Clad in rustic, rough-sawn logs and enlivened with jaunty cantilevers and splashes of effervescent color, the Simone Veil School Complex exudes a sense of “joyful chaos,” as architect Dominique Coulon puts it. Though the expression of joy is a deliberate reproach to the building’s drab environs in the Paris suburb of Colombes, any impression of chaos is misleading: its jumbled form and bold palette are precise, ordered responses to a demanding program and challenging situation.
The compact, almost-square plot accommodates two separate schools—preschool and elementary—serving 500 children aged 3 to 11. Each school required its own entrance, internal circulation, and outdoor play areas. Space also had to be made for an after-hours study center and a gym that can operate independently. Options for access were limited, as the site overlooks a park to the north but adjoins housing to the west and a busy tram depot to the south. A complicated social context imposed additional demands. The school aims to draw children from both the new private apartment buildings around it and decayed public housing projects to the east; it acts as a meeting point for two communities whose lives rarely intersect. “Transparency was important, to show that this is a public building, open to all,” says Coulon.