Text description provided by the architects. A monolithic polyhedron made up of white bricks and raw concrete, the Pomme de Pin school complex, which was delivered in 2015 in La Fare-les-Oliviers (Bouches-du-Rhône), does not immediately conjure up its function. Set up east of the town at the boundary with the Arc agricultural plain in a sprawling residential suburb, it acts as an urban marker at the entrance to the hamlet. The architects of the AT agency (Marseille) and of the DSA agency (Lille) designed a compact building in which the nursery school and the elementary school are superposed, thus minimizing the constructible area of the project. The main programme, which comprises two schools and a recreational centre, is supplemented by a multipurpose hall for the activities of the three establishments and by a car park built on “restanques” (in Provençal, a “restanco” is a drystone wall).
Erected deliberately away from the surrounding buildings, the school offers its users an indoor landscape varied by manifold outdoor areas. A front square, a porch, a paved yard, a patio, a “schoolchildren path” (a long approach ramp to the elementary school), passageways and a terraced playground punctuate the site and allow the children and the teaching staff to take full advantage of it. The rough-hewn volume, associated to the terraced roofs, the openings in the front walls and the indentations in its outer walls offer this inner world open views on the close and remote landscape: from the limestone hills around the town to the Etang de Berre and the Montagne Sainte Victoire. Noble materials such as brick, concrete, glass and wood – domesticated fragments of the surrounding nature – are all offered to the first perceptions of children and to their school memories.
This marked mineral character reveals the landscape through contrast and identifies it as a public facility while setting it on a sustainable path. The light hues of the bricks and concrete reflect the southern light and echo Mediterranean landscapes.
A poetic play on light and shade, set by alternating the qualities of inner and outer areas, unfolds as weeks go by and uses of the school vary, to give the children a feeling of freedom which favours learning.