Text description provided by the architects. In order to design and build architecture that not only responds to its context but also to mans need for function, the careful study of the topography and surrounding vegetation lent itself to the exact placement and setting out of the project where the timber cabins intertwine themselves with the surrounding woods. A study of the site, the views and the sunpath, the underlying desire to avoid any potential overlooking and the idea to hide the residential parking requirements beneath the apartments meant that a sort of visual ‘ordered chaos’ leant itself to the physical disposition, density and juxtaposition of the buildings.
On this narrow and slightly irregular site (5000m2), the 50 housing units are grouped into two principal residential entities. 38 collective units are linked by raised walkways to 12 individual houses dotted around the existing organic network of trees. Hoisted up, as if on stilts, the project mimics the playful nature of the vegetation and trees. The built environment distinguishes itself from the service ‘zones’ and landscaping at street level offering up a habitat, which brushes up directly against the surrounding foliage.
The timber walkways erected at first floor level, flirting with the tall trees offer up a sensory and dreamlike pathway amongst the vegetation. The landings are semi private spaces only servicing two housing units maximum and are large and open to the natural backdrop so that all housing units are given the same treatment, thus reducing the overall visual density. The elevated individual dwellings are connected to the communal vertical circulation spaces of the collective apartment units by the timber walkways in order so that all residents share the same daily experiences, collective or individual.
All the apartments and houses are dual aspect with a living space entirely glazed (6m long) orientated mainly south, extendable by a private timber external balcony space (12m2) and visually protected by the careful use of timber sun shade screens and balustrades with built in flower boxes overflowing with vegetation. The open plan flexibility in each housing unit responds to the local lifestyle of this temperate region where one spends and lives as much outside as inside. As living spaces feed out onto the lower levels, bedrooms are grouped higher up, separated acoustically from the living areas and apart from the single level 2 bedroom apartments, the ‘wet rooms’ (bathrooms, ensuites, toilets etc.), are located on the north façades and are all naturally lit and ventilated.
From the outset, the project was developed with the aim of using as many prefabricated elements as possible. The suspended balconies are all the same for each housing typology; each unit follows the same grid pattern 1.03m (including the structural elements, balustrades, external cladding, glazing units and the protective sun screens etc.). Constructed in timber, steel and concrete, the material elements respond to the desire to reduce the architectural impact within this landscape and the standardisation of the principal architectural elements, conceived in collaboration with the timber manufacturer EGOIN, undeniably helped to account for the high quality of housing and standard of living whilst keeping within budget.
The external skin is characterised by the design of organic structures built to encourage the growth of vegetation (overhangs, sunshades and rainwater pipes whilst assuring environmental and energy efficiency throughout the project. The facades preserve the privacy of the resident and at the same time protect the natural environment from human interference.
‘La Canopée’, a project derived and deduced directly from its surroundings, coupled with several strong architectural solutions to reduce overall impact, cost, construction times and energy achieves its individuality through an organic, original and flexible spatial organisation, which respects both sustainability and the natural environment.