OMA imagines a city within a city for a vast engineering school in Paris-Saclay

White interior with multiple levels and overlooking balconies
Lab City CentraleSupélec in Plateau de Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France, designed by OMA. 
(Image credit: Vitor Oliveira. Courtesy of OMA)

A rapidly evolving technology cluster competing for the status of Europe’s Silicon Valley, Paris-Saclay will cover 385 sq km and is set to accumulate 20 per cent of France’s research capacities by 2020.

Part of this enormous project is the new campus for CentraleSupélec, focused on engineering and systems sciences and welcoming 4,200 students this school year. This is possible thanks to a 40,000 sq m facility designed by OMA and a 25,000 sq m building by Swiss architects Annette Gigon and Mike Guyer. Planned cooperatively, the two structures host educational and research spaces, but also a few shared areas – from a sports hall and a theatre, to a language centre and a canteen – to be used by the entire campus.

For OMA’s team, led by Ellen van Loon and Rem Koolhaas, this was an opportunity to demonstrate how architecture can ‘contribute to a new educational, social and civic dimension’. Named Lab City, their project steps away from the conventional idea of a massive, introverted box within an urban area and proposes instead a small, animated city within a city.

High view of lower ground with seating area

Lab City’s expansive interior space.

(Image credit: Philippe Ruault. Courtesy of OMA)

Manhattan’s gridded block system comes to mind when one finds themselves under a gigantic transparent roof, in the midst of classrooms, labs and offices designed as separate ‘buildings’ and connected by a network of alleyways. Each space has large windows facing the ‘streets’, while the rooftops of these mini-buildings provide an additional 2,000 sq m of ‘outdoor’ space intended for more informal use, from lounges to improvised classrooms. The diagonal ‘main street’ continues outside, connecting the campus with the upcoming station of the Grand Paris Express.

Through mixture and openness, the project enables interaction between students, researchers and administration. The director’s area, for instance, is made largely accessible; shared facilities can be leased to external users. Besides, the layout includes two ‘plazas’, with an open-space cafeteria filled by a snacking and laptopping population throughout the day rather than being isolated and open for a few hours only. Classrooms have entire walls acting like whiteboards; one can write on the outward-facing glass walls as well. The large amphitheatre, divisible into three separate segments, serves as both a conference space and an extra classroom. A transparent ETFE roof with a sunshading pattern above the ‘plazas’ and ‘rooftop terraces’ floods the Lab City with light even on rainy days.

By 2019, the campus will have new neighbours: Renzo Piano’s design for École Normale Supérieure and a telecommunications school by next year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture curators, Dublin-based Grafton Architects. Further away, but still within Paris-Saclay, a Sou Fujimoto-led team of French and Japanese architects will deliver the future learning centre for the École Polytechnique.

Walkway between buildings

The main street cuts diagonally across Lab City, allowing a seamless experience between the building and its surroundings, providing a convenient public route to the neighbourhood and the future subway station.

(Image credit: Philippe Ruault​. Courtesy of OMA)

High ceilings above seating area

The architecture provides a framework for constantly changing requirements, allowing the programme to be reconfigured or intensified as necessary.

(Image credit: Philippe Ruault​. Courtesy of OMA)

Balcony overlooking seating area

OMA’s multi-layered design integrates urbanism within the school.

(Image credit: Philippe Ruault​. Courtesy of OMA)

Walkway across split level balconies

The architects imagined the laboratories as a collection of discreet parcels in an open-plan grid.

(Image credit: Vitor Oliveira. Courtesy of OMA)

Stone walled stairwell

The project features wide internal stairways.

(Image credit: Vitor Oliveira. Courtesy of OMA)

Birdseye view of roof

A lightweight roof covers the entire complex, allowing ‘external’ protected spaces to be used freely all year long.

(Image credit: Vitor Oliveira. Courtesy of OMA)

Exterior of building

The exterior of Lab City.

(Image credit: Philippe Ruault. Courtesy of OMA)


For more information, vistit the OMA website