The Fleury-sur-Orne Nursery | Paul Le Quernec Agence

Meeting the challenge of giving children a better future. Fleury-sur-Orne / France / 2022

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Since 1985, the Calvados region departmental nursery has welcomed children ranging in age from just a few months to six years old who, for one reason or another, have not been able to remain with their families. Every year, it welcomes some 60 children in great difficulty who have temporarily been placed with the Département within the terms of its mission which is to protect children in danger. The intention of this temporary reception area is to protect children suffering from complex or dangerous family situations with the aim of subsequently offering them a lasting solution adapted to their specific needs. Installed for the past 37 years on Rue d’Auge in Caen, a setting that had become somewhat outdated and obsolete, the structure which is managed by the Maison Départementale de l’Enfance et de la Famille du Calvados (MDEFC), needed to be relocated in new premises. A first consultation was initiated in 2017 that saw the project being universally chosen by the jury.

The site

Located in Fleury-sur-Orne, just outside Caen, the Pouponnière (nursery) covers an area of 2,650 m². The functional requirements of the various entities led to the surface being distributed over three buildings:

- a technical building containing the various workshops,

- a logistical building that on one side contains the administrative departments, medical services and parental reception services and, on the other, the laundry and dining services,

- a building grouping together the children’s living areas.

The accesses

The imposed access on the south-east corner of the plot leads to the following distribution. The access available to the public and personnel is reached across an esplanade located directly next to the entrance onto the plot and is used to serve the logistical building located towards the southern end of the plot. In an oblong manner, its northern façade which is completed by a solid fence, defines the frontier with the rest of the site which is exclusively dedicated to the children. The technical accesses and workshops are located to the rear of the plot on the south-western corner. The space giving onto the logistics building defines the services courtyard distributing to the workshops, the laundry room and dining areas. The upper part of the plot is devoted to living areas that can be accessed in two ways: either via the interior along a single walkway connected to the logistics building, or by the outside via a single, one-way private peripheral route giving individual access to each unit. The two extremities of this route are protected by an access control gate.

 The objectives

Rather than seeking to mollycoddle, the role of architecture is to reassure. The challenge facing the operation is to ensure the wellbeing of children whose family settings has been disturbed. To achieve this, the project has been developed to meet three objectives:

-       establish a physical and psychological frontier between the children’s living areas and the rest of the structure,

-       organise the units to create a number of individual homes while also ensuring their functional interdependence,

-       consider each “house” as a cocoon.


Unfortunately, the children entering the nursery have not had a happy relationship with their parents and, by extension, the world of adults. This is why it is initially better to separate them in order to provide them with better protection. Consequently, before even defining the form taken by the project, the decision was taken to separate the children’s living areas from the other functions which can only be accessed by a walkway crossing over a symbolic void, rather like a drawbridge reaching over a moat and marking the frontier between the world of children and that of adults.The crossing over this moat is as physical as it is psychological. 


Although the equipment is intended for collective use, its quality is intended to meet the needs of domestic use. This is also why the accommodation is divided into small units whose operation and organisation are based on the scale of the individual home (kitchen, living room, bedrooms, terrace, garden.) To meet collective requirements, the units are laid out in a way that organises them around shared activities spaces, much like a micro-village around a central square.


For the well-being of the children, the domestic and family nature of the setting represents a necessary but insufficient condition. To reinforce a feeling of safety, gentleness and cosiness, the living units have been designed to create curved, enveloping volumes intended to encourage the children to appreciate their houses as warm cocoons.


Technical and logistical buildings

Rather than being intended to surprise, the technical buildings are designed to be efficient. Consequently, our building is rectangular and opens onto a service yard that has been enlarged when compared with the initially required surfaces. In compliance with the programme, the workshops are aligned with one another. Equipped with translucent sectional doors, they are both generously lit and perfectly functional.

On the other hand, the logistical building is more complex given its multiple accesses serving the concerned public. It comprises two adjacent wings:

- the eastern wing spreads over two levels and groups together the administrative and medical departments, changing rooms for the in-house staff, and supervised parent/children meeting spaces,

- the west wing containing the laundry and dining areas are accessible from the inside to the in-house personnel and from the outside by other persons.

The building is organised using a particularly precise “T” shaped circulation layout that combines an east/west route sequenced by four controlled access points, and a north/south route divided into two access control points leading through to the living areas along a glazed walkway. The distances between the departments are reduced to create the shortest routes possible. For example, the laundry and restaurant form a junction between the service yard and the nursery that allows in-house personnel to avoid having to exit the building to go from one location to another.

