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Blurring the boundaries, inside and out
When Lampotang & Siew Architects started this competition design, France had just presented the motion on cultural diversity at UNESCO in October of 2005. Mauritius is a melting pot and a laboratory of cultures. The new Institute was seen by the architects as a cultural meeting platform for all Asian, African, and European cultures.
Entrance to the building is via a ramp through 4 glazed portals, each symbolising one of the local cultures as part of the the open, transparent platform offered by France. The natural topography offered the opportunity to create an upper-ground floor, keeping all the 3 existing mature trees inside the building with nature playing the star role - a representation of transparency and the ambiguity of interiors / exteriors in the context of the local tropical climate. This agora captures nature in a strong urban context, blending nature and culture. Finally, the public take control of the place and create visible animation from all sides.
The 2,571 sq m project is organised on 3 levels with the lower level for parking and technical areas. The main middle level is devoted to public and cultural spaces, confining all offices to the upper level. The open platform includes the amphitheatre, an auditorium and a mediatheque, and is totally flexible for exhibitions, concerts / shows, conferences / workshops and café à la française.
The Institute offers a natural relationship with the air, sun, wind and rain; a soft response to the climate with open spaces for transversal ventilation and natural lighting. Sun shades and louvres help control light for an energy-saving building without air conditioning. Rain is harvested and recycled in a natural pond with aquatic tropical plants. Use of local stone, wood and the trees celebrate a meeting point between local vernacular and contemporary architecture.