Mantes-la-Jolie, Aquacenter France, Val-Fourré Building, Water Sports Center Paris

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter, France

Water Sports Center near Paris design by Agence SEARCH architects

23 Jan 2012

Aquacenter Mantes-la-Jolie

Design: Agence SEARCH

Project Description

Between landscape and urbanity

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter - Val-Fourré Building, France

Photos © Emile Dubuisson


The new water sports center Mantes-la-Jolie is emblematic of urban renewal in the Val-Fourré public housing projects. Located in the neighborhood “Quartier des Peintres”, known for its problematic social and urban environment, the new buildings are the latest in a series of programs dating back over a decade.

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter  Paris

Beyond being major sports facilities, they are an important neighborhood gathering space, as well as a destination intended to open up the projects to the outside community. The Val-Fourré projects are located on the banks of the Seine. In addition to social integration, the new complex is tasked with the joining together of cityscape and landscape.

Mantes-la-Jolie Water Sports Centre Paris

Conscious of the stakes, Agence SEARCH seized the occasion to create bold high-quality architecture. To make the beautiful banal, an everyday figure in a neighborhood that is often stigmatized, to make it accessible and normal conveys a message of optimism and opportunity.

There are three major ways to interpret the Mantes-la-Jolie water sports center: as a part the greater landscape, as a filter, and through the theme of water.

Mantes-la-Jolie Water Sports Center Paris

The greater landscape
The exceptional site offers beautiful views of the Vexin hillsides. The undulating morphology of the buildings’ green roofs responds to the hills on the other side of the Seine. The architecture was conceived as a landscape, with the intention being to heighten the connection between the users and the surrounding natural environment, be they inside or outside the buildings.

As a filter
A unifying force between the city and nature, the Mantes-la-Jolie water sports center is structured by the interplay of transparencies, beginning with the mashrabiya on the city-side façade and extending inside the building through a series of porous spaces. Porosity, gradation, progressive dilation of limits and boundaries between exterior and interior – such processes bring the Vexin hillsides and the Val-Fourré housing project together, all the while opening up the facility to the neighborhood. The successive filters create a nuanced atmosphere of calm and serenity.

The unifying element of the project. The reproduction of undulating form, at different scales, and with different subjects, is an explicit reference to the aquatic element. From this point of view, it expresses the essence of the activity. It marks its identity.

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center
photos © Emile Dubuisson


A symbol of urban renewal

Sunday, July 2nd, 2006, in ten seconds, three high-rise buildings fall to the ground. They were the Degas apartments in the Painters’ Neighborhood in the Val-Fourré housing project. In their place, the decision is made to build the first swimming pool of the CAMY (Communauté d’Agglomération de Mantes en Yvelines). Baptized Aqualude, it will become a crucial asset in the improvement of quality of life and the image of the Val-Fourré.

Aqualude is a leisure facility intended for family fun. It is also a learning center for school groups. With six lap lines and an exercise room it is a place for cutting edge sports activities. Much more than a simple swimming pool it is a neighborhood gathering space.

The neighboring building, baptized Aquanaute, is a boat house consecrated to nautical sports including crew and canoe-kayaking. It is connected to a public garden and playground.

The esplanade that joins the two buildings is also a place for community interaction. It frames the landscape and affirms the opening up of the city to the Seine and the Vexin hillsides.

Beyond its various functions, the facility, with its quality architecture, symbolizes neighborhood renewal.

The Mantes-la-Jolie water sports center has a federating vocation, as a place of exchange, open to the neighborhood, to the natural environment, and to the greater community. Welcoming and convivial, it is a space for sports and for fun, and a nice place to stroll. It sends a good impression of the neighborhood beyond its borders.


At the end of the year 2005, Agence SEARCH is the unanimous winner of the restricted competition for the Mantes-la-Jolie water sports center.

Agence SEARCH, founded by Caroline Barat and Thomas Dubuisson, is at that point only one year old. It is the first time the firm participates in a public competition.

Their success is all the more remarkable in that the three other teams are all of international caliber: Behnisch and Partners (Stuttgart), RPM Architekten (Munich) and Dominique Perrault Architecte (Paris).

