How can architecture and landscape help support asylum seekers facing a life-changing experience? Together with Eiffage Construction and the engineering offices OTEIS and AMOES, Snøhetta has been chosen to design the relocation of the National Court of Asylum and the Administrative Court of Montreuil. The proposal collects the two jurisdictions on one site around large green areas to offer a place of calm during what can be a time of intense turmoil.
Council of State represented by the Public Agency for Justice Real Estate
Eiffage equipment construction
Eiffage services (operation-maintenance)
The National Court of Asylum, or Cour nationale du droit d'asile (CNDA) in French, is a unique jurisdiction in France that judges cases for individuals who have appealed against the decision made by Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides (OFPRA). Every year, it welcomes several thousand people of more than 160 nationalities. The court is, therefore, the final jurisdiction for deciding the future of asylum seekers in France, dealing with residence permit disputes, refusals, and orders to leave the country.
This project will relocate the National Court of Asylum, which is currently spread across several buildings in Montreuil, and the Administrative Court to the same area. Collecting the two courts will allow them to share spaces, gardens and services to create more welcoming and safe conditions for visitors and for the 940 employees working across the two jurisdictions.
A place of hospitality
Snøhetta is designing the complete relocation, including buildings, landscape, wayfinding, interior, and furniture. The proposal aims for the new locations to be a symbol of justice and transparency and a place of hospitality for all its users. The project strives to provide the best possible environment for everyone involved, acknowledging the complexity dealt with by all the employees and visitors of these courts.
Messages of transparency and safety are conveyed through a sober architecture that fits into the more residential neighborhood and by opening up the lobby and waiting areas. As an extension to these shared spaces, a 700m2generously planted garden will be accessible to visitors, offering tranquility and promoting biodiversity.
In this project, we wanted to introduce large gardens to support people who may be in a challenging situation by providing a place of calm and relief, hopefully making their experience less stressful.
Kjetil Trædal Thorsen Snøhetta’s co-founder
Nature as a tool to offer support
A growing amount of research indicates that exposure to natural environments such as parks and green urban areas positively affects mental and physical health, reducing blood pressure and distress as some of the many results.
“It is, therefore, essential to increase access to green areas in dense urban environments, where contact with nature is often a rarity, especially in projects like these where people are emotionally vulnerable. We want architecture and landscape to be meaningful tools to affirm the role of justice in a democratic state. Here, everyone will be treated equally by the architecture and nature, regardless of how the courts judge them,” Trædal Thorsen adds.
Improving functionality and connection to urban surroundings
The project will be run by Snøhetta’s Paris studio and marks one of the first stages of an ambitious urban renewal plan for the La Noue neighborhood in Montreuil, a suburb east of Paris, which also includes building new schools and sports and residential programs.
The site hosting the two jurisdictions will be opened up and connected to its urban surroundings with a series of public walkways. To ensure an intuitive understanding and access to the two courts, regardless of language or origin, Snøhetta has designed a clear visitor flow through internal and external pathways, enhanced by universal signage and wayfinding. There will also be improved site accessibility for pedestrians, bicycles and cars.
To ensure good working environments for the employees, plenty of daylight will be provided, and secluded outdoor courtyards and gardens will be created for meetings or private breaks. Employee functions and spaces have been connected with pathways and clear separations between public and private areas.
The modularity of the office floors will be made possible by a connecting pathway between the two courts and the location of vertical cores. Therefore, the functions could be extended as the courts evolve.
To limit the distances, the buildings have been designed to be compact. The two jurisdictions will be located opposite each other, with shared programs like a nursery, a sports hall and a restaurant at the heart of the site. All these spaces will be centered around the large green heart of calm gardens.
Combining architectural heritage with new construction
The project will include a respectful rehabilitation of an existing 9-story building from 1963, designed by Arthur Héaume and Alexandre Persitz, students of Auguste Perret. The facade will be renovated to affirm its architectural qualities of the concrete framework, regular grids, and large glazed windows, ensuring plenty of daylight while improving its visual and thermal comfort.
The renovated tower will host part of the CNDA, including the main lobby, visitor reception areas on the first two floors, and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views. It will benefit from a generous forecourt and great transparency throughout.
The new Administrative Court will be built using raw, durable materials, such as exposed concrete, which provides solidity and a trustworthy appearance.
Addressing environmental and humanistic values
In addition to promoting biodiversity through the variety of new green spaces, the project also addresses several other sustainability challenges. Solar control through the orientation of the facades and thermal control will help avoid excessive energy consumption, and the building will accommodate energy production by photovoltaic panels.
A low-carbon strategy has been adopted by limiting the carbon impact of concrete and using bio-sourced materials such as wood wool insulation.
“The relocation of the National Court of Asylum and the Administrative Court of Montreuil provides a valuable opportunity for our Paris studio to deep dive into some major issues of our time; the rehabilitation of an existing architectural heritage combined with exemplary new buildings, outdoor public spaces, and accessibility for all audiences. It deals not only with the function but also with the emotional aspect of the buildings which embodies itself in this local community,” states Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.
“Snøhetta is particularly honored to collaborate with Eiffage construction, the engineering offices OTEIS and AMOES, on this exceptional project which, we hope, will bring both the environmental and humanistic values of architecture to the service of the community. We look forward to seeing what effect this might have in a 10-year period,” says Trædal Thorsen.
The construction work is scheduled to start in 2024, with completion expected in 2026.