Architects: Joly & Loiret
Photography: M. Denance Photographe, F. Delangle Photographe, Pe. Loiret Photographe
Location: Fontainebleau, France
Horse, display, prestige, arena, track, course, circuit, jumps, hillocks, slopes and mounds, terraces. Nature, forest, pine and birch, footpaths, walks across heathered heathland, plains, forest edge, clearings, grasses and wildflowers, banks, coppice. Such is the vocabulary that inspires this project. Words relating to equestrianism, landscape, and this exceptional location at the heart of the forest of Fontainebleau. Within this context, why not invent a real architecture-landscape, where boundaries between definitions blur and merge to create an appropriate intervention?
So, rather than imposing a statement here it seemed better to draw on the inherent qualities of this site, gently and subtly revealing and reusing them. The intervention that results is closer to a continuity of the natural landscape than a building in the usual sense of the word. The edges of the project envelope are undefined, allowing a functional, conceptual and formal continuity of space.
A key part of this relationship with the landscape is a pedestrian circuit leading around the whole of the site. This circuit is a public walkway, punctuated with elements of both the equestrian centre and the forest. Beginning at the entrance, the pathway crosses the exhibitors area, runs the length of the horses rest area, passes on a footbridge above riders on horseback, dips under the pine trees, runs alongside the collecting ring then the water jump, falls in line with the terraces, before climbing gently up to the top of the roof of the building, giving visitors plunging panoramic views over the arenas. Descending from the roof, this boardwalk becomes a grand staircase that steps down through the levels of wooden terraces returning the visitor to the main entrance at the bottom.
Staircases at regular intervals along the rooftop boardwalk give access to the stands and link to ground level circulation.
This pedestrian circuit creates a loop around all of the Grand Parquet’s paddocks and sand arenas, collecting them together in a sort of forest clearing dedicated to sport.
The creation of this clearing – the competition area – is part of the overarching aim to redefine the various programmatic zones of this equestrian centre. It is bordered to the north by the (replanted) edge of the forest, creating a spectacular backdrop. To the south and from east to west, the area of mobile and permanent horse stalls has been reconfigured to run parallel to the edge of the site, and the exhibitors area has moved nearer to the entrance and the parking for staff and officials.
A giant bank of wood and climbing flowers, the « landscape-building » has been generated by the ‘morphing’ – or modelling – of an embankment, and so fits within the pre-existing forms of this site.
The fusion of building with tiered seating, tiered seating with terrace, terrace with embankment, embankment with path, path with forest edge, forest edge with forest, positions the building firmly in its natural setting. The north side is set with tiered seating made of black locust wood, which extends the lines of the terraces. These strong horizontals continue in an arc to the east, hugging the edge of the main arena.
To the south, at the entrance, a sloping wall of climbing plants – a direct continuation of the grass slopes to either side – creates a visual and solar screen for the building behind.
Running the pedestrian walkway across the highest point of this roof anchors the building firmly within the spatial organisation of the site. It becomes a support for the flow of visitors. Its low-lying shape minimises visual impact and limits any dominance its volume might otherwise have had.
The building’s shape and the use of materials are also part of this desire to integrate the project into its surroundings.