Harry Wolf

Harry Wolf

Porto, Portugal


Toulouse Government Center

The objective of this plan is the creation of a setting for a government center that is once urbane and symbolic - not merely a monument but a series of spaces and details that impart a resonant sense of place. From grand plan to precise detail, the reconfiguration, new forms and materials conspire to connect those who experience this place with what is special and particular about Toulouse, past, present and future.

Toulouse is certainly known as the pink city, but Toulouse is also known as the center of France’s aviation and aerospace industry, and it is this bold and vigorous future which lies before its citizens and therefore its government.

It is the synthesis of these seemingly contradictory directions which we seek, and we begin with a sincere effort to connect this project with this place, literally and figuratively. When buildings are created in close sympathy with their setting, they become capable of exhibiting timeless odes of human relationships, extending gracefully into everyday life without imposition.

The entire site is organized in a rigorous and modular fashion, an 8.1 meter grid accommodating parking at the lowest elevation, and with its .9 meter increment, consistent with building products and building technology of France, not to mention usual and normal office modular elements.

The building is layered vertically in a similar module with typical floor to floor heights of 4.05 meters and double height spaces such as in the Hall of Honor, the President’s Office and the Cafeteria, of 8.1 meters.

It is significant that the geometry organizes itself frontally with the Midi Canal, an element not only of the past of Toulouse and the region, but as well an obvious link to the Garonne with which this government seat shares its name. This then becomes a seminal gesture, that is the introduction of a water element in our complex which locates and pins the site in place, a water element of ceremonial significance emphasized by the proposal of new majestic fountain on axis with the site just across the canal.  Pedestrian and motorists alike approaching the site on Boulevard de la Marquette and Boulevard de l’embouchure cannot help but be arrested by this sudden and beautiful shaft of water.

Looking south is the establishment of bold arc of space, a grand gesture welcoming to the public and a remembrance of traditional and round-point spaces. At the same moment from the east, along the Rue de canon d’Arcol and from Avenue Honore Serres on the west stretches a majestic arcade.  The intersection of this east-west and north-south axis has as its focus the Main Entry Hall.  It is from this hall that the public is invited to move around the arc building and to the flanking lower buildings, which meet the heights of existing buildings along these streets.

Atop this Main Hall lies the heart of the social life of the center, the Restaurant/Cafeteria.  From this vantage point either on the dining balcony or from inside, diners are able to command a view of the center court, the canal and fountain, and indeed the skyline of the city.  The functional spaces and office of the Department are arrayed in such a way that as the public moves farther away from that center entry hall, that is the more distant the spaces, the less frequent is their access by the public.  Finally at the north east corner of the arc is a building of slightly greater volume, a square inserted into the circle.  Its shift in form giving a subtle but unmistakable voice which speaks of the importance of the County Council, is mission and its responsibilities.

The entry into the Hall of Honor is the beginning of the sequence of spaces which give recognition to this importance, and which inspire public and elected officials as well to shoulder these great responsibilities in the most noble and optimistic of ways.

On arrival at the second level one discovers the Hall of the Counseil General, a marvelous space defined by the noble curves inscribed in the square and clad in a beautiful wood which contributes to its warmth and its acoustics, as veneer does to a violin.

The President, Vice Presidents, his staff and advisors, the elected officials and public are comfortably organized with the generosity of mutual view, and yet an intimacy of distance which promises to make this a space of dynamic vigor and elegant function. Within this quiet and serene space one’s eye is drawn vertically to soft light filtering from overhead and glimpses of the sky through the clerestory windows.

What one finds above is a clear and vigorous assertion of the future, of the connection to the economy of this place manifested in a roof of aluminum and stainless steel, a stressed skin and cable structure which draws not only its form but its technology from the aircraft industry, and yet a recollection of the pattern in the roof structure of the Jacobin Church, itself an expression of the technology of its era.

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Status: Competition Entry
Location: Toulouse, FR
My Role: Architect