AN visits Bruther, a firm setting a new course for French architecture

Oh Bruther

AN visits Bruther, a firm setting a new course for French architecture

A new generation of French designers is taking the country’s architecture in a new direction, from a position of opulence and excess to one grounded in humanism. At the forefront of this movement, Bruther, the Parisian practice established by Stéphanie Bru and Alexandre Theriot in 2007, works across architecture, research, education, urbanism, and landscape, consistently shunning fads in order to focus on the firm’s main preoccupation: malleability. Bruther’s flexible architecture is an attempt to assure its buildings endure regardless of changing requirements; the firm’s methodology insinuates that its buildings’ obsolescence is determined only by the limits of their users. Bruther’s projects form a blank canvas designed to give their occupants a hand in the building’s creation, ensuring that they are built for the users and not in spite of them.

New Generation Research Center
Caen, France

Photo of the New Generation Research Center
New Generation Research Center. (Filip Dujardin/Courtesy Bruther)

With limited means, Bruther designed this 27,000-square-foot, 110-foot-tall building as a collaborative space and incubator dedicated to research and innovation for Le Dome, an organization aiming to create a tech hub in Normandy by providing spaces for like-minded individuals to further their research. Theriot refers to the research center as a “vertical hangar” in reference to the restrictive budget, austere material palette, and tall, open floors of the building. The belvedere on its top serves as an event space and frames views over the surrounding landscape all the way to the banks of the Orne river.

Cultural and Sports Center
Paris 20th arrondissement, France

Photo of the Cultural and Sports Center in context in Paris
The Cultural and Sports Center. (Maxime Delvaux/Courtesy Bruther)

Nestled in Saint-Blaise, an area within Paris’s 20th arrondissement, Bruther’s 2014 cultural and sports center preserves one of the area’s only public spaces in one of Europe’s densest neighborhoods. Launched by the government’s urban regeneration program (Grand projet de renouvellement urbain), the center’s large uninterrupted spaces allow the building to host a myriad of uses and cater to the changing will of its community. The glazed curtain walls render the 14,000-square-foot building a legible monument to the life of its occupants.

Residence for Researchers
Paris 14th arrondissement, France

Exterior photo of the Residence for researchers
The Residence for Researchers. (Maxime Delvaux/Courtesy Bruther)

Wedged between Paris’s Périphérique, the motorway that surrounds Paris, and the Cité Universitaire, a large academic residential campus, the Residence for Researchers was completed in 2017 for a public housing body. The building responds to the neighboring architecture as it sits on pilotis grazing the nearby ring road and is sliced on the lower levels by catwalks and ramps. Bruther cut away the middle third of the massing’s large cube so that two blocks flank a central passage that accommodates a triangular circulation core and an open spiral stair. The 50,000-square-foot residence holds apartments for researchers at the University of Paris. The H-plan allowed Bruther to play with transparency and depth, a stark contrast to the neighboring Brazil House or Swiss Pavilion by Le Corbusier. The design demonstrates Bruther’s rejection of pastiche and dogma, as the tectonics are a direct consequence of ideological and budgetary utilitarianism.

Galeries Lafayette
Pau, France

Rendering of the proposed Galeries Lafayette interior
Rendering of the Galeries Lafayette. (ArteFactory Lab/Courtesy Bruther)

The firm’s approach is further illustrated by its 2019 winning competition entry for the refurbishment of the upmarket French department store, Galeries Lafayette, in the southwestern city of Pau. Currently in the detail design stage, the scheme demonstrates the architects’ willingness to challenge preconceptions about contemporary retail spaces, hinting at a rebellion against black box typology. Instead, the verdant spaces, exposed structure, and ETFE panels allow for a light-filled building, reinstating a connection between the shopping mall and the city.

Life Sciences Building
Lausanne, Switzerland

Rendering of the Life Sciences Building exterior
Rendering of the Life Sciences Building. (ArteFactory Lab/Courtesy Bruther)

A collaboration with Belgian practice Baukunst, the Life Sciences Building for the University of Lausanne is due to be completed in 2024. Bruther’s first venture into laboratories, the building is as carefully considered as its older sibling, the Rolex Learning Centre by SANAA, nearby. Theriot speaks of the “organization of the plan” that fosters collaboration, and this building manifests as an “urban machine” that is almost Pompidou-esque in its forms. The building’s loose planning gives the flexible workspaces the ability to evolve with technology. These workspaces compose the main volume of the building, while the ancillary spaces, which are more fixed, form elements of the envelope.

Zurich, Switzerland

Rendering of the Forum in Zurich interior
Rendering of the Forum in Zurich. (ArteFactory Lab/Courtesy Bruther)

The Forum, for the University of Zurich, is another collaboration with Baukunst and marks a turn away from the strict geometries of the practice’s previous buildings. The building’s jaggedly shaped floorplates produce a series of superimposed landscapes, or “plains,” that create a “little town” in which the users are left to their own devices. Alexandre states that the undefined spaces allow for a certain amount of “permeability and porosity.” The competition for this building was ultimately won by Herzog & de Meuron, so Bruther’s design is destined to remain on paper. Nonetheless, the scheme is another example of Bruther’s penchant for experimentation, which we will no doubt see more of in years to come.