A Plot of Land, a History…
The Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (literally: House of the Sciences of Man) was built on a site rich in human history. In fact, it is here that was located the Good Sheppard’s girls community founded in 1686 to help girls having strayed from the path of righteousness redeem themselves! After the French Revolution, the site was temporarily used for charity work aimed at providing the basic provisions. In 1847, the location then served as the Cherche Midi Prison until its demolition in 1966.
At that time, there were already many human sciences, but they were scattered throughout various sites all over Paris. The idea was to bring them together in one location in order to promote exchange between researchers. With the demolition of the prison, a real opportunity presented itself for creating a center for research in the social sciences in the heart of Paris. Hence, the project supported by the Ford Foundation was finally born.
The building specifications raised unique technological and architectural questions that pushed construction even further.
The building’s architects, Mr. Lods, Depondt, Beauclair, and Malizard, sought to ensure an environment adapted to the researcher’s work by creating ideal working conditions, namely a calm place for concentrating isolated from the continual noise coming from Boulevard Raspail. This goal led to creating completely soundproof façades, which also ensured that the entire building was completely insulated.
In an attempt to respect the site and to give pedestrians a better perspective, the buildings were constructed a bit further from the street than the other buildings on Rue du Cherche Midi. In addition, to embody the essence of the MSH Foundation, the building had to be open to the world, which explains the choice of the glass façades and the complete transparence of the main lobby with its very “modern” view on the interior garden.
A Prestressed Metal Structure Enclosed With Concrete Slabs Forming the Flooring.
In the allocated budget, meeting the building’s needs meant abandoning traditional solutions that were too costly in favor of a structure, which while not a recent concept, is still rather modern. It is a construction system that uses prestressed metal to support reinforced concrete slabs that form the flooring, a system perfected by Léon K. Wilenko.
This approach was significantly cheaper. It allowed saving 20% in comparison with other traditional metal structures, and at least 50% in steel costs since the beams are fitted with welded joints in the supporting columns that continue supporting weight after the initial construction is finished.
The computer played a key role in the calculations used for adopting this structure, which was the first in the world of this size.
A Façade Made Adjustable by the Play on Light and the Shutters
With the structure in place, the façades could be added. Their originality came from the need to have a calm location for readers and researchers with a maximum amount of light.
Installing the Façades with Only Three Men
Making the building aesthetically pleasing while maintaining a maximum amount of calm in a place that is in constant motion was made possible thanks to the choice of aluminum and glazing materials: the setting reflects the surrounding environment like a giant mirror!
Installing the Metal Shutters
As for the play on light, it is created by the occupants themselves by the lighting in their offices and by playing with their shutters! “In some respects, it was a logical test of a spontaneous architecture.
From “Inflexible Buildings” to “Flexible” Buildings: Adjustable Partitions.
According to Marcel Lods, one of the architects, it was time to leave “inflexible buildings” that dictate the organization of work in the past and move towards “flexible buildings” that can be put together and taken apart depending on the occupants’ changing needs.
From the building’s conception, adjustable partitions were foreseen, which allowed leaving the breakdown of interior space to the last minute.
Wood and Particleboard Partitions: Quick and Easy to Put up or Take Down.
A Technical Approach that Meets the FMSH’s Essential Needs
In effect, this technical approach was crucial to the Foundation’s key goal, which was to adapt its physical space to constantly changing research programs in order to host teams of various sizes for set periods of time.
The Foundation is therefore able to fulfill one of its essential goals: host researchers and offer them working conditions that are tailored to their needs.