A Tribute to Water


The project aims to rehabilitate an old industrial building in the north of Paris with a program that could serve (temporally) the Olympic games in 2024 and that later on the inhabitants of the neighborhood.

In order to truly understand the neighbourhood ‘Saint-Denis’, situated in the north of Paris, the project first critically analyses the surroundings in terms of urban, social, economic and cultural conditions. Interesting aspects of the site discovered were its ethnic diversity and high unemployment rate as well as the dominant presence of a water canal known as ‘Canal de Saint-Denis’ that is now in between several industrial buildings and isolated from the daily lives of the inhabitants.

From the macro to the micro an analysis was also developed into a smaller area of an abandoned industrial building know as ‘Cathedral of rail’ which used to be the former train depot of Saint Denis and that was decommissioned for more than 20 years. Here the project’s task was to create a suitable adaptive reuse.  Aware that the area suffers from the lack of interaction among the water canal and water spaces, the project takes a stand aims to generate a discourse around water, its importance and its vitality in our lives. The project wants to encourage inhabitants to exchange information between water spaces and the potentiality around water culture.

The building is thus rehabilitated to install a dialogue between a natural element and its sustainable and recreational use.  Considering this approach, efforts were concentrated in several domains around water: thermal baths, hydroponic culture, water reuse, and the cycle of water (condensation, evaporation…).

The design process commenced by understanding the existing elements that composed the original building. From this perspective the project decides to focus on features as: arches, curves, rough materiality, triple heights, etc. allowing for a better observation of the building. Here elements as circulation become crucial, through the use of ramps, a system that could circulate through the entire building and create different heights is highlighted.

The industrial building is divided into three sectors: a thermal bath, a transitional space –that became a gallery and a forum- and a hydroponic area that cultivated food with this method. The landscaping of the outside areas is made to recycle water, to propose a space for urban farming and to create an exterior sequence with the use of platforms.

The thermal space is composed by white walls and changing rooms. The gallery building features a series of copper arches that create a connection with the existing curves of the building whilst an outdoor gallery space circumnavigates the building creating an exterior circulation that leads the user into the hydroponic and recreational areas.

The hope of the project is to not only create a multifunctional recreational space for the Olympics games, but to also create a site for tranquility and awareness around water creating a new experience for the people that live in the area.  The project aims to critically expose a new critical reuse by rethinking the existing interior space in terms of water culture, mobility and experiences.


What defined the selection of drawings through which you choose to articulate and reveal the project?

The selection we did of drawings was made to show the interaction of the building with water and with the added elements to underline the existing qualities of the industrial building.

We also wanted to show how each element that we added highlighted a particular area of the building and how fragile elements (as copper arcades and water) create a dialogue with the roughness of brick and concrete.

How important are the views?

We believe this notion is always relevant for a project. They are important also in terms of what we want to convey, which views are significant to reveal the atmospheres and the experiences of the project. We wanted to emphasize several things with the images, and they become an experimental media to point materials, composition and sequences.

And we basically choose them taking into account the places that where intervening with water. It also helped us test the idea and see which spaces could be modified or not.

What defined the one point perspective?

We wanted to have a continuous reading of the spaces of the project and to achieve this we realized it was significant to have a constant central point of perspective. We also wanted to have unity in the way the viewer perceives each space and its atmosphere. One of us also studied with Martino Tattara from Dogma, where his approach to image making has been influenced by previous Italian artists and architects that focus the attention on a frontal view.

What role did the drawing and sketch play in the development of the proposal?

We think is very important to start a project by sketching ideas especially because it allows the possibility to create new relationships between form and content. Also because we believe that in the action of sketching our observations –from the site and from the building– they become a tangible graphical product that can be tested and modified. It also allows the possibility to discover details and to develop further and idea, particularly because drawing as a graphical action can be connected directly to our perceptions and translate into a material object that can be manageable. It is also important to continue the process of thinking and a significant tool to translate every intention into paper.

How did your previous studies and methodology affect how you approached the project?

We both come from a very diverse background having studied in different cities as Ljubljana, Mexico City, Prague, Belgium and Paris. Each school has had a different methodology that we had to pour into the project to approach it in a specific way. In this sense our previous studies became a reference point and a tool to create our own mechanism to tackle the project.

We had to learn how these diverse methodologies could interact and communicate with each other. With the diversity of our background we managed to nurture our conversations about certain schemes.

How did you influence and affect each other as a duo?

We believe that when you work with someone else there is always a necessity to create common grounds of communication. Before starting, Ilina and I had similar concerns regarding architecture. We knew we wanted to work together and be influenced by each other. Ilina for example has a close relationship with photography that was used as a referential point for atmospheres and nature. On the other hand I come from a much more theoretical approach which helped to continue with a specific line of design. We influenced each other by perceptions and experiences we had in our past studies, always wanting to arrive to mutual understandings.

What prompted the project?

We were working on a studio that was focusing on critical rehabilitation of industrial buildings. What initiated the project was the need to reconvert the space of the Train Depot into something that could have multiple functions and could be a starting point for resident’s interaction. Since the area where this building is located is been recently transformed (with new residential spaces, new squares and parks) there was a need to think about the future of this building, what could it become and how it could relate to the inhabitants and to the city. Of course it was also thought as a temporal exhibition and recreational space for the Olympic games having always in mind what could become later the games were finished.

What previous models did you look to as references to learn from and or disregard?

We have been always fascinated by Lina Bo Bardi’s architecture, and for this project we studied SESC Pompéia and how the materiality of the building interacts with water provoking different sequences. We also studied Peter Zumthor’s terms, Sverre Fehn’s Hedmark museum and its dialogue between new interventions in an old building. For the exterior spaces we studied Luis Barragan’s gardens, understanding its sequences, its spatial excavation and the creations of diverse spaces and as well the gardens of Grenade and its relationship with water.

What is your opinion on the legacy of ‘Olympic architecture’?

We first wonder is there such thing as ‘Olympic architecture’, we believe that is much more about the monumentality of the spectacle where architecture is contingent to the demand and it always evolves from place to place. We believe that in the past it provoked a much more cohesive approach to it (from design, to art, and architecture). For example the Olympic games in Mexico City in 1968, created a dialogue between graphic design and the city. We have the case of the University Stadium and the graphical input of the pavements, or the creation of a cultural tour around a volcanic zone with sculptural interventions from several countries. For sure this approach was noticeable and it created a great exchange of ideas inciting interesting experiences of the city, but the problem sometimes is that architectural interventions of this scale can become obsolete, abandoned or misused.

For this project we focused more on elements that could serve temporarily the Olympic games, as recreational spaces (forums, terms, etc.) and that later on could have another life for the inhabitants of the zone, that is the reason why we first decided to take a look into the already existing components of the area and create a place that could incite people to use the space differently.