Repurposing Architecture, for Architecture

In the small central French city of Claremont-Ferrand is a fascinating building with a storied history dating back more than 80 years. The structure is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and a beautiful park, making the ground on which it sits more peaceful than one might expect for such a magnificent structure. And now this building, which was once a 1930s era sanatorium, has been repurposed by a renowned French architecture firm for future architects.

Paris-based architectural firm Du Besset-Lyon was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture to find a way to repurpose the aging building that had fallen into disrepair in recent years. After an initial study, the firm decided it was the perfect structure for a new architecture school run by the Ministry. Upon completion, it would be the latest in a series of 20 schools throughout France that teach young emerging architects the skills they need to create the design of the future.

A Nearly Perfect Fit

Contemporary architecture is almost always associated with creating new buildings that make a significant visual impact on the surrounding area. Rarely do we associate it with repurposing old buildings. Yet as leading Salt Lake City architects with projects all over the American West, Sparano + Mooney Architecture knows the value of repurposing. We can see that value all over the Claremont-Ferrand projects in France. It is almost as though the original sanatorium knew it would eventually be an architecture school.

When the sanatorium was first constructed, it was believed that those who would be admitted there could find healing in fresh air and sunshine. Therefore, the main building is a long and narrow structure that invited residents to enter from the north and move south toward their individual rooms. Each of the rooms was constructed with plenty of glass to allow in as much sunlight as possible. The free-flowing movement of the building seems optimal for encouraging the creative thinking of architectural students.

On the north end of the main structure, Du Besset-Lyon architects created an extension that includes meeting space, auditoriums, gallery space, and a handful of other public areas. Surprisingly enough, sunlight and exterior views are deliberately controlled within the spaces. The designers wanted to create areas where students could meet and collaborate with one another without distraction. Although the two parts of the main structure seem to be at odds with one another, they work very well together to form a complete, modern architectural school.

Making New from Old

It can be very challenging to repurpose an old building for a new use without damaging the history of the original structure. In Claremont-Ferrand, the designers succeeded on a grand scale. We strive to do the same thing as Salt Lake City architects working with some very impressive architectural history ourselves.

Repurposing is all about taking advantage of what already exists rather than developing previously untouched land or demolishing older structures in favor of the new.  And while we certainly have nothing against brand-new construction from the ground up, there is something uniquely special about being able to repurpose an old building. It is almost as though we are given the opportunity to breathe new life into a structure that might otherwise be on its last breath.

It will be interesting to see how design students react to the new architecture space at Claremont-Ferrand. Having seen some of the photos ourselves, we anticipate they will do very well in their new school environment. Thanks to the efforts of Du Besset-Lyon, some of France's brightest architects of the future will be honored to learn the fundamentals of their craft in some inspiring surroundings.


1.      Dezeen Magazine –