Fun and games
Playtime is serious business for Frédéric Borel, architect of a day nursery in Paris
Rachel Kaplan -- Interior Design, 3/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Not far from Paris's grand boulevards, in the gritty 10th Arrondissement, a 17th-century convent sits on over 4 surprisingly green and tranquil acres. Real-estate developers had their eyes on the site, but local residents prevailed in preserving it for a municipal day nursery. "The setting is wonderfully bucolic, similar to that of a house in the country," says architect Frédéric Borel—whose design, by contrast is jubilantly urban and modern.
To shield the children's universe from the surrounding streets, Frédéric Borel & Associés Architectes built a steel-framed wall of glass, screen-printed with floating tropical fish. Partway along the wall is a door that opens onto a narrow ipe-plank path leading up to the nursery, the Crèche des Récollets. Straight ahead lies its central atrium entry, with an everyday huddle of baby strollers visible at eye level beyond the glass double doors.
Look up, though, and Borel's creation surprises and awes. Massed around the one-story atrium—and framed by the convent's ancient trees—are three angular, asymmetrical volumes wrapped in a vibrantly orange nonporous composite called Trespa. Seeming to defy the law of gravity, they harmonize 'past and present. "My idea was to create the effect of floating blocks in the midst of nature," says the architect.
The Crèche des Récollets's 22,000-square-foot interior accommodates a staff of 26, supervising 80 children ranging in age from 10 weeks to 3 years. The glass fronts of changing rooms, playrooms, and nap rooms—a total of eight throughout the three blocks—enhance the openness and transparency. "The children have privacy yet are never out of sight," notes director Sylvie Corcuff.
The lobby is the focal point for activities and celebrations. Standing in the middle of the pale gray plastic-laminate flooring stands Borel's dolmenlike sculpture of gray-painted concrete. "It's the central symbol of the nursery," says Corcuff. Besides acting as a linchpin for games, the dolmen also serves as a support pillar for one of the nursery's central floating blocks. And in a room adjacent to the lobby, a granite-tiled wading pool gets frequent use.
On both floors, Borel installed lockers for the children's belongings. On the second floor, the central corridor's walls are clad in the same yellow composite as the building's exterior treatment. The color sets off the polished ipe flooring of the glazed gallery that bridges the building's two sides, forming a glass-fronted balcony as it passes over the central lobby. "At first, the balcony had its share of detractors," Borel recalls of early safety objections he was ultimately able to allay. Who could say no to the children's joy, looking down to see their parents arrive at the end of the afternoon?