Lofty conservatory, Nantes (FA)

AUM opts for an efficient, creative arrangement of overlapping uses to maximize a limited budget.


France – Text: Anna Yudina, Photography: Audrey Cerdan

In their home base of Nantes, RAUM architects have completed the first of the office’s larger-scale projects. The new premises of the Performing Arts School, known as Le pont supérieur, blend with the extension of the adjacent Nantes Conservatory in a building meant as an architectural response to the growing multidisciplinarity and transparency of the artistic practice. ‘Built in the 1970s, when artistic production was dissociated from broadcasting, the existing conservatory is a rather introverted building,’ explains RAUM’s co-founder, Julien Perraud. ‘In our project, we proposed to open artistic practices towards the city and create links between different activities.’

          The architects’ idea of a contemporary cultural venue that should not focus on a single practice or user has perfectly dovetailed with the intentions of their client, the Municipality of Nantes, which desired to put under one roof two institutions with similar needs. Moreover, the project brought together two regions, since the Performing Arts School caters to both Bretagne and Pays de la Loire (of which Nantes is the capital).

          Inserted in the middle of a tightly built cultural and educational mini-cluster, Le pont supérieur sits by the walkway leading to the new Nelson Mandela Lycée and the auditorium for the region’s national orchestra, both designed by François Leclercq & Associates. It overlooks the Garden of the Five Senses created by landscape designers D’ici là, and keeps a short yet clearly defined distance with the old conservatory. RAUM responded with a compact volume enhanced by intelligent spatial solutions that prompt dance and music classes to intersect both visually and physically. Thus, instead of placing rehearsal rooms and dance studios on separate floors, the architects opted for a more efficient arrangement, in which a six-metre-high dance studio adjoins a low-ceilinged locker room tucked beneath a rehearsal room. ‘By so doing, we avoided the waste of ceiling space while maximizing the height of dance studios,’ comments Perraud. Extra-large windows expose dance studios to the street, while circulation spaces and rehearsal rooms have smaller openings into dance studios to enable visual connections between musicians and dancers, but also let natural light into circulation areas. 

          Taking advantage of a significant elevation drop, with entrances to the ground floor lobby located at different levels, RAUM could push their concept of overlapping uses even further. By stacking and interlocking programmatic elements, they managed to ‘carve out some budget and room for an extra space acting as a bridge between various activities, and between larger urban elements that surround the project,’ says Thomas Durand, a partner at RAUM. Not intended by the brief, the resulting ‘seventh studio’ is ‘an in-between space where students can mingle and put on mini-performances.’ The stairway follows the topography of the site, and doubles as tiers that face a stage, spacious enough to accommodate half of the conservatory’s orchestra for collective rehearsals. Parquet flooring and the mirrored rear wall (that conceals administrative offices) allow using it as yet another dance studio. The frontage is made of clear glass, and can be folded away to merge the seventh studio with the forecourt.

          A limited budget required simple, low-tech solutions. In the studios, equally usable by musicians and dancers, are heavy, theatre-like curtains that allow control over the acoustic ambience. These curtains prove especially instrumental in glass-walled studios, although the resonance created by glass surfaces can also be acoustically interesting – for instance, for baroque music or percussive dance.

          Facades made of white glazed bricks shape a volume that remains both distinct and integrated in the context. Large expanses of glass mark the location of dance studios, while patches of perforated brickwork protect the privacy of the locker and shower rooms, and offer a more intimate, ‘sun-screened’ ambience in smaller rehearsal rooms. Overall, this nuanced combination of solids and voids contributes to creating the desired identity – sufficiently extraverted, yet never too transparent and office-like.

          With their own studio located not far from the new building, the members of RAUM have multiple occasions for getting user feedback. Curiously, generous glazing did not become a problem, although at the outset the architects had been warned against it. Perhaps it is because the dance studios are located on the second floor, and the resulting distance mitigates the exposure effect, or maybe it is just the students, mostly active users of social media, having a different notion of privacy than their professors. In either case, the young generation of artists has no desire to hide itself, but opts for visibility instead.

Nantes Conservatory, 2014–2015, Architect: RAUM, Established: 2007, Client: City of Nantes, Address: 4 bis rue Gaëtan Rondeau, Nantes, Info:


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