In 2020, a consortium made up of two young architecture firms, Agence Spatiale and Apparatus Architecture, won the competition organized by the Lab-École for the construction of l’Étincelle, in Saguenay. Accompanied in this project by the architectural firm BGLA, an experienced player in the educational sector, the designers have imagined a familiar and warm school environment, which has welcomed students since the start of the 2022 school year. this primary school which has nothing traditional.
“There are plenty of things that work well in traditional schools, but I think we are currently questioning the need to teach in a classroom as we know it, to instead create contexts of innovative learning that is in tune with their times,” noted the founder of Appareil Architecture, Kim Pariseau.
The three-headed design team started from a premise: deconstruct the big school. The solution was to divide it into several small juxtaposed houses which create a reassuring environment. The total number of feet is the same as in a traditional school, but the space develops differently. Each section houses students of the same grade level. Each has its own entrance, its classes, its changing rooms, its common areas organized around the needs of its young residents.
Built in a “U”, the structure includes a wing dedicated to classes and another for common areas. There sits a unifying platform connected to collective laboratories. The last segment includes the teachers’ room and the main entrance. Housed under this administrative space, on the garden level, kindergarten students benefit from proximity to the teaching staff and an increased feeling of protection.
A unifying court
The interior courtyard is the element that connects these different pieces and which serves as a gathering place. Facing south, this play and learning area benefits from a microclimate sheltered from the winds, rain and the onslaughts of the Saguenay winter. From there, the children enter directly into their house in the morning and leave regularly to enjoy a variety of recreational spaces: areas for cycling or scootering, games, mounds, but also a large board and wooden seats that can be used for an outdoor class.
The topography is undulating and intimates the recreational space. This difference in height generates a slope used for sliding and climbing, as well as an amphitheater. Despite the absence of a fence, the places are demarcated in a natural way and remain open to everyone at all times. Children are welcome there on weekends and take this opportunity to enjoy their playground outside of school hours.
Protecting the existing trees in Saint-Joachim Park was a feat that has now been rewarded. All around this new type of school is a green park which hosts a forest trail, dining tables and a gathering place which is also used for teaching.
Today, all the outdoor space is added value and demonstrates that we can learn other than by sitting.
Kim Pariseau, founder of Appareil Architecture
Move inside and outside
The yard isn’t the only place to move. Stairs allow you to move from one house to another. The steps were deliberately energized by descents and ascents to create vertical circulation in the establishment and promote activity. The same strategy applies in the maisonettes, where spaces for collaboration, meditation and meetings are spread over two floors.
Libraries have been planted throughout the school, very close to the classes. Teachers have appropriated these places which they use and supervise. This latitude continues in the classrooms which lend themselves, if necessary, to a yoga break facing the window or to a group workshop.
The metamorphosis is made possible thanks to a vacant space and custom-made furniture, easily movable, which allows different configurations. Everything has been thought through with an active pedagogy perspective.
While elsewhere, some students live in environments with few windows or no openings to the outside world, those at Étincelle enjoy an abundance of natural light and an enviable view of the outside world. Each classroom is connected to the external environment. Biophilia was also a key point of the development, underlines Kim Pariseau.
Rather than sitting in front of a screen, students often choose to read on the edge of windows. It’s impressive how creatively the space is used.
Kim Pariseau, founder of Appareil Architecture
School, public space
“In this type of environment, hierarchy is called upon to redefine itself. We ask about the idea of the teacher stationed at the front of the class in front of students seated in rows. This element, alone, changes the perception we have of a courtroom,” according to the architect.
Learn to cook like a chef while doing math? Why not ! “We wanted to provide students with a kitchen worthy of a restaurant with a large preparation space, ovens, and a pantry. » This culinary Lab is connected to a vegetable garden where children sow in the spring to harvest when they go back to school. In summer, the activity continues thanks to the involvement of certain children who continue to take care of their small garden plot.
The school is a public space. Why shouldn’t it open up to the community?, asks the Lab-École in a study which seeks, among other things, to redefine the place of educational establishments in their environment. At Étincelle, the exercise room and collaborative spaces, such as the kitchen and library, remain accessible outside of class hours. This cohabitation comes with learning and respect for the common space. It thus allows us to create bridges with the community.
“We often hear that we had to benefit from a large budget to build this school, but it was built with the same means as a standard school,” explains the spokesperson for the trio of architects, whose mission was to rebuild L’Étincelle due to the poor condition of the original building, which was impossible to recover. “We must rethink the built heritage to better meet today’s needs and preserve it before it becomes dilapidated. Sometimes it’s small steps and very simple solutions that make a huge difference. »
In a previous version of this text, it was mentioned that Appareil Architecture had worked in collaboration with teachers from l’Étincelle school, but it was rather the Lab-École which ensured this liaison. Furthermore, contrary to what was mentioned, the recovery of the existing school was ruled out due to its poor condition before the competition began, but part of the structure was integrated into the landscaping. Our apologies.
Consult the first part of the file Architecture at the service of students
Visit the Appareil Architecture website
Visit the Space Agency website
Visit the BGLA website