EuropaCity is an innovative urban hybrid springing from the daring ideas of Bjarke Ingels, a young, internationally trained Danish architect. Among the most inventive figures of this generation, this edgy creator took out the EuropaCity invitation competition in 2012.
Linked to the Grand Paris network, part of the Gonesse triangle, and at the gateway to the Plaine de France, EuropaCity combines the vibrant experience of moving through the city—its squares, streets, lanes, avenues and boulevards—with the sweeping landscapes, sunlight and long perspectives offered by the openfield.
This dense, varied urban structure is connected to its environment and ultimately forms a textural continuity, in contrast with the usual shopping malls and leisure centers.
Europe in all its diversity provides the necessary themes for the distribution of the retail, culture and leisure programs. Built on a vast, open landscape that leaves the eye free to roam all the way to Paris on the horizon, this dense city whose alternative traffic modes in turn take as models the Ramblas, Regent Street, and the Champs Elysées, lends itself to the casual stroll. Here the regular or occasional visitor can rediscover the Italian tradition of the passegiata, where strollers of all generations cross paths with friends and neighbors.
In EuropaCity you can wander the streets, linger in front of store windows, say hello to people you know and, if the urge to go further takes you, zoom down the ski slopes in the Parc des Neiges.
Others may opt for teaming up in the kitchen gardens, chatting at the balneotherapy center or enjoying a glass after a show. And right there between EuropaCity and the new business district next door is the Lovelace hotel project, designed to add a touch of poetry to your stay. As we saw it we had to find an expressive architectural form, which is why our proposal is intended as «a bocage in an openfield», a place to savor mellow living.
This conviction meshes with the main aspects of the master plan drawn up by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), whose interacting volumes are aligned north-south in strips.
In this setting, the project comprises three clearly defined registers: the ground register, mineral and abstract, pays particular attention to the human factor register 2 uses a special, somewhat labyrinthine system of distribution of the hotel’s services and rooms—not to get you lost, but to embody the poetry of the encounter register 3 offers respiration through projection towards the sky and the gardens.
On the border of the EuropaCity site, the base of the Lovelace spreads its exoskeleton like a drowsing mythical animal. Long and rounded, its telluric mass of openwork concrete strips rises gently on the fringe of the road, facing the five-star hotel.
Drawing the visitor on irresistibly, the entrance to the conference center leads him down a slight slope to the surprise of a vast interior. The relatively narrow proportions of this modern pronaos offer no hint of the astonishing, luminous volume that awaits, of the feeling of wonder that grips you under the high, glazed dome and its fall of drenching light. Here the dreary, utilitarian anonymity habitually found in this kind of building has been done away with. The ambience is not unlike that of the mystical emotion felt by the catechumen beneath the dome of the Pantheon in Rome.
The cold, orthonormal space of other conference centers gives way to undulating, almost organic curves. What takes shape is a contemporary Greek theater, with one doorway giving onto the agora and the other onto the countryside; here people meet on stepped seats following the natural slope as they await the arrival of the coryphaeus.
Thus the conference center takes on the fullness of the forum of old: a forum for conferences, yes, but not just that: other events will also put it to good use.
On the other side, where the Lovelace opens onto EuropaCity’s pedestrian cardo maximus, so perfectly suited to the passeggiata, the volume of the base rises to welcome the four-star guests. Here a generous lobby reinterprets the palatial model of yesteryear, offering a luxury cocoon from which the monumental grand staircase leaps theatrically upwards.
Its marble is replaced by screenprinted glass, which is also the case for the raised, transparent floor, as on one of those historic sites where sheets of glass protect the past.
All the walls are of this material too, with undisguised cuts into the printed glass opening up alcoves—some dark, some light-filled—that are home to a fireplace, a passageway or the reception desk.Occupying the entire roof of the base, a wave of greenery covers the hills and vales from which the hotel strips rise.
Shaped by the recovery of rainwater on a slope running from the street towards the site’s «central park», the overall topography of the groundwater transforms its changes of level and its functional retention basins.
The movement of rainwater can be imagined as following an aqueduct, sometimes underground and sometimes on the surface. Designed with an agronomist according to their orientation, amount of sunlight and the action of wind and rain, the plots defined by the sheltered walkways each have a distinctive ambience.Here an orchard, there wetland or a wild grass meadow, or maybe a kitchen garden, a little lake, a copse, or a garden of aromatics—and the list is not exhaustive.
You let yourself wander through this undulating patchwork of microclimates and microlandscapes broken by the mineral lake of a lightwell or the transparent dome that lights the conference center.
Protected by their wooden trelliswork like sunken lanes bordered with hedges, the pedestrian passageways let you look outside while preserving an inner privacy: this is the landscape of the bocage.
The passageways represent a functional response to the spread of the hotel over this layer of green. You follow these horizontal strips to your room, your conference, the swimming pool or a restaurant, but their forms of use are endless: thus a functional facility becomes a venue for meeting people or a place for personal, cultural and even sporting discoveries.
At their intersections the spaces are larger¬—places to take a break. Artworks that are changed in time with the seasons and with usage take them over, colonizing the pathways and providing bearings inside the hotel.
As well as a way of escaping, casually, from the triviality of the necessary signage.«One day boredom was born out of uniformity,» the 17th-century French poet Antoine Houdar de La Motte famously remarked, pleading the case of prose freedom against the exigencies of meter and versification.
A maxim that could be taken as expressing the architectural spirit governing the Lovelace hotel program.
The project poeticizes the stopover. It is up to architecture to create spaces for getting away from the clamor of the city, creating one’s own oasis of calm in a refuge of screenprinted glass, contemplating the play of light through transparency and on the opacity of wood and earth, letting the eye follow the streaming of water or rove across the openfield surrounding EuropaCity to the symbolic monuments of the great capital on the horizon.
The program flatly rejects the monotonous succession of anonymous rooms lined up at attention along endless drab corridors; instead it is divided into six narrow built strips, on at most four or five levels and set on the layer of connections and its gardens. The quincunx arrangement follows the BIG master plan and allows for virtually uninterrupted views.
In addition the lowest levels have the privilege of brushing against the canopy of trees planted on some of the plots, while at the top the Lounge Bar enjoys a sweeping panoramic view of EuropaCity’s «central park.»The long, scooped-out volumes yield rooms of different shapes and sizes: alcoves forming cabins with pitched roofs, and some of them with projecting loggias. Palace, barn, fortress, shell: the cabins lend themselves to all these notions at the same time, triggering an urge to inhabit the world differently. An invitation to give your imagination free rein. The remaining areas are given over to free-flow corridors which, at their wider parts lend themselves to shared functions, to human interchange. At each level are spaces for recharging your batteries, nestled in cabins away from the crowd: a reading room, a meditation room, a little cinema, a gaming space, a sauna, a swimming room—and more.
All personalized, these places challenge anonymity, even of the luxury kind, and their regular distribution throughout the Lovelace means optimal efficiency for the services in question.
The personalization of the interiors is made visible on the outside, where the architectural modules intermingle like a casbah topped with the pointed village-house roofs that symbolize agreeable living in the Ile de France region, and silhouette a skyline that marks a strange change of scenery in this cereal-growing openfield.
The journey is beginning.