Unbeknownst to themselves II: the bakery!
On the road
One needs to go to Neuville-sur-Seine through the number 71 national road to pass in front of Eric and Jacqueline’s bakery and choose to stop by. We hop on our bikes at the Troyes train station and have to feel the bitumen of some forty-one kilometres separating us from our destination in our calves. After leaving the drab Troyes industrial suburbs abandoned by the textile industry for decades behind us, we go up the Seine valley, cycling along the huge sandpits dug into the meanders of the river. The wind is lifting, blowing hard in the valley that becomes increasingly constricted as we approach the Barséquanais Land. Its banks have been levelled by the conquest of the vines with greater yield on the best-exposed slopes to welcome the vineyard at the extreme south of the Champagne that extends between the Ource and the Aube on a limestone and mart soil. The recent development1 of the wine-producing region widely encouraged site clearing. The landscape of the Côtes des Bars is marked by a line of artificial cliffs topped by a forest of pines.
Bordering the road, signs of wealth appear: perfectly renovated medieval houses and religious edifices in white Burgundy stone, “decorated” hangars with the name of the greatest wines, new building throne on their hump garages and ornamented with a plated stone cladding over concrete blocs masonry. The car – or rather its muscled version SUV – is queen in this “urban countryside” landscape. The success of the wine producers keeps afloat a strong economic activity somewhere between Auxerres, Troyes and Dijon. Daily journeys to go to work, places of leisure, shopping, school runs are many and long. However, the diffuse, discontinuous, poly centric, spread out city is a reality with which the peri-urban inhabitants must make do, whilst being the actors of its own development.
As we wait for the lorry drivers to switch off their engines to save on fuel, our journey reaches an end. Near Buxeuil, a panel indicates a bypass to the village, as well as Neuville-sur-Seine, Gyé-sur-Seine and Courteron. We use the busy road area amongst a flow of lorries. After having ridden along the Seine and the former and now disused railway line between Troyes and Dijon, the road winds along some paths lined with poplars. In the distance, we make out a small industrial area adjoining the national road. In this winter day bathed in a pale light, the first building lets the lighting of the inside of the shops flow out onto the outside. The large shutters of the bakery designed by architects Hérard & Da Costa are up, sign that the shop is open. On three of the four façades, the twelve shutters offer a cover for the terrace, the client access and delivery area. Depending on the season and weather conditions, they offer a protection against rain or sun and create an outside area to the business. Closed, they secure the building more efficiently than a simple metallic shutter. The shutters are clad with an opalescent polycarbonate like all the façades, and bring a diffuse light onto some spaces. Before the bakery opens in the early morning, the hidden lighting in the double skin lights up a lantern on the side of the road, signalling the morning activity of the baker in his preparation area.
Indeed, the motivation behind the construction of this bakery is none other than to maintain the village’s commercial activity. At Neuville-sur-Seine, the former national road crossed the village with its narrow streets before the bypass tracing. Never aligned buildings, including the church, impinge on the road. Entryways lead to a network of small streets that wind between white stone houses. The former section of the village is contained between the Seine, the bed of which is less than ten meters wide at this point, and its small affluent, the La Laignes River. Ill suited to the evolution of needs in terms of comfort of habitat and accesses to the shops, many buildings stand abandoned, some in ruins for a long time. In this context, keeping local shops open in rural areas becomes a political challenge. The mayor decides to create an industrial area near the national road, to the detriment of the town centre. The baker is worried about his diminishing turnover and runs the risk of having to shut down his business. However, he owns commercial premises at immediate proximity of the car flows where he can catch clients. The change to the urban planning regulations allows setting-up in the industrial estate but requires the realisation of a feeder road by departmental services in charge of road works to secure the entrance and exits of this rapid section of the road.
Today, apart from Eric and Jacqueline’s bakery, a faded billboard announces the hypothetical building of woodwork. A little further along, a dog barks behind the simple twisted fence at the end of a standard house covered with a scraped finish coating, rolling shutters in white PVC down, a sign that its inhabitants, probably a couple of first buyers, are somewhere on the road to re-join their distant places of work. Indeed, the rest of the unsold plots were given over by the authorities to private individuals for the construction of three modest pavillion-style houses along the national road.
The couple of young architects Frédérique Hérard and Natalina Da Costa have been settled in the village since 2009 and receive the commission for the bakery in 2012. The motivation of the client centres on the visibility of their business, low cost2 and rapidity of execution of the construction The architects’ reputation in the area of low cost construction attracts private clients. They already built their house-agency3, a house in4 Neuville-sur-Seine, several houses in Landreville5, another in6 a housing development and another in Magny-Saint-Médard7. The amount of work for each of the individual houses of this series corresponds to the mortgage facility of a couple with median income. For the past few years, the application of the latest legislation in terms of heating8 has petered out these private commissions; the over cost of construction to reach the performance indices requires over-indebtedness. In 2013, the site of the bakery smoothly ran from March to July. This exceptional rapidity, from 5 to 6 months, results from the optimization of the structure, alternative standard processes for industrial constructions for the outside envelope and interior finishes.
