the school’s architects.

Ecole Maternelle Nimes: Jean Carrière Nursery

Greenery, an indispensable element of the scheme

As we have seen, the existing plane trees on the site play an essential part in the scheme. Apart from acting a natural “air conditioner”, they form a distinctive feature, with greenery as the school’s external setting. In this scheme, which makes reference to the idea of a tree-house, the landscaping has a special role. Since the site is liable to flooding, the buildings have to be raised by around one metre and an inaccessible retention pond has to be excavated in the plot. Above all, the landscaping scheme aims to satisfy the resulting topographical requirements, while keeping the existing trees and preserving a maximum surface area of schoolyard in this cramped plot. A part of the schoolyard has raised timber decking which is built around the plane trees. The schoolyard also has play facilities, a lawn part and a strip of vegetable garden.

Ecole Maternelle Nimes Jean Carrière nursery building

Jean Carrière Nursery School Nimes – Building Information

Total floor area: 1,750 m2
Cost of construction: €M 3.05 (not including VAT)
Client: Construction Department, City of Nimes

Main architects (project leaders): Tectoniques
Associated architects: Atelier GA
Landscape designer: Itinéraire bis
Lighting designer: Les Eclaireurs
Timber & metal structures: Anglade Structures Bois
Environmental engineers: Indiggo
Building control consultants: BTP Consultants
Construction works management consultants : IGBAT, with Energetech for HVAC
Building environmental quality consultants: Azur
Health, Safety & Environmental Protection consultants: SPS Sud Est

Main products and systems used in the Ecole Maternelle Nimes:

Solid stone walls: stone from Vers-Pont du Gard / Primary structure: steel / industrial rolled structural sections / intumescent finish / Secondary structure: floors & external walls: Douglas fir joists, fir external wall frameworks / External wall finishes: natural larch weather-boarding, Trespa Météon resin cladding panels / Waterproof membrane: polyolefin by Sarnafil / Structural panels: OSB by Kronofrance / Insulation panels: Fibralith by Knauf / Insulation of roof, floors & external walls: Cellisol cellulose wadding / External doors & windows: solid larch / Internal doors & windows: solid oak Door & window hardware: Bezault-Vachette / Finish of fitted furniture: Novolam laminated wood by Isoroy / Floor tiling: Casalgrande / Linoleum: Forbo / Biodynamic lighting & BMS luminaires: Zumtobel / Rainwater downpipes: Pluvia negative pressure roof drainage systems by Geberit / Adjustable louver sun break: Griesser / Evacuated-tube solar collectors for heating sanitary hot water: S-Power / Single-flow air handling unit: GEA / Double-flow air handling unit: France AIR / Heat pump: CIAT / Roof exhaust fans : Edmonds / Building management system: Siemens

Agencie: Tectoniques, Lyon, France

Ecole Maternelle Nimes, France : Jean Carrière Nursery School image / information from Tectoniques


Location: Nimes, France

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