Itinerary of a school that rose from the earth.

Meeting with the “artisans” behind the “butterfly” project

In 2022, archi5 took part in a competition to design and build the Fosse Rouge school complex in Sucy-en-Brie. From the very first sketches, the agency decided to take a step back from the programme and propose a school integrated into the natural environment, respectful of the existing building. The gamble paid off: the agency was unanimously awarded the contract. Viktoria, Lucie and Jessica take us behind the scenes of this unusual project.

Pupils start school for the first time in September 2024
Photograph Victor Panlou


“When I’m in the hall or on the 1st floor, with these curves and curtain walls, I feel like butterflies in my stomach, it works,” says Viktoria.

The programme benefits from an exceptional location where two landscapes meet, between the edge of a plateau on a valley to the north (marked by the Morbras departmental park) and the Notre-Dame national forest to the south.

“Our architectural and landscaping intention was to bring nature into the school, and even into the city, as if the building were a gateway to the park,” says Viktoria.

The entire project reflects this intention. The building is sober. It is based on an interplay of organic curves and mineral layers that follow the contours of the park. “Like a natural piece of land on which you mould the earth to make a school complex”, explains Viktoria. The structure forms the skin of the building, in low-carbon concrete tinted to match the colour of the earth, as if the ground became the façade. The whole thing is matrixed, a complex process. The slightest mistake and you have to start all over again.

The programme requires all areas to be accessible from the forecourt, so the agency decided to install the kitchen delivery area to the north of the plot. Keeping the forecourt clear of vehicles ensures the safety and comfort of the children. Everything else follows on from this. The team opted for a tripod shape that evokes the flight of a butterfly, allowing the project to fit into the small triangular plot, separating the different areas, offering unobstructed views over the park and limiting the height of the building in relation to the adjoining buildings.

The two large curves of the nursery and elementary schools embrace the park. Their courtyards reflect the vegetation found on the edges, in the forest and in the clearings through different landscape motifs. Designed as inhabited edges, these oasis courtyards and the planted roofs encourage the establishment of biodiversity and carry the promise of the project. The team has done a great deal of work to awaken the senses, using walkways as observatories, educational gardens and wood shavings on the ground. “It’s a project that’s both exemplary and experimental,” says Jessica.

Nature is even present in the signage. “Initially, I had imagined bright colour duos for each of the programme’s entities, but I moved towards more natural tones to create harmony between the signage and the architectural project. This more subtle approach can also appeal to children,” says Lucie. For the decals, she created illustrations inspired by the remarkable plants in the landscape layers designed by Jessica. “The flowers climb up the doors and windows as if nature were reclaiming its rights. They add a gentle touch to the building,” she concludes.

“Compliant with the RE2020, the project is also part of the EMC2B approach,” adds Viktoria. The agency is opting for bio-sourced materials, particularly wood: timber frame and joinery, false ceilings in wood fibre and halls in wood plywood. The project also features low-tech materials, with a natural ventilation system tested on the Cité des Sciences et de la Nature Lavoisier site in La Rochelle.

Viktoria Thierry-Mieg, HMONP architect, project manager:
Viktoria is an HMONP architect and a graduate of ENSA Paris-La Villette. Her childhood abroad (Austria, Vietnam, India, China) and regular trips to the four corners of the world are an inexhaustible source of inspiration. To design the “butterfly” project in Sucy-en-Brie, Viktoria was inspired by the free curves of Oscar Niemeyer, whose work she studied in depth during her year at FAU-USP (São Paul) in Brazil. She joined archi5 in September 2017.

Lucie Coupin, graphic design and signage:
Lucie was interested in art from an early age. After taking a baccalauréat in applied arts, she turned to graphic design. In Amiens, she did a BTS in Graphic Design at the Cité Scolaire (Lycée Édouard Branly) and a DNA at the ESAD, before moving to Paris to do a Masters in Creative Director in Graphic Design at the Fonderie de l’Image Campus (Bagnolet). Looking for the perfect match between her two interests, graphic design and architecture, Lucie joined archi5 in January 2022, initially as part of her work-study programme. She works across the board on all the agency’s projects.

Jessica Loison, landscape designer:
Jessica is a graduate of the ENSAP Bordeaux workshops. “Being a landscape designer requires meticulous knowledge of plant biology and plant behaviour, as well as a keen sense of observation and interpretation. We’re a bit like nature geeks,” she points out. But that’s not all. Jessica is interested in the storytelling of a landscape, its symbolic dimension and its social utility. A landscape has to spark the imagination, and surprise us about our relationship with the world.

Link to the project