VS-A.eu Minimalism: Tribunal de Grand Instance, LIlle

Hi. This project is starting in 1992. At that time VS-A didn’t have it’s actual name. We were 4 or 5 employees and just starting actually when the client called us it was to give an opinion about a facade that created troubles for him. Every year 3 to 5 tempered panels of glass exploded and fell down And when that happens in The Courts of Justice in Lille, that is a problem. It makes a huge noise. I attended once such glass falling down it is really like an explosion. There was no architect. It was an architectural competition but it was mainly a competition for technical
consultants or facade designers like we are. The idea was to first start analysing the building to figure out why the glass were breaking. We found out that the clamps that held the glass together and fixed them to the cantilevered glass fins were
not designed in the correct way. So after some time some glasses slid down and became self standing while other would remain hung. How can you dismount such a facade? That really became quite a complicated question. Because if you do it glass by glass for the contractor it was really dangerous; If you dismount self standing glass, you must take it from the top If you dismount hung glass you must take it from the lower part. So when you don’t know, you can’t start from the middle right? So we just decided that the best way, and maybe the only way, was to explode all the glass at the same time. And that’s what we did. We found a contractor for that and on a Sunday morning
when the whole court of justice was empty… only the TV crew was there because they wanted
to attend such things. And in 1 second ten tonnes of glasses fell to the ground. And that’s it and then we can start our project. The environment of this project is a very typical building from the late 60s,
it’s a very brutal architecture in fact.
With really beautiful details. It’s a very nice building by Jean Willerval. And our idea was to replace the glass facade with a more traditional glass facade;
because the client really hated innovation. He just said “I want a Normal facade, just Normal”.
But for us normal is still somethign in relation to the building. So we started thinking, how can you make a glass facade,
a traditional curtain wall but with minimal visual impact.. So we started designing a very compact mullion.
And to make it very compact there are many ways of doing this. The first point is to use Steel instead of Aluminium. So that’s what we did. The second was to say we use 3 fixing points instead of two;
You can reduce the deflection by 2 this way. You can say instead of having different parts that are fixed together the whole profile is actually structural. So in the end the result was in a profile;
185mm deep by 80mm wide, that could span 12m without any problem. The nice thing about this is that the whole environment is made of raw materials.
And raw steel has the problem of corrosion, we know. So we just decided to do it in stainless steel.. maybe a bit luxury.
But extruded steel is a technology that uses a French patent from the late 19th Century and although very few suppliers use that technology we found one in Germany, who said “Okay let’s try to do it”.
But it was a very heavy profile for him and he was not used to doing it. 50kg per meter… it’s really huge. So we started designing this mulion a little tapered on the inside to even reduce the visual impact further. And the construction went in fact quite well afterwards, but still
every small detail had to be designed in a very special way. The mullions in fact are the only frames visible.
There are no transoms just a butt connection between glasses. The setting blocks are small triangular pieces of machined steel that are fixed to the mullion
and in the end it’s a very minimalist impact. You could say that this facade is fully glass, almost.
And for us this is really a good example about less is more. Yeah. It’s hard to do less in fact. So we are happy with this project.
And the client is extremely happy. He feels he has a traditional curtain wall
and we feel he has an extroadinary curtain wall. But we are both happy.

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