Case study: Red elm adds warmth to Melun’s music school

Case study: Red elm adds warmth to Melun’s music school

AHEC, American Hardwood Export Council

American red elm gives a warm touch to a new music and dance school located in Melun, a south-eastern suburb of Paris.

Located at a major crossroads within the city, Melun’s Music and dance school is part of a wider urban regeneration project. ‘The Two Muses’ as the new building is called brought together the existing music and dance schools, which were in two separate locations. Since 42 percent of the city’s social housing is located in the vicinity of the new building, city official chose this location to encourage children from low income families to discover music and dance.

The taller building on the west side houses the multipurpose performance hall while the slightly lower east wing houses a number of classrooms, practice rooms, the school’s offices as well as recording studios.

The architects François Defrain and Olivier Souquet sought to create a landmark in a somewhat loose urban fabric made up of public open spaces and a range of different buildings. The building is very striking from the outside because of the contrasting materials used on the external walls.

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“Between the elegant restraint of its dark brick walls and the rich aspect of its copper alloy cladding, the design intention is to make it look like a music box whose walls are punctuated by a variety of openings,” explains Olivier Souquet.

From the main entrance one enters into a central hallway that connects the two separate wings of the building. The extensive horizontal vein patterns of crown cut American red elm veneer are highlighted across the main reception desk.

American red elm also features on the double doors leading into the performance hall, but here the busy grain patterns run vertically and contrast with the plain dark grey stoneware flooring. The attention to detail is expressed again in the building’s internal signposting, which is made up of icons engraved into blocks of American red elm.

“This is the first time that we have specified this wood species and we are very satisfied with the texture and warm tones it creates in the music school as well as its interlocking grain which is clearly visible,” comments Olivier Souquet.

On the other side of the entrance hall, a wide gallery runs through the east wing of the building. A long, solid oak bench provides a seating area for parents while a row of furniture units visually separates the administrative offices on the left side of the gallery from the practice rooms on the right. From the main gallery, small passageways lead to further practice rooms with double door systems reserved for louder musical activities.

The school secretariat features a splayed wooden window with a large window ledge to write on which is beautifully crafted in American red elm. All the doors inside the building have laminated American red elm facing, as well as the door frames which are set in to give volume and mass.

To create rhythm and variety the architects alternated different shades of white and grey wall coatings between the doorways with full-height wood paneling in American red elm crown cut veneer fixed on MDF panels in certain wall sections.

All the doors on the first floor have laminate facing in American red elm. The two dance rooms have tall ceilings and full height windows to provide plenty of natural daylight. The larger of the two rooms has a Junkers oak parquet floor with wide strips and an oiled finish. This façade of the first floor is slightly set back from the street which allows one of the dance rooms to give on to a roof terrace.

From the fine bespoke joinery in American red elm to the detailed brickwork or the gently pummeled surfaces of copper alloy cladding, all these features confirm that the architectural effect of this building derives from the know-how of the craftsmen who have skillfully shaped the materials.


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