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Author: Maria Paola Repellino
Excerpt from the essay “On the Intensity of Surfaces: Lycée Hôtelier de Lille by Caruso St John Architects”, World Architecture/Shijie Jianzhu, 344 (February 2019), 114-117.
Project: Lycée Hôtelier de Lille (renewal of the Fives-Cail-Babcock (FCB) steelworks)
Place: Lille, France
Photos: Hélène Binet

The Lycée Hôtelier de Lille built on the site of the former Fives-Cail-Babcock (FCB) steelworks shows how contemporary architecture can help redefine former industrial sites, modernize their functions, and more in general transform whole city districts.
The project envisaged a dual strategy: some of the existing structures were to be restored and preserved in their entirety while others were to be demolished and replaced by new buildings that nevertheless maintained the formal and material features of the original structures. This approach tends to underscore the unitary nature of the industrial layout.

The work by Caruso St John draws on architectural heritage and the history of architecture for very specific reasons, but primarily because they wish to respect the site where the project is to be built. However, each time it involves an extremely sophisticated intellectual and sensitive exercise that ultimately subverts obvious filiations and banal contextualizations. It’s true that the architecture is immersed in the context, almost to the point of merging with it, but it then turns the buildings into anything but ordinary objects. This happens chiefly due to the extremely sophisticated use of materials and surfaces, for example by emphasizing the spatial potential of each material, so much so that the visual and tactile elements of the façades become as important as the arrangement of the volumes. This sensitivity, coupled with an extremely precise construction idea in line with the atmosphere that is to be generated in the interior and exterior, bestows a strong, unmistakable mark even on the most ordinary solution. The end result is a solid, cultured and emotional architecture used to reiterate a resolute rejection of trends, fads and the iconic formalisms of the “tyranny of the new”.

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