Architects: Jean-François Schmit
- Year: 2010
Photographs:Courtesy of Jean-François Schmit
Text description provided by the architects. PIM - behind this mysterious acronym hides the new jet engine maintenance base built at Orly by Air France’s real estate division. It is in this building that the engines of aircraft belonging to Air France, or other companies that use this technical service marketed by the airline in the same way as freight or passenger transport, are washed, disassembled and inspected. The largest engine that the facility can accommodate, the GE 90, measures 3.40 metres in diameter and weighs over 8 tonnes. The building’s facade is a metaphor for take-off: a metal casing with white cladding, whose form evokes a wing section, floats above a black, patterned concrete base symbolising rocks. These earthbound elements are embedded in a grassed slope that they appear to penetrate. The layout drawing exhibits the form of a large, unadorned square volume.
The new building houses a maintenance process modified by Air France engineers, who initially envisioned the construction of a linear building. The change to a compact volume was suggested by the architect after he had familiarised himself in detail with the various steps and procedures involved in the maintenance of a jet turbine engine. Instead of a longitudinal design, closer to the production line model, Jean-François Schmit implemented an organisational layout based on the model of a garage: disassembled engines can be worked on in different maintenance cells, according to requirements and to any breakdown or damage observed. A series of overhead cranes, the rails for which are attached to the roof structure, enables easy movement of engines or parts from one workshop area to another. The layout of the work stations was subjected to full-scale testing in conjunction with the future users. Numerous methodologies that ensure that the building is not a mere shelter for industrial activities but an integral part of the process that takes place within.
PIM2, which replaces the obsolete PIM1, differs from its predecessor by its brightness. Diffused by a series of saw-tooth roofs across the metal frame, or by large strip windows providing views of the outside, light is present throughout. As in other industrial buildings designed by Jean-François Schmit, transparency is exploited to connect workshops and offices. In PIM2, the two elements are connected by an internal street bordered with plants. A welcoming area that is also an integral part of a quest to optimise construction costs: this 8-metre wide internal street, bordered by two large troughs set in the ground, contributes to the phyto-purification of the air and is reminiscent of the plants that the architect had observed above the workers’ lockers in the former workshops. From a regulatory perspective, this arrangement replaces a fire wall at a similar construction cost, but with an incomparable amenity value.
The use of renewable energy, the installation of solar collectors and other high environmental quality systems took on a special significance in the context of the PIM. The environmental construction should reduce Air France’s overall carbon footprint and offset some of the greenhouse gas emissions from its aircraft. A contribution that may be modest in relation to the size of the company’s fleet, but important to the users of the building. Natural light thus contributes a tangible improvement to working conditions: it transforms the workshop into a cathedral flooded with light, in which the most meticulous operations are performed in remarkable tranquillity within an industrial space.