At Hérard et Da Costa, conception begins from the first sketches by the design of an optimized metallic frame. Porticoes are positioned over a regular frame to complete in one operation the calculation of the dimensions of the posts, steeples and outages. The optimization is complete, since all porticoes are identical, even those of the pinions although they represent half of the loads descents. This last span makes the extension possible, rather than the having to make a minimum economy of small sections on the two porticoes at the end of the building. The architects integrated the pre-dimensioning competence of metallic profiles. For instance, they recommend 270 mm IPE for steeples, outages and beams, instead of the 300 calculated by the execution engineer. They draw suspension struts for the bracing, soldered to the steeples then bolted to the HEA that ensure the vertical load lowering. They share this culture of metallic construction with Jean-Pierre Franzon9. In his Troyes-based workshop, machining and soldering of standard profiles precede the assembly on site of the metallic structures. The engineering bureau of the company is equipped with the Tekla Stuctures© software for 3D modelling. The technical drawing method is precise: placement of profiles on the construction axis and management of the interface between the elements. Impregnated to this construction reality, Hérard et Da Costa adapt the surface of the programme to the imperious position of the structure. Thence, the architectonics commands the dimension and spatial quality of inhabitable volumes.
In the bakery, the optimization of spans and centre distance of 4,48 meters between each portico is defined by the construction elements used: here, large 2,4 m x 2,4 shutters with a 2 cm spacing. The shutters are made up of a metallic frame recomposed using the empty tubes of square profiles. Two pivots soldered to a false frame bolted to the frame allow for the articulation at the top of the shutter. Two cylinder jacks usually used on the back of lorries ensure the opening and closing. The setting of the springs helps for the manual opening of the shutter without shots and allows supporting the strong winds or heavy snow. During the study, the automation of shutters was considered, and even though the option was not kept, the assembling details makes this adaptation possible at a later stage. This systemic design method also applies to the cladding, the filling and the interior panels. The cladding is screwed on horizontal metal spans between the porticoes, and consists of assembled simple undulated plates vertically: in opalescent polycarbonate on the bakery, but in cement fibre or aluminium for most other projects. The lighting of the double skin is integrated at the level of the acroterion to allow for the replacement of the fluorescent lamps. It occupies the hollow construction formed by the porticoes, between the polycarbonate and telescopic metal structure; the under face of these sandwich isolation panels is directly visible from the outside.
Against all odds
The local residents view this stripped architecture with circumspection. At Neuville-sur-Seine, in addition to the bakery along the national road, two houses stand near the cemetery on the other side of La Laignes. Others are built in the surrounding village. In this region faraway from any urban culture, the inhabitants of Neuville-sur-Seine put across many prejudices. The place for anything different, including in terms of architecture, is not easy to find in this small village of 426 inhabitants. The works of architects Hérard et Da Costa is not understood. It also collides with the negligence of local elected and the weakness of representatives of the Order. At every competition, the audacious propositions of good architectural quality displease, the bad ones are put aside for their weak technical values, the most unified win.
Frédérique Hérard originates from the region. Born in 1979, he never severs his ties with his family and anchor in the village of Neuville-sur-Seine. After studies at the Ecole d’Arts Appliqués Olivier-de-Serres10, he enters the architecture school of the city and territories of Marne-la-Vallée. Armed with his diploma, he integrates Lacaton and Vassal, where he will be head of project on for the University centre for sciences and management in Bordeaux, the Exhibition hall in Paris Nord Villepinte, and the Nantes Ecole d’architecture. During his studies and Parisian work experience, he goes home every weekend to hunt and fish in the Aube. However, following the polemics linked to the building of their edifices deemed to exogenous, many of the village dwellers – including many childhood friends – loathe him. But the seemingly abrupt man, veritable hunter, true fisherman, frenetic architect, inveterate tinkerer and occasional builder shows a rare kindness.
Natalina Da Costa was born in 1977 outside Porto. She integrates the Porto architecture school under the strong influence of Alvaro Siza and Souto De Moura, leading Portuguese figures of a current called by historian Kenneth Frampton11: “critical regionalism”. After her studies, in opposition with the teachings of the Porto school, she decides to leave Portugal. Surely because of her popular origins, she feels that this white and pure architecture built with profusion of noble materials – stone, stucco, concrete, solid wood – a complex and tailor-made implementation feels ill adapted to a usual and domestic use. She is looking for a more pragmatic, standardised, contextual architecture, the access and understanding of which would be less elitist and more democratic. Having become an inhabitant of Neuville, she patiently cultivates her orchids in the greenhouse of their house-agency, the interiors of which are not without recalling Ryue Nishizawa’s House A built in Tokyo in 2006.
