In 1977, architect Henry Bernard commissioned Texaa to treat the acoustics of the twelve commission rooms at the Palace of Europe, seat of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. We returned to the site some thirty-seven years later to study the effects of passing time.
The Commission Rooms
at the Palace of Europe,
Texaa before Texaa
The Council of Europe has been established in Strasbourg since its foundation in 1949. As the oldest of the European institutions, it has 47 member states, thereby representing almost every country in the European continent and over 800 million citizens. Its activities concern every field of daily life, and its best-known bodies are the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. In 1952, it was joined by the European Coal and Steel Community, and then the Assembly of European Communities on the latter’s creation in 1957, subsequently renamed as the European Parliament in 1962. The Palace of Europe was built to house the Council in 1977 by architect Henry Bernard, to whom we owe the Maison de la Radio in Paris (1952–1963). Not only was the building in Strasbourg to be large enough to serve as the headquarters of the Council of Europe, its role was also to house sessions of the European Parliament within the context of a rapidly expanding European community. Henry Bernard forsook the sweeps and curves for which he was renown in favour of a ‘functionalist’ design based on straight lines. The building was to have 9 floors and a square floor plan, with each side measuring 110 m. At its heart lay the 580 seat semi-circular debating chamber, along with 1,500 individual offices, 12 commission rooms and a large meeting room for the ministerial committee.
The interior spaces are based on the notion of flexibility—flexible glue-laminated lumber arches, flexible circulation, flexible floor and wall coverings to absorb noise and provide a hushed atmosphere where pride of place is given to speaking and listening. The twelve commission rooms used the first acoustic wall coverings designed and produced by Texaa® and the stitch chosen back in 1977 is reminiscent of early loud-speakers. This was the first large-scale acoustic remediation project on which the company worked, sowing the seeds of the future.
Thirty-seven years on, and the interior design of the Palace of Europe was looking a little dated, unavoidably so. The architect responsible for the building’s upkeep today has the original design uppermost in mind and requested renovation based on identical reproduction, using the same materials. But with the passing of time, the Texaa® range has considerably evolved. How on earth would we be able to reproduce the materials used back in 1977? The colours have changed, as have installation techniques… A period of constructive debate and discussion ensued between the architect and team at Texaa®. The multi-coloured strips of fabric positioned diagonally across the walls of the twelve commission rooms were to be progressively replaced by ‘stretch and anchor’ Vibrasto 03, and existing colours from the current range were to be used, in addition to custom made colours based on samples taken from the original wall coverings. The acoustic coverings used in the walls of the main corridors leading to the commission rooms would be replaced with ‘stretch and glue’ Vibrasto 05 and the double-door entrances of each room clad in Vibrasto 10. As the surfaces in need of renovation were extremely large, the work has been carried out over a number of years, but is soon to reach completion. A delegation of Texaa® representatives were filled with emotion when, on 6th October 2014, they visited this pioneering project in their company’s history, hitherto unfamiliar to them. In the last room still to be renovated, they noted to their delighted relief that the wall coverings had withstood the test of time with remarkable resistance. Undeniably they looked a little tired, but not excessively so for materials which are not, in terms of regulatory requirements, expected to have a life span surpassing ten years. Today, most of the commission rooms and the long circular corridor leading to them are once again rejoicing in the seventies vibe of their youth. A number of secondary spaces have also been equipped with the new generation of Texaa acoustic products, notably Stereo panels. We will be back to check up on them thirty-seven years hence.
Since the construction of the Louise Weiss building (arch. Architecture Studio, 1991–1999), seat of the Parliament of the European Union in Strasbourg, the Palace of Europe is exclusively occupied by the bodies of the Council of Europe.
Extrait de la revue n°2 de Texaa, 2014
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