The project thus marks the very beginning of Agence SEARCH. It is a tremendous springboard for the young firm, distinguished one year later in 2006 by the Nouveaux Albums des Jeunes Architectes (NAJA), a prize awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Communication to the best young architects in France.

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center
photos © Michel Denancé


The project is situated at the junction of cityscape and landscape. On the banks of the Seine, it constitutes an exceptional opportunity to reinvigorate the dialogue between the Val-Fourrée housing projects and the Vexin hillsides.

The architecture is conceived as landscape.

The design of the public garden reprises the Vexin hills with an abstract undulating form that is extended and accentuated with the building – the landscape thus becomes architecture and the building takes on the scale of the surrounding countryside.

From this point of view, the green roof resonates with the Vexin hillsides and embodies the symbolism of the project.

The desire to be one with nature, to be in direct connection with the landscape is also felt from within the building. In the swimming pools, the public is visually connected to the outside through a glass façade that is generous both in its size and in its sophisticated details. No obstacle blocks the continuity of the swimming pools, the landscaped garden, and in the background the Vexin hillsides and the sky.


On the South façade, city side, the site has a single entrance, through an esplanade that overlooks the Vexin hillsides. Approaching the building from this direction, from the perspective of the Val-Fourré neighborhood, reveals the second structuring theme of the project, that of gradation.

A unifier of urban life and nature, the facility is structured by the interplay of transparencies, beginning with the mashrabiya on the south façade and extending inside the building through a series of porous spaces. Views of the Vexin hillsides are carefully composed, filtered through a succession of frameworks.

The porosity and progressive gradation between urbanity, interiority, and the landscape beyond, express a desire to open up the facility to its environment. Particularly attractive, this singular and novel building introduces the landscape to the urban fabric. Its playful character is a dynamic element for the community, and its transparencies enable the public to make out its internal activities, and thus act as an invitation to enter the building.

Nevertheless, the different filters also ensure the intimacy of the users, who though not being entirely hidden, are not exposed to the eyes of the street. Moreover, from the inside, the views of the Val Fourré housing projects are observed through filters to singular effect, renewing the perception of an architecture that is often discredited. The extreme urbanity of the neighborhood is softened, contributing to the creation of a serene atmosphere within the building.

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center
photos © Michel Denancé


Water is the unifying element of the entire project. Above the swimming pools the underside of the roof follows the curvature of the building’s structure.

Treated in a homogenous fashion, ceiling unifies the ensemble, while the volumetric interplay distinguishes the three zones (lap-pool, play-pool, kiddie-pool).

The aquatic element, which appears at times as a mirror, at times in movement, is in dialogue with light, further enriching the users’ spatial experience.

On an allegorical level, the design of the mashrabiya, with its undulating lines, is a metaphor of the aquatic element. It thus expresses the essence of the activity within.

The curved forms, with their apparent simplicity and repetitive motif, constitute a powerful identifying factor for the water sports center. From this point of view they embody the graphic identity of the building.

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter Water Sports Center
photos © Michel Denancé


Caroline BARAT and Thomas DUBUISSON founded Agence SEARCH in 2005 in Paris, after a professional journey at international firms throughout Europe and the USA (OMA – Koolhaus, Morphosis, Frank Gehry Partners…).

Our primary mission consists of developing innovative and contextual responses to the archi¬tectural issues of our day. Our comprehensive approach encompasses all stages of the life of a project from feasibility studies to building delivery.

We excel in managing the conception process and the realisation of complex projects. Our workaday research strives for quality architecture full of meaning and emotion.

In 2006 Agence SEARCH was named “young architect of the year” (NAJA) by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.

We are currently working on several large scale projects, including the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme north of Paris (107,500 sqft – $35 million),. In 2007, Agence SEARCH was chosen in a prestigious competitive process to design the François Pinault Foundation’s traveling shows (Lille 2007, Moscow 2009…). In 2011, Agence SEARCH won the Louvre Museum’s Pyramid Project competi¬tion to redesign the entirety of museum’s public reception and mediation spaces.

For further information please contact:

Mantes-la-Jolie Aquacenter images / information from Agence SEARCH

Location: Mantes-la-Jolie, Paris, France

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