Collective Places


Orsay, France KAAN Architecten + FRES Architectes

practical info

Studio: KAAN Architecten + FRES Architectes (Rotterdam + Paris, Netherlands)
Location: Orsay, France

visual material

general aspects

KAAN Architecten, in association with FRES architectes, designed the Institute for Molecular Science in Orsay, part of the future campus Paris-Saclay, 20 km south-west of Paris. Robust and elegant, while essentially open in character, the building is distinguished by a harmonic coexistence of nature and scientific research.

Approximately 170 scientists moved in their new premises in early 2018. This monumental rectangular building of 10.000 m2 is born out of the fusion of 3 research entities, grouping physics laboratories, an educational building and a reception centre for international researchers. The architects were guided by a basic design principle: ISMO staff should be able to experience their journey through the building like a walk in the park and the ancient forest surrounding the building. The project represents an excellent integration of an urban-meets-rural layout with the new concrete structure emerging from the forest within an undulating landscape of rolling hills.

ISMO is divided into 2 architectural realms, intertwined into a single entity. The first is the laboratory area, containing lasers, spectrometers and advanced scientific instruments. These premises are situated along the north façade behind a sleek curtain wall, to facilitate darkness in case of light-sensitive projects.

The southern facade houses the offices, where sturdily stacked concrete posts and lintels form a pattern of rectangles. Corridors run immediately behind these facades and across all the floors, the calm working spaces are situated around 2 spacious courtyards, providing natural light and designed to guarantee a certain degree of privacy.

The welcoming hall is a clear white space which extends up to the roof. Daylight floods the atrium through the facade and a large skylight. The building is overall unified by a consistent facade treatment. The inclusive frontage strategy unites the complementary approaches and activities that coexist within the institution.

about the category

The Institute for Molecular Science in Orsay is an elegant ode to expressive functionalism, it is a machine for science, providing an hospitable working and meeting space for its users.

The building integrates the Saclay Campus, which spreads over nearly 600 hectares, and is dedicated to higher education, research and innovation. Major names in architecture and urbanism have been involved in the design of this urban campus, and have contributed to making it one of the eight most promising global clusters. The University Paris-Saclay operates on a classified and protected natural site and at the heart of a particularly dynamic ecosystem.

The aim of the ISMO’s architecture is to strengthen the link between the building and its surroundings, preserving its green lookouts and paths giving on the lavish park. The ISMO staff should be able to experience their walk through the corridors, for example to meet up with colleagues, like a walk in the park. The green space enters the building, through its transparent glass façade, and contributes to the ever changing atmosphere of its interiors, flooding the spaces with abundant natural light.

We decided to submit this project to the category ‘collective spaces’ because the Institute for Molecular Science is generated from the merging of 3 different scientific premises of the Campus that willingly joined their offices and laboratories under the same roof, to reinforce the exchange of knowledge and facilitate the circulation of their employees. This merging results into a crossroad for scientists, who can now easily meet and have presentation in the academic auditorium, or else visiting different laboratories in short time.

In the short movie ‘To become one’ by Romain Loiseau & Tristan Soreau, the strong duality of the building is highlighted, represented architecturally by the laboratories and the offices.
These two identities are poetically in search of each other’s and finally end up merging into a unique creature.