Cité du Design – Skin as Program

The Cité du Design, by LIN Architects, is located on the National Arms Manufacture site in St. Etienne, France. This historic location is home to several buildings incorporating research, communication and education facilities as well as public promenades and gardens. This new building, titled “Platine”, french for “platinum”, is a building that contains varied programs such as an inter-climatic laboratory, a green house, a library, an auditorium, exhibition spaces and an observation tower reaching just over 100 ft tall.

The facade reacts to provide optimal climatic and lighting conditions for the varying programs. The skin’s triangular modules are both opaque and transparent, composed to allow for appropriate lighting needs of the spaces within. The fascade wraps the spaces in a way that provides the user with a sense of overall cohesion of form while variances of transparency express the inter-dependence with the buildings varied programs.

Over 14,000 equilateral triangles were used to make up the envelope of this structure. Each panel is roughly 4 ft  per side and changes from graduated to reactive depending on the need.

The building programs differ so much that there are 10 different kinds of glazing types used that are necessary for the variance in lighting and thermal needs. The modules exhibit properties that are opaque or transparent, insulated or interclimatic, operable or inoperable, reflective or fritted–even power generating. All types are exhibited so as to react and interact with the program and it’s users.

These modules are composed to not only help to regulate climate and lighting, but are shifted and rotated at angles to block or absorb the light. Below, luminosity levels indicate locations where the panels exhibit more translucent or transparent properties. These well lit areas indicate the locations of the greenhouse as well as the main entry/gathering spaces. More controlled lighting would indicate the location of exhibition spaces where light control is vital to keep the  integrity of the pieces shown but to also protect them from hurtful UV rays that expedite age and deterioration of particular mediums.

The use and integration of modular units that vary in materiality to optimize usability of the spaces within is an interesting concept. Traditionally, variances in materiality, but also form allow us to integrate several different types of systems and applications with the building and it’s facade. The Cité du Design exhibits one system that is manipulated and applied in a manner that is able to express several programmatic needs. The skin literally embodies this idea of experimentation, exploration and exhibition that it so symbiotically contains. The skin of this building is the essence of the program.

The skin is certainly an expression of the program with regards to light and thermal comfort, however the interior environment is left to exhibit the joints, connections and structural systems through which the panels were erected. Leaving exposed structure is important to understanding the systems in place and can be incredible to experience but particular programs require different systems and finishes to function successfully. For instance, exhibition spaces typically require a level of simple and clean finishes that help to keep the purity of the work at bay while auditorium spaces require a level of acoustic integrity to function. Unfortunately, the modular panels were not used to create such necessary components that help the functionality of the spaces within which would further push the idea of skin as program.

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