Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

Renault Administrative Headquarters

Boulogne-Billancourt, France

1981

The proposed headquarters for the Régie Nationale des Usines Renault is located on a triangular site at Point du Jour just outside Paris city limits on the west bank of the Seine. Incorporating a group of office buildings built in the 1960s, the master plan takes its cues from the geometry of the site as well as from its orientation to the city of Paris. The program was especially challenging. Besides requiring an appropriate public image for a company dedicated to the development of advanced technology, it emphasized the provision of an environment for the center’s fourteen hundred employees that would assure the highest quality of life in the workplace. Too often the design of office buildings is little more than an attempt to maximize square footage or to erect a prestige-conferring object in a landscape of corporate one-upmanship. In this case, the standard of amenity specified – including an office with a window for every worker, an art gallery, employee gymnasium, full service restaurant, and outdoor park space – as well as a flexible office layout that would promote communication between different levels of the company hierarchy, encouraged a search for an innovative solution.

Facing Paris across the dividing line of the Boulevard Périphérique on one side and the existing Renault office blocks on the other. the new administrative building has two major façades – a ceremonial public one directed to the community and city, and a private one directed to the company itself. Two corresponding geometries are used as ordering devices. The private facade, facing the existing buildings and creating an internal enclave within them, responds to and complements the older buildings, and its orientation and scale as well as the height of the complex as a whole are generated by these buildings’ orthogonal grid and plan dimensions. The public facade is rotated twenty-four degrees from this grid; its geometry is derived from the street grid of Paris across the boulevard and form the perpendicular bank of the Seine, which the south façade of the building, along the Quai du Pont du Jour, parallels.

Symbolically the existence of the two “fronts” emphasizes the dual corporate aspect, public and private, while formally two orientations and two geometries fuse to create a rich architectonic vocabulary. The distinction between public and private realms permeates every part of the complex. It is articulated in plan in the contrast between rectangular, cellular, or repetitive spaces, which contain offices and rooms of defined function, and more free-form, freely planned spaces, containing more free-form, freely planned spaces, containing social, recreational and eating areas, lobbies and galleries, and the like. It is the public facade that governs the grid of the more rigidly defined system, while the grid of the facade-oriented to the internal domain allows for freer composition. The eight-story building is organized vertically in a fairly hierarchical way: public spaces are concentrated at ground level, general offices are distributed throughout the upper stories, and the top floor is reserved for executive office suites.

The ceremonial public entry faces Paris and is reached by a private roadway whose principle access is off the Quai du Point Jour. The main entry space is a sky lit atrium with exhibition, information, and waiting areas. From here one gets glimpses both horizontally and vertically of the inner world of the corporation. To the right of this lobby, near an enclosed passageway leading to the older buildings, is the full-service restaurant, again freely defined and with its own internal courtyard. Next to the restaurant and sharing the kitchen and services in between is a cafeteria, which turns the corner of the site and opens out onto a formal landscaped garden and toward the site for a future automotive museum-showroom. The other public spaces on the ground level are located to the left of the lobby, but separated from the front wall of offices by two courtyards. They are related to the restaurant facilities by a setback alignment in plan and to the existing buildings behind by their orientation and grid. These spaces, which like the other social spaces lend themselves to free plan and curvilinear elevation treatment, balance the rectilinear articulation of the office spaces across the courtyards. Their functions include large conference rooms and a Research, Art and Industry Gallery where Renault personnel or the invited public can view changing exhibitions of art and science.

The office space, comprising the bulk of the program, is designed to allow every employee maximum natural light and view, and to respond to the primary goals established by the program: a flexible layout, work space that is both functional and comfortable, and an inter-floor arrangement that encourages communication among employees. The typical office floor is organized as a “life unit” of fifty people, a working group size that corresponds to the company’s lateral structure. Each life unit is disposed around one of the large exterior courtyards – there are three within the complex – and may function either as a suite of offices or as an open office landscape. From every office space there is a view either out to the city or into a courtyard, and no office is smaller than three meters by five meters.

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