They meet at Lacaton and Vassal around a sketchbook of implantation of heating elements and sanitary equipment. The couple that lives and works together plays with their complicity. “Natalina thinks, Frédérique builds! “ Their architecture is only construction, there is no place left for language12 or ambiguity. They are revolted at the thought that architecture should be reduced to an object of visual perception, or to the magnificence of the constructive details of a Glen Murcutt or Sean Godsell, that they consider as camp architects. Less universalist than their masters Lacaton and Vassal, they are more attentive to the value of uses, contexts, climate and topography. Several of their projects boast a large full wall to the North, half buried, in masonry, on which the steel metallic frame stands, along with aluminium panels, some think walls and fine woodwork. These naked elements confer a sublime fragility to their architecture. Fragility is the great subject of their work, fragility at the opposite of the territory in which they work. This is perhaps why they build so quickly, so that the principle of populist context reality in which they evolve does not have time to catch up with them.
The bakery and houses built in Neuville-sur-Seine are their manifesto. Not hangars, not clever, built for very little, veritably simple constructively, presenting undeniable spatial and use qualities, their architecture offers an added value even more surprising that it applies to light constructions with a reputation for low heating performance. After many years of experience, these houses boast weak energy consumption13 whereas paradoxically, they have a hard time obtaining a positive result at the heating regulation calculation because the calculation is unfavourable in its algorithms to non-conventional solutions. Moreover, consumption ratios per square meters always take into consideration a standard height under ceiling of 2,50m. But Hérard et Da Costa systematically offer a higher height under ceiling, double heights, inhabitable volumes under crawl, thus minimising even more the recorded consumptions of the heated volumes14. Similarly, the metallic structure is easily transformable, and can be dismantled or resold15. A contrario, such a metallic structure, filling platforms and cladding demands a huge quantity of grey energy16 seeing that steel requires 30 to 300 more energy for manufacturing than wood. To this end, the architects are currently studying to draw frames using wood for their newest projects17. The wealth of their architecture resides in this instantaneousness, in the interest of diverting current manufacturing products that are cheap today as they do not integrate their environmental costs. The ennobling of poor materials is not without recalling the work of Jean Prouvé for the flexible petrol stations at the end of sixties early seventies, which marked the first steps of service and commerce equipment of the peri-urban territories.
To reach their goals, Hérard et Da Costa exert their execution with a methodological precision. The drawings are rigorous, not shared with anyone else, to avoid loss of information and inaccuracies, even if a freelance drawer assists them on occasion. Every metallic frame is validated using a 3D modelling, not in BIM objects18. The assembly details are though of from the preliminary sketch stage in large scale sections at 1/10 or 1/20. Upon the call for tender, the graphic consultation file is made up of huge captioned execution plans with many references and zooms; the plan graphics does not pose a legibility issue, as all the traits are of equal thickness. But this mastery does not stop at drawings, which is the minimum prerogative of the architect. They complete the economy of the project and drafting of the description for a maximum of bodies of state themselves: foundations, concrete shell, steel structure, cladding, insulation, exterior and interior woodwork. They work with technical engineering bureaus only when the client imposes it. They take a minimum19 share of fees and never work with a business partner of the construction industry for the economy section of a project. One only needs to observe their buildings to see the finished result. The coping that crowns the acroterion sides or encased gutters are a detail of dry waterproof and devoid of silicon joints between two split elements that slide into one another, maintained by a pop rivet on the unseen side. Their intent is that of an artisan, very tooled and with great information, but that produces cleverly tinkered objects. The extension of the area of competences towards a profile of architect-tinkerer-hunter-engineer-labourer anticipates the mutations of the work universe where everything will multiply in commitment and flexibility. one will need many employments without being stuck into one job or area of expertise. In turn, one will need to re appropriate the radicalism of our aspirations and demands in the face of today’s economic and political powers20. In that, Frédérique Hérard and Natalina Da Costa outline by their frail constructions a criticism of normalisation, for, by promulgating standards by consensus, one imposes a non-democratic normality and forbids every difference, a neo-conservative paradigm per se: “Everything has to change for everything to remain the same”. At nightfall, Éric and Jacqueline’s bakery pushes us to the return journey whilst we meditate on the capacity of the architecture – not the architects – to progressively change lifestyle; convinced that it will go through “light sobriety”.
- Hérard & Da Costa
- 240 m²
- 0.23 M € HT