Mandela High School

Inspired by the figure of the industrial hall – linked with the Île de Nantes’ past – François Leclercq designed this school as a place for learning to live with differences through the mutual visibility afforded by its long atrium.

François Leclercq et Associés, Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France
The figure of the industrial hall, the long and aerial morphology of which explains its rational and intense use, is intimately linked with the Île de Nantes’ past.
It inspired the form of the Nelson Mandela High School, the broad prow of which pays tribute to the district’s Atlantic horizon and reactivates the immemorial ties between boat builders and building builders.
François Leclercq et Associés, Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France
François Leclercq et Associés, Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France

The school’s long indoor street, that encourages exchanges and circulation, combines a full program and blends a community that comes together between classes and spreads to the upper floors according to students’ schedules. This constant spectacle is given rhythm by the sun at its zenith, the variations of the light that shines down through the glass roof and the operatic arias that echo throughout the day.

Classrooms spoke out between courtyard and garden on either side of the nave in a double thickness; the rooms are served by a hallway. Some rooms give onto the isle and its urban landscape while others look out at the nave. This duality unifies the building as part of a “campus park” that combines a plaza for events, a sports ground, the “five senses garden” and an auditorium around the school’s main body.

François Leclercq et Associés, Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France
François Leclercq et Associés, Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France

There are in fact three buildings under the glass roof that share their cold walls and views onto the nave from the documentation center’s winter garden to the cafeteria’s café terraces. This bioclimate space is vivified and dilated by high and low views of the Loire River further off. The architecture fades between this interiorness and the urban landscape to highlight the rationality of the circuits and the clarity of uses.

One end of the building contains the domestic functions like the boarding school, the cafeteria and the residences. While at the other end there are the areas around teaching such as the documentation and information center, the gymnasiums on the same ground floor as the classrooms, including a tall climbing wall, a kind of horizon for the inner street, suggesting the metaphor of an impossible escape.

François Leclercq et Associés, Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France
François Leclercq et Associés, Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France
The Nelson Mandela High School is made of wood. Wood was chosen not just for its rationality, the demands and precision of the design, but also for its ease of construction, its simple lines, its environmental lightness, its acoustics, smell and its harmony with the lived-in space. Although the high school orchestrates a radical break in image with the “metal and glass” message of the traditional hangar, it continues the philosophy in a permutation of its own time, i.e. respect for the environment and people first of all, then innovation.

Built on stilts, the high school frees the ground below, for it is both floodable and polluted. This simple solution made it possible to gain additional sports space. By standardizing the structure, typical of covered markets, it was possible to build quickly, thus respecting a very tight construction schedule.

The auditorium that rounds out this arrangement is located in an adjacent building across the square. Its foldaway stage enables it to host the Orchestre des Pays de la Loire and also serves as their rehearsal hall. For acoustical reasons and to distinguish it from the high school, it has been built of concrete.


Lycée International Nelson Mandela, Île-de-Nantes, France
Program : school
Architects : François Leclercq architectes et urbanistes
Lanscape : D’ici là, paysagistes
Engineering firms : Setec, Mazet & Associés, Ecsb, Avel acoustique, Alma consulting, Socotec
Contractors : Entreprises Sogea, Etpo, Caillaud, Botte, Cegelec cvc, Sofradi, Scob
Client : Région Pays de la Loire
Budget : €52 million
Area : 25,500 sqm
Completion : 2014

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