Cité du Design

Saint-Étienne, France

Cité du Design

The Cité du Design in Saint-Étienne is a new and unique institution for research, education, communication and media, and design related services. It addresses diverse groups, combining urban and social activities with industrial and artistic expertise. A single slender body, the Platine, is integrated into the site of the Manufacture d’armes, a former arms factory.
This Monospace will act as a switchboard that links communication facilities to the many programmes housed in various buildings throughout the site. The observation tower is the pioneering element that signifies the starting point of this transformation.

Factory of arms

The old factory facilities include courtyards, internal streets, gardens and open spaces. Over time, they have been secluded from the rhythm of the surrounding city.
Eventually it was the gardens, flanking the Place d’Armes to the north and south, which most aptly represented this area of the city: overgrown and barely visible, falling into oblivion.
The archetypal arrangement of edifices was covered with an ever-changing landscape of industrial structures: chimneys, water towers, cooling plants and steam engines.
In 1889 the publicist Marius Vachon founded the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, intent on reforming the relationship between the two domains. This serves as an early instance of what today can be regarded as the region’s long tradition of design.


The foundations for the new institution of Cité du Design are the industrial history of Saint-Étienne and its institutions:
Musée d’Art et d’industrie (Marius VACHON)
Musée des Mines
Musée d’Art Moderne (MAM)
3500 PME
École de Mines
Biennale du Design
Ecole d’Art de Saint-Étienne
Université Jean Monnet
Site Le Corbusier Firminy
Manufactures des armes, des cycles et des rubans

The specific notion of Cité du Design leads to the development of three fields:
- New technologies
- Stakeholders (academia, citizens, cultural tourists, industrial world)
- New disciplines (humanitarian design [see Lucy ORTA])


While the site and its heritage are made of many isolated and hierarchical buildings, the program of Cité du Design asks for continuity. The Platine is a slender building (200 m x 32 m) designed as a place of merging and irrigation for the site, a connecting switchboard, articulating the different activities in the Cité du Design.

Inside the platine, public and semi-public areas define the intensity of light, the spatial dimensions and the degree of climatic protection.
The Cité du Design is not a closed campus but an open place intended to receive the city’s experience and become a field for mutual research.
The Agora is the most public area, containing a 24-hour café, linking the city permanently with Cité du Design. The platine also contains seminar rooms, two exhibitions areas, a médiathèque associated with the Design School, a greenhouse related to the café and, a food design program.


The homogeneity and distribution of forces in all directions generates a non-hierarchical structure – a monospace free of any intermediate support.
Seen from inside, the minimal dimensions of the profiles transform the structure into a vibration marking the boundary between the interior and the exterior.


The Platine skin is also capable of regulating lighting, reacting to outdoor conditions and inside needs. Panels can change angles so as to block sunlight, controlling lighting in exhibition spaces or areas with high light levels, such as the Greenhouse or the Agora.


The Platine envelope, consisting of 14,000 equilateral triangles measuring 1.2 m per side is a graduated and reactive skin: modulation between opaque and clear, insulated or interclimatic, open or closed, reflects and accompanies the various cycles and interactions of the Cité du Design.

The choice of glazing type allows a distribution of natural light depending on the use of the premises. Thermal qualities of the panels permit the climatic quality of the envelope to be modulated according to unplanned criteria of the premises.
The possibility of integrating solar panels (photovoltaic and experimental) into the skin of the Platine allow solar energy production as well as development and testing of innovative solar energy materials.

The skin reacts continuously to changes in climate. It may also be given new functions. In the longer term, the panels may be replaced or modified to be adapted to changing needs or to allow for areas of experimentation.

Interclimatic laboratory

The Platine is designed as a whole, where each part interacts with its environment, and where each element is both the result and the determinant of other factors. Its design closely regulates the climatic environments and aims for energy independence.

The climatic design varies according to the area. This climate gradation allows interior conditions to be adapted to needs without having to treat the entire volume of the Platine. However, the zones themselves are interactive, for example, the pre-conditioned air from the Greenhouse is taken for the benefit of the winter aeration of the attached zones.

