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Raum for manoeuvre: Raum, France

Refined sobriety belies the flexibility that exemplifies much of Raum’s work

Raum have been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2019. View the shortlist here

In the past, the French public sector played a prominent role in fabricating the city, with architects being able to plug into a readily available network of open competitions that provided opportunities for emerging practices. Now, however, private investment has become the norm and projects resulting from public competitions are becoming scarcer. ‘We certainly don’t work only on public projects’, explains Julien Perraud, a third of French practice Raum. ‘But to us, guaranteeing a fine balance between public and private interest in every project is a guarantee of better teamwork, creativity and social responsibility.’

‘Though a sense of formal and material sobriety is embodied in Raum’s projects, there is still an aura of sensuality and joie de vivre about them’

Based in a remodelled horse stable in Nantes, Raum was founded in 2009 by Perraud, Thomas Durand and Benjamin Boré, a trio of graduates from the city’s architecture school. Operating mainly in France, as a young practice they have had to contend with situating their work within a changing social, political and professional context. Raum’s very first project was a rustic shed in stained black timber for an oyster farmer in rural Brittany, structured around a workspace and temporary dwelling. Reflecting the fluctuating, estuarine character of the site, it could be divided or opened up to accommodate different needs, while the roof served as a garden, with an alfresco bathtub.

Since that time, the practice have expanded and consolidated their reputation with a holiday home in Sarzeau, nominated for the 2015 Mies van der Rohe Award, and a thoughtful extension to the Nantes Conservatoire (AR November 2017), which showed an imaginative grasp of scale and the potential of that urban context. Intended to cultivate a reciprocal relationship between arts and the city, the Conservatoire is a box of white brick, articulated by monumental double-height loggias. A glazed ground floor helps to activate the ground plane as a performance and public space.

A new project, also in this sector, comes in the form of the Pierres Blanches cultural centre. Designed to civically anchor Saint Jean-de-Boiseau, a suburb to the west of Nantes, it hosts shows, concerts and other events; its luminous open spaces are flexible, enabling it to accommodate audiences of different sizes.

In another part of Nantes, close to the main train station, Raum are currently implementing a larger-scale project as part of a new urban development area. Three separate entities combine to catalyse use and activity: a car park with public space and an urban farm on its roof; an office building for the French railway; and a housing block with views over the city. The project combines different scales and threads through public spaces to establish and intensify street life in a nascent neighbourhood. Red brick and terracotta concrete bring a soft, Mediterranean warmth to the more temperate milieu of north-west France.

Raum site plan

Raum site plan

Click to download

Although a certain sense of formal and material sobriety is embodied in projects such as these, there is still an aura of sensuality and joie de vivre about the Raum trio. Asked what currently inspires them, the response comes back: ‘The desert landscape of Tinos island marble quarry, glass blowing, monochromatic light and uninhabited wild territories’. They also emphasise the importance of transdisciplinary knowledge, which might encompass music, science, literature and philosophy, as ‘a necessary starting point to make architecture’.

Raum floor plan and section

Raum floor plan and section

Click to download

The practice’s more chimerical side is epitomised by La Ville Molle (the soft city), an experimental art project for the town of Bourges that ‘questions’ the hardness of the city and the actual ground beneath our feet. From a distance, it seems nothing more than a hump in the paving. But walking over it, you sense the ground move (there is an air cushion underneath) and become aware of the grid of paviours and grooves that structure its surface. The distorted terrain transforms a mundane courtyard into a space of stimulation and interaction, altering familiar relationships with everyday objects and the wider city.

This piece is featured in the AR November issue on the Foreign + Emerging Architecture – click here to purchase your copy today

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