After a call for ideas addressed to the local residents, the Maison de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable (Centre for the Environment & Sustainable Development) of the Hénin-Carvin Joint Urban Authority adopted the name Aquaterra. The facility is in the middle of a large park on the site of the former Drocourt coking plant.
Founded in 1925, this was one of Europe’s largest coke production plants. After changes in the coal and steel industries in the late 20th century, the plant finally closed in 2002. Aquaterra is part of a much larger park project: the Parc des Iles (Islands Park) designed by the Ilex landscape design firm.
On the 45 hectare site, the scheme propose a play of islands and artificial lakes, linked together by the major routes that structure the area. Aquaterra symbolises the second phase of the metamorphosis called L’Orée du Parc, which includes the building and its accompanying landscape.
It is strategically located, and the building occupies a pivotal position in the time and space of the development. Its lens form is in harmony with the overall design. The building is the anchor point for the relationship between people and nature, between the industrial history and the future, and between the town and the landscape.
Aquaterra is a resource for educating and raising the awareness of the local people, particularly schoolchildren, concerning all environmental questions and encouraging the popularization and widespread application of good practices, such as waste sorting, sustainable housing, and waste embodied energy. A very large part is devoted to climate disturbance.
With its lens-shaped design on a landscaped plateau, it fits naturally into the geometry of the site, of which it forms an island in its own right. The oval form is universal, organic and generous. It opens outwards on all its sides and offers great openness and transparency between the inside and the outside. For all the spaces open onto a panoramic, circular façade. On the inside, this simple figure allows very clearly readable, compact and economic spatial organisation.
The building’s programme is separated into two hemispheres: On the south, the spaces for public reception; on the north, the facility’s “back office” and the park’s maintenance service rooms. On the south, permanent and temporary exhibition spaces are connected to a greenhouse that contains a planted wall, rainwater recovery tanks, a wood pellet boiler, and a photovoltaic power unit with an educational interface.
It is built entirely with dry construction, in a mixed combination of wood and metal. It takes inspiration from existing elements on the site: large portal frames laid out along long lines that formed the structure of the industrial landscape. The secondary structure consists of timber boxed constructions, filled and insulated with straw bales, for the external walls and the roof.
The aim of using bio-sourced materials logically led to giving priority to the use of wood (for the structure, the internal finishes and the facings of external walls), combined with insulation material of plant origin produced by a short production and distribution channel. The oval form was obtained without curved elements, which are too costly, and the facing of the external walls is in an unusual material that refers to the local collective memory: the wood brick.
The building that houses the environmental centre must be exemplary from the viewpoint of its ecological footprint. Firstly, an architectural style must be chosen that complies with a constructive ethic, and the scheme must be based on bioclimatic design. The roof is planted with extensive (climbing and upward-growing) plants, and it also supports photovoltaic panels. Rainwater is recovered in tanks that are used for watering greenhouses and for flushing toilets.
Location: Billy-Montigny, France Architects: Tectoniques Architectes Area: 953 sqm Year: 2013 Photographs: Julien Lanoo