Anything But Stilted

Agence Search, a Paris-based architecture office, has designed a new $16 million headquarters for the Human Sciences Institute: a venture established by the French government and Paris-Nord University to promote research into the arts, culture, health, and society. The 72,000-square-foot building is an exploration of cantilevers and levitation.

Images: Agence Search
Agence Search designed the new Human Sciences Institute building, in Paris. The 72,000-square-foot building is an exploration of cantilevers and levitation.


Overlapping wooden panels and angled windows will visually break up the building’s east and west facades.

Located on a remediated brownfield site in Paris’s La Plaine Saint-Denis neighborhood, the new building will provide office, research, and meeting space for the Institute’s 250 researchers and for its “Technology Platform,” which partners with private industry in disciplines such as video game design and digital imaging.

Concrete stilts elevate the bulk of the four-story structure, not including its base, between 21 and 30 feet above ground level. This move preserved neighbors’ views of the site’s gardens. The primary vertical circulation elements, two 82-foot-long escalators, occupy a glass-enclosed triangular volume that projects perpendicular to the west elevation for a distance of 72 feet; they flank a 270-seat auditorium. A similar, 46-foot projection on the east elevation contains a series of glass-enclosed meeting rooms and restaurant.

The building’s elevated structure and cantilevered volumes aren’t its only unusual features. Overlapping wooden panels and angled windows will visually break up its east and west facades. “The client didn’t want a flat wall,” explains Agence Search partner Thomas Dubuisson, adding that the form and material of the panels adds visual interest and texture. The institute will also have a green roof planted with grass. Construction is scheduled to finish by late 2009.

Dubuisson and Caroline Barat established Agence Search in 2005. The Human Sciences commission, which it won through a design competition, marks its largest to date. The firm’s other projects include a swimming pool in the Parisian satellite town of Mantes-la-Jolie, and an exhibition space for Magnum Photos, in Paris.


Concrete stilts elevate the bulk of the four-story structure, not including its base, between 21 and 30 feet above ground level.

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