Dezeen Magazine

Thiais Bus Centre by ECDM architects

Here are some photographs and plans of the Thiais Bus Centre near Paris, designed by architects Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec of ECDM.

The walls, roof and ground surrounding the administrative centre are covered with Ductal, a high performance concrete with a raised texture, which "looks like the world-famous pattern on a piece of Lego."

The primary colours surrouding the building's appertures are intended to reflect the bright graphics of surrounding warehouses and industrial buildings.

The following information is from architects ECDM:


ThiaisRATPBusCenter : Creation of the new administrative building

"As one of the world’s largest urban transport companies and technology pioneer, it is only natural that RATP’s buildings should reflect the company’s image," states Rémi Feredj, Real Estate Manager for RATP. "The Thiais building certainly meets this requirement. It helps to improve the site’s urban landscape. It is the pride of the hundreds of people who will be working there and represents a sign of belonging and a symbol of what we are all about."

Based near Orly airport and Rungis wholesale food market, this administrative complex comprises various services on the site. As well as a secure control center which manages three hundred buses, the new bus center building also houses a rest area with facilities for use by the managers, service personnel and bus drivers. The building was designed by architects Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec from the Paris-based firm ECDM.

The area surrounding the new periurban-style building is cluttered with major brand warehouses and industrial buildings, wide streets and junctions. ECDM’s challenge was to reconcile functionality with integration, and design a relay-type building which blends into the scenery while at the same time forming a modern and attractive focal point. The architects plumped for spatial continuity. Shaped like an elevated plateau, the building looks as though it is rising out of the road or growing out of and fusing with a landscape of unbroken minerality.

This effect is achieved by covering the entire building and a large tarmac strip surrounding it in Ductal, which has a strong mineral homogeneity. This elegant concrete 'skin' runs along the edge of the building before rising up so that the building (including the roof) and road merge into a sigle coherent structure – bestowing the new ThiaisBusCenter building with its unique identity.

ECDM (Paris)

The desiners of the new Thiais RATP bus Center building are Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec, founders of ECDM (Paris), set up in 1993. Both are ardent supporters of contextual architecture, taking structure, restrictions linked to function and the socio-cultural concerns of the surroundings into account. ECDM's style combines light, cohesion, and aesthetics. Effective simplicity is also a priority. "One dominant characteristic can be found in the firm’s work, as expressed by Marrec and Combarel themselves. It is the desire to offer simple architecture with rigorous logic and without preconceptions, nostalgia or stylistic concerns."

Designing the ThiaisBusCenter provided ECDM with the perfect opportunity to express its practical and reflective approach to architecture. The challenge was two-fold: on the one hand, it was required to meet strict specifications which included housing monitoring, management, reception, meeting and relaxation facilities on the same site; on the other hand, it was required to experiment with new physical and sensitive relationships to materials, including the ultrahigh performance concrete Ductal. In the case of the Thiais project, Ductal is the architect’s trump card, used as cladding to cover the building as a physical, aesthetic element to merge the ground, walls and underside of the building into one.

Balance and unity

When working in the actual context, Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec never have a pre-conceived idea of what the finished building will actually look like. After a lengthy observation and survey phase which generally involves consulting future users, the architects designed an administrative unit which is both ambivalent and suggestive, organically emphasizing continuum rather than rupture.

"Our aim was to focus on the site’s mineral nature and design a building that merged with and grew out of the road," said Dominique Marrec. Built next to the old BusCenter and coach depot – both typical examples of industrial architecture – the new building supplements and yet forms part of the existing site, its cube-like form rising up in relation to the surroundings. The new BusCenter is characterized by the vast extent of concrete surrounding the administrative area and covering the adjacent road which welcomes the constant fleet of buses. The architects wanted to extend the road into the building to give the impression that it had suddenly emerged from the ground like a beautifully risen cake. The idea of designing a 'skin' covering for the surrounding area and the building emerged quite naturally. This skin "creates the impression that the flow of traffic and the building are blurred together, endowing the site with a powerful visual density ".

This skin looks like the world-famous pattern on a piece of Lego, except that it is enlarged and reproduced ad infinitum. It is consistently gray in color and covers the ground around the building together with its walls and roof. Made from tinted Ductal, it is attached as cladding to the building itself and laid flat around the base. In addition, this pattern of regularly repeated studs meets the specification requirements for an anti-slip surface. It is a perfect blend of effect and function. The ease with which Ductal can be molded further enhances the esthetic effect. The top edges of the building are beautifully rounded without the slightest hint of aggression. There is no facadism and no front or back to this building, whose entire structure exemplifies unity from its design through to its style.

A distinctive building

The openings in this monolithic block look like they were cut out of the building after it was built with a giant Stanley knife. But this apparent radical quality is only skin deep. In fact, grace and elegance is evident throughout this building which invites you to enter and wander along its light and airy passage ways, leading directly through the building and out again to the other side.

The different color schemes used to distinguish the various indoor areas together with the spacious offices, generous lighting and attractive indoor patio area, bathed in a pool of light, all bear witness to this elegance which makes the building pleasing to the eye and a comfortable place to work in.

Even the reflective structural glazing conveys a sense of elegance, with its tinted or partially frosted glass creating multiple reflections and mirror-like effects.

Independently of its administrative functions, the new ThiaisBusCenter is intended to represent a miniature version of the surrounding environment. The openings are decorated, on the outside, in four different colors (blue, green, yellow and orange), contrasting sharply with the gray concrete. This is no decorative fancy but rather a deliberate decision to use minimalist polychrome which has a strong impact and again stems from the desire for symbolic symbiosis. These colors have been carefully chosen and are a physical reproduction of the equally loud colors displayed on the shop signs and billboard in the nearby shopping district : "We have reused the primary, rather basic colors found in the surrounding area," said the architects.

This remarkable building is sure to elicit two responses. Firstly it catches the eye, its high architectural quality and bombastic appearance naturally arousing curiosity. Secondly, it generates discussion. Yet this new building is far from an example of radical autonomy .

This building is neither provocative nor out of touch with reality. Nor does it bow down to "poor quality" urbanity- a common characteristic of the neighbouring buildings. ECDM’s building is both divergent and convergent. It forms part of the local area, while at the same time adding something to it.

Despite the fact that Thiais’ unusual new BusCenter building is set in an environment filled with ultra-funcional, low-cost buildings with very little architectural symbolism, it is not provocative or defiant. Its cube-like form calls to mind the warehouse-type outlets in the nearby shopping district. Its low height is similar to the horizontal buildings in the surrounding area. On the top of the building, the Ductal façade rises skyward, ensuring visual continuity between the surronding area and the buiding itself, enchancing rather than diminishing this extremely graphic attempt at insertion. The building is set firmly in context and gives priority to functionality of use.

Above all else, Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec have designed the building specifically for purpose as the well thought-out interior design testifies. The ThiaisRATPBusCenter is, nonetheless, a quite definite architectural gesture or signature. Everything about this building is distinctive.


Posted by Rose Etherington