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Issy-les-Moulineaux is located south of the River Seine at the south western extremity of Paris. It is a border area, which at one time had a military presence and later service industries and warehousing along the road and river for the city beyond. On the northern edge of Issy-les-Moulineaux, between two branches of the Seine, is the Ile Saint-Germain. The result is as quirky and complex as the area in which it is located. The external appearance of the building is intriguing: the rounded, rust-stained prow resting in the water; the entry deck like a marine loading bay; the profile of the closed roof like battened hatches; the purposeful catwalks running along the sides. It sits sombre and squat against the riverside junk. Inside, light, color, and steel make a deliberate and exciting contrast: floors of jigsaw-patterned metal mesh in the offices, solid red leather seating, ceiling lights behind frosted and screen printed glass with aluminium foil backing. To understand the logic of the design – the qualities that take it beyond pastiche to a redefinition of office space – one must start with the interior. At the main floor level there is an atrium, ten meters deep by fifteen wide and twenty long, with three floors of offices and rooms arranged around it, crossed by metal gangways. At one end of the atrium is a bar, with decor by the American artist Gary Glaser. The large seats, designed by Nouvel, are in red leather: “like a punching bag”, he points out, “and designed to be sat or leaned on, with a broad back for putting down papers for a moment, in a passing moment”. The rooms have windows to the interior, which create contact and access. On the walkways linking the offices above the atrium, the safety barriers are topped by broad red leather slabs, to lean or sit on, or to meet by. This concept of mobility led to the metaphor of a boat for the exterior appearance. To crown the concept of openness, the roof opens, like the shell of an oyster. In fact there are two systems of roof openings that transform the lighting and sense of space of the interior: the individual skylights open, as do four huge roof panels, each seven by eight meters in size, lifted by a mechanism devised for lock gates. The CLMBBDO Building is great fun, but it is serious fun. The focus on contact and efficiency in the interior space point to a new definition of office function. Work is understood to be a social activity, requiring open spaces, opportunities to interact, points of exchange, and places for private thought or formal discourse.
Conway Lloyd Morgan, extract from Jean Nouvel: The Elements of Architecture, Adam Biro, 1999