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The leisure and shopping complex VITAM’Parc, opened in 2009, extends over more than 43,000 m2 of floor space in the French district of Neydens, just 11 kilometres from the Swiss city of Geneva. From its location at the base of Mont Salève, the complex designed by the Spanish architecture bureau L35 fits in almost organically with the landscape, despite its massive dimensions. More than 600,000 visitors per year are expected to enjoy their favourite activities in the new complex in Neydens.

The greatest challenge for the architects from Barcelona was situating the large-scale project both within the scenic environs and in the immediate vicinity of an existing residential area. Conceived so as to cater for the entire well-being of the visitor, the complex not only combines sport and wellness facilities, but also offers shops and restaurants which have an emphasis on wellness. This is a fresh concept, and its thematic character reflects a contemporary trend in how leisure activities are organised. In order to house the impressive range of amenities – which along with wellness facilities (1100 m2) includes a water park with various indoor and outdoor swimming pools (total area of 22,300 m2), a sports centre with an indoor climbing gym, and a commercial zone of 10,000 m2 with a supermarket, 16 shops, 6 restaurants and a hotel of 83 rooms – the bureau designed an architectural structure which consciously absorbs the topographical characteristics and partially continues them. The visual connection of the buildings with the environment and the internal with the external space is the recurring theme of this design.

CONSTRUCTION WITH ETFE
A long, flat construction, tucked under a landscaped roof of 15,000 m2, marks the south-west boundary of the complex without obscuring the view towards the mountains in the distance. This section houses the commercial zone and the sports centre. A transparent bulging shape rises up almost precisely in the centre of the flat green roof. Underneath this dome is the climbing gym, which extends over two floors and is covered by a filigree steel construction and transparent ETFE cushions (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a fluoropolymer). Construction with ETFE cushions has been used for such prestigious structures as the Allianz-Arena in Munich by Herzog & de Meuron. The VITAM’Parc project marks the first time this technology is being used in France on a large scale. The material’s high transparency ensures that the project in Neydens will have plenty of natural light falling into the climbing gym. At the same time, it allows visitors to see outside and gives them a feeling of being outdoors.

The façade, executed in the Reynaers Aluminium façade system CW 50 in combination with the aluminium door system TS 57, also enhances the connection between the internal and external spaces. The large glass surfaces, which are only interrupted by the narrow profiles of the system and the round concrete pillars supporting the wooden roof, allow abundant amounts of daylight to enter, so the visitor can enjoy the scenery and watch the activities going on in the external part of the complex.

INNOVATIVE ARCHITECTURE
On the opposite, north-eastern side, one finds what is without doubt the most striking and – because of its innovative architecture – remarkable part of the complex. A delicate wooden construction, infilled with sixty-three ETFE cushions measuring up to 42 metres long, covers the 92-metre-long indoor swimming pool area. The complex arched construction, rising up to 16 metres in height, bears steel-mounted brackets with aluminium profiles, between which the three-layered cushions are suspended. Here the same material is used as for the climbing gym, but on a much larger scale (a membrane area of 4300 m²). The pitch of the arched trusses becomes narrower towards the middle, creating a wave down the length of the building, integrating its gently curving shape with the landscape.

The transparency of ETFE is particularly beneficial for swimming zones. Since the transparent membrane allows around 90% of the light in the UV range to enter, it guarantees a warm internal climate. The expansive glass panels of the CW 50 system, used in the lower part of the building, also allow the space to be opened to the outside as much as possible.

The successful interplay of the membrane, the light wooden construction, and the Reynaers systems in the different zones of the complex offers perfect visual support to the combination of the internal and external spaces, and also to the situation of the complex within the environment. The visitor receives the enjoyment of this ambiance and can take advantage of both the environment and the wealth of leisure amenities. In addition, the use of materials which conserve resources and the complex’s energy-efficiency helped lead to the VITAM’Parc project’s being awarded the French HQE certificate (Haute Qualité Environnementale, High Quality Environmental standard), the national standard for sustainable building.

(Text: Nora Kempkens)
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