One of these schools was the College Andre Maurois in Limoges, which architect Dubosc & Associés has entirely transformed. Although part of the original remains in upgraded form, nobody would think so from a quick first look.  A run-down rectilinear building, undeserving of a second glance, has been transformed into a sprawling, insect-like, orangey red creation, providing not only some exciting new spaces but also a unique identity for the school.

The architect’s work included the remodelling of the gymnasium, letting light into it, and the creation of an entirely new dining hall, plus a covered passageway bridging over a road at the edge of the site. But the really clever touch was to tie all this together with new cladding and roofs. This has all been done in painted metal, in a reddish brown colour that is deliberately reminiscent of old clay tiles. In addition to cladding the existing facades, in profiled metal, the architect has designed a kind of exo-skeleton supported on curved structural elements.  This echoes the form of the footbridge, which straddles the road gawkily on stool-like assemblages of sloping columns.

One of the clever elements of the design is that, by using the same colour for all the steel cladding, the architect is able to employ a range of different finishes and profiles to achieve the desired effect, while still maintaining a discipline. So in addition to the profiled cladding to the facades, there is a tiled effect on the roof of the footbridge and there are both perforated and solid matt panels in front of the buildings, some providing complete privacy and enclosure and others acting as shades to minimise solar gain while still permitting views out of the building.

Given the troubled history of the ‘Paillerons’ it is not surprising that the design team devoted considerable attention to the fire protection of the building. On both the new build and the refurbished elements, the exoskeleton provides no structural support except to the cladding and the roof. The enclosures of the buildings themselves have their own independent structures. The bearing structures can therefore be protected in a conventional manner, using gypsum, with no protection needed for the exoskeleton beyond simple galvanisation.

The refurbishment project also included a reordering of the external spaces to the school. Some might see the work as much more than was needed simply to get teaching spaces up to scratch and ensure the physical safety of pupils. But schools are much more than simply a collection of teaching rooms. They are communities and need a communal identity of which their members can be proud.

With new, and much safer access provided by the footbridge, a new entrance and some new spaces, this school now provides its pupils with a decent, readily accessible place to learn. Solar shading improves the environmental performance and the bold cladding solution gives it a cohesion and personality that a mismatched collection of bland boxes could never supply.

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