The parent/child meeting area has deliberately been positioned next to the entrance. This configuration implies that parents are kept as close as possible to the periphery of the building and enter it as little as possible. This layout also allows the children to feel that this space remains at a considerable distance from their own specific space and fully belongs to the “outside” world, visible from the public highway but whose access remains subject to supervision of the caretaker and the reception desk.

Organisation of activity units

Access to the activity units is voluntarily marked by a route covering a certain length. The intention is that the children have a certain independence when compared with the other units. The aim is to suggest  the idea of a privileged world hidden away much like the “Schtroumpfs” comic strip village. To accentuate this feeling, the floor has been dug out below the connection walkway to create a bridge.

The passage crosses the shared central block which acts as a watchtower, making it possible to supervise all entries and exits. It gives onto a circular space around which alternates living spaces and exterior spaces. In the middle, collective activity spaces are presented as an agora whose transparencies offers views over all directions of the outside world.

Each unit is designed as a single storey house that can be accessed from both the outside and the inside thanks to a glazed lobby.

The living areas have dual aspect and open onto two terraces, thus multiplying the views embellishing the space and allowing natural light to enter the spaces. This layout also meets hygiene standards by favouring an efficient ventilation system completed by the presence of a porthole window positioned on the roof which encourages the dissipation of hot air during the summer.

The houses are designed as cocoons whose dimensions and shapes are adapted to the children through the creation of relaxing, quiet spaces. These are particularly organised for the children’s bedrooms, each of which being lit by a window and offering generous views overlooking the landscaped site. The high and densely planted strip around the edge protects the children from the exterior urban tumult.

Changing the game rules

The project’s singular form might be seen as surprising but it results from the considerable thought given to the needs of children. We have sought to combine the comfort and privacy of a residence with the fulfilment that can be offered by a community. In this setting, these children from disadvantaged family environments reveal their desire to bring colour back into their lives.

"Instead of having parentslike everyone else, they will have a house like no one." Paul Le Quernec

Paul Le Quernec Architectes

Located in Strasbourg since January 2003, the Paul Le Quernec Architectes agency has specialised in public commissions. The team sees its work as the pursuit of an ideal, one whose nature, despite its unobtainable nature, expresses the challenge of developing the architectural gesture through the development of untiring research.

Developing an architecture based on organic and highly coloured structures, the Paul Le Quernec Architectes agency draws its inspiration from the sensuality and rigour of the Art Nouveau movement, from the graphic arts and their optical effects, as well as from the open-minded utopias of the “future-primitive” architectures of the 1960s and 1970s whose nonchalant forms express the recklessness sought by every adult and their dream of once again finding the child that he or she once was. 

The works by the Paul Le Quernec Architectes agency result from a particularly functionalist vision of spaces that paradoxically leads to particularly organic forms. The Sarreguemines kindergarten, the first “resolutely curved project” signed by the agency, foreshadows future works that, over time, have led to an increasingly “strict” and rigorous geometry – one of the great areas of interest developed by Paul Le Quernec, the agency’s founder.

Paul Le Quernec 

Lying between an artistic vocation and an imposed scientific training, Paul Le Quernec unwillingly entered the Maths Sup school  and then, on the basis of a competition, joined ENSAIS (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Industries de Strasbourg, now INSA Strasbourg), from where he graduated in 2000.

Temporarily suspended from his school, his real interest in architecture suddenly revealed itself in 1997 during an internship that saw him working alongside Dominique Coulon, a young architect who had recently won the Prix de la Première Œuvre. He realised that architecture, when fully controlled, was a powerful and increasingly useful art. “I found that the field of possibilities was like an endless tunnel and its accompanying sensation of vertigo saw me falling down through a hole, much like Alice following the white rabbit…” explains the architect

Having designed a first bed & breakfast accommodation unit in Brittany before he even graduated, Paul Le Quernec opened his agency in the summer of 2002. Without any experience or references, this dissident architect learned how to confront contractors and never let anyone dictate what is or is not possible. Starting from scratch, Paul Le Quernec rapidly aspired to designing public contract projects, simultaneously attracted by the variety of programmes and scales, as well as their vocation of contributing to the public good.

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    Since 1985, the Calvados region departmental nursery has welcomed children ranging in age from just a few months to six years old who, for one reason or another, have not been able to remain with their families. Every year, it welcomes some 60 children in great difficulty who have temporarily been placed with the Département within the terms of its mission which is to protect children in danger. The intention of this temporary reception area is to protect children suffering from complex...

    Project details
    • Year 2022
    • Work finished in 2022
    • Main structure Mixed structure
    • Client Département du Calvados
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Government and institutional buildings / Social Housing
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