Curving staircase protrudes from warehouse-like circus school
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Curving concrete staircase protrudes from warehouse-like circus school in France

French studios Caractère Spécial and Parisian studio NP2F Architectes have expanded the home of a circus arts centre in France's Champagne region and added a curving outdoor staircase (+ slideshow).

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Sebastien Normand

The Centre National des Arts du Cirque (CNAC) has been located on a 19th-century circus site in Châlons-en-Champagne, north-east France, since 1985.

Marseille firm Caractère Spécial and Parisian studio NP2F Architectes won a competition run by the Ministry for Culture and Communications to overhaul the facility and expand it into adjacent agricultural premises.

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Sebastien Normand

The 20,000-square-metre site and warehouse buildings of La Marnaise Agricultural Cooperative were purchased by the French government in 2006 following concerns over the proximity of its grain silos to a busy road.

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Sebastien Normand

The architects retained the existing structures, creating open areas for the fairground activities and added a new school and accommodation building to merge the CNAC's existing site with the new.

These buildings have a concrete frame and are covered in panels of grey corrugated fibre cement by manufacturer Eternit – matching the replaced cladding of the original structures.

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Sebastien Normand

"In order to affirm their presence and their role within the town, the school building and housing are fitted into previously empty spaces," explained the architects.

"The location and design of these volumes forms an extension of the existing buildings, recreating a facade along the site, aligned with the northern hangar."

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Christophe Manquillet

"Rather than defining itself in opposition to the existing buildings, the project extends them, echoing their materials and forms," they added. "Eternit was chosen to restore the reputation of a cheap material."

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Christophe Manquillet

The new school building slots between a silo and a hangar at the northern end of the site, while a 13-room student housing complex sits in one the corner of the plot where two roads meet.

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Christophe Manquillet

Classrooms for dance, theatre and music lessons, as well as a sauna and dressing areas are located in the school building.

A staircase curves out of the cement cladding on the third floor of this building, before rejoining a balcony on the floor below.

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Photograph by Christophe Manquillet

Illuminated signage by graphic designer Malte Martin reading "What a Circus?" is affixed to the gable of one section of the complex.

Circus apparatus including a trampoline, pole and sponge-filled crash pit fill the concrete-framed space within.


Project credits:

Project owner: Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Delegate project owner: Opérateur du Patrimoine et des Projets Immobiliers de la Culture (OPPIC)
Architects: Caractère Spécial, Matthieu Poitevin Architecture, NP2F Architectes
Project managers: Marc Kauffmann, Nicolas Guérin
Structural engineering: DVVD
Fluids/EQ engineering: Elithis
Construction economics: VPEAS Lighting design: Lumières studio Scenography: Ducks sceno Acoustics: Orfea
Landscaping: Base

National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Site diagram – click for larger image
National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Site plan – click for larger image
National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Ground floor plan – click for larger image
National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Section one – click for larger image
National Circus Arts Centre by § Caractère Spécial and NP2F Architectes
Section two – click for larger image