Built in 1971, the Proudhon Secondary School – located in Palente district, to the north of Besançon in eastern France – was a typical example of the standardised architecture first devised in the 1960s, built out of necessity due to mass urbanisation. In need of an extreme makeover, the architectural practices Tectoniques and Adelfo Scaranello took on the challenge of renovating the school.

The constraints of working on an occupied site meant that the phasing of the project was particularly complex. The project needed to be broken down into stages so as to not disrupt the pupils’ lessons while it was under construction. With demolition work being carried out in close proximity to historic buildings, great precision had to be taken during the process.

The new secondary school benefits from a more compact programme and its new architectural style is deliberately neutral and unifying. A playful dialogue is created through the contrast between the new building – which hosts a black and slightly metallic body – and the renovated older site, which is a white, matte block.

The school sits around a large gallery which spans the whole facility and organises the distribution of space. The south-facing urban facade provides spectacular views of the Palente district, while the north affords an aspect of the expansive Chailluz forest, making it a peaceful environment for students to learn in.

According to the architects, important questions needed to be answered during the design phase: ‘What strategy should be adopted when approaching these highly standardised and architecturally dated buildings? And what approach should be taken to ensure they comply with contemporary standards in terms of comfort and sustainability?’ In line with Tectoniques' strong belief that a design’s carbon footprint is the architect’s responsibility, the school uses passive components to give an efficient energy performance and minimise the impact of technical structures and systems, helping pave the way to a sustainable future.