The two layers of the envelope are involved in climatic regulation. The outer layer of the various panels can modulate the inputs into the different areas according to their needs. It filters the light, absorbs and transforms it into energy, and also regulates air and heat exchanges.

The low emissivity layer of interior walls enables the energy dissipated by the heating/cooling floor to be reflected, like a thermal mirror.

Under the Platine a geothermal energy system is implemented, via thermal activation of foundation piles, use of Canadian well for pre-conditioning of fresh air and air exchanges between zones to reduce energy consumption.

Geothermal energy and canadian wells

Geothermal energy consists of two combined networks: the first, a field of twenty-four probes in a double U with a length of 100 m each, provides available energy of 130 kW; the second, a field of piles (1st in France), composed of recovery loops in the one hundred foundation piles (tubes set in the reinforcing bar cages) of the Platine building, giving available energy of 80 kW. The heat pump provides 290 kW of available power to the heated floor.
A heat transfer fluid circulates in the two networks to recover energy available in the ground and is collected to the local heat pump. In winter, these networks serve to provide a heated floor; in summer, they cool the floor of the Platine building.

The French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) and the energy provider Électricité de France (EDF), with the support of the Scientific and Technical Centre for Building (CSTB), will conduct an energy follow-up over two years. To do this, ten energy meters, five electricity meters, probe equipment and metering on the piles have been implemented. The ground temperature around two piles at different depths is recorded to follow the temperature change throughout the seasons.

A Canadian well is used to treat the air. To make this technology as economical as possible, the crawl space under the Platine is enclosed and can therefore assure this function.


A guidance system for the Cité du Design was developed to give access to a better use of information provided by the various actors of the Cité and its external partners. The navigation parameters extend beyond the Cité site limits and provide more direction in space, respond to enterprise communications problems, and bring together the data from the Vocational Training Centre.

There are five types of signaletic, developed for the site:
Infopoint – Ten strategic access points situated on-site provide general information (opening hours, services and basic orientation). It contains a general site map and written information, is visible from afar, sturdy and easy to clean.
Access point (multiple)
Access point (single, freestanding)
Access point (single, on wall-mounted)
Floor markers
Event flags

Design furnishing

The Cité du Design furnishings were designed around four types of space-usage within a broader reflection about autonomy and interaction in the work zones:

- Collective (hive):
zone for routine operational tasks where each person has one’s own space identified within the larger whole.

- Concentrated (cell):
space for individual reflection or production where a high degree of concentration is needed.

- Interactive (den):
area for short and intensive periods of organization with a high degree of interaction between people.

- Spontaneous exchange (club):
area for informal exchange and interaction with a high degree of flexibility suitable to different interaction configurations between people.

Debate is carried out not only on each of the types, but also on the interfaces and transitional zones, and the traffic patterns which exist between them. This way of understanding the space is coherent with opportunities of surfaces and volumes which the architecture offers the Cité. The furniture configurations and classifications enable these types of operations and optimize the use of space. Specific elements have been invented to initiate the creation of these areas and better integrate them into this particular representation of space (including cubicles).


a. small room
The cubicle or “Cubicolo” was the private room of the roman Emperor Augusto.
This space became famous because of its simplicity and small size.
He used this space to be alone, rest, concentrate and be isolated from the grandiosity of other spaces.

b. other meanings:
1. Space of idea incubation
2. Minimum space
3. Miniature world: the entire essential to be independent and free, to move and travel, to represent and to support the Cité du Design.
4. Exploratory space
5. Emergency and service operator

La Fabrique 5000

Within this austere architecture, large halls form open, non-hierarchical structures. The serial repetition of the few structural elements clearly recalls the industrial origins of the Manufacture.
This hall, no longer part of the Cité du Design, was rehabilitated and used for the Design Biennial 2006.


In 2006, the Observatory is the first element to be established, directing the interaction between architecture, future programs, public reception and site potential. Aside from the Bâtiment de l'Horloge, this tower, assembled on site, catches the attention of Saint-Étienne's population by offering a novel perspective on the town and becoming a notable landmark, identifiable with the Cité du Design.


The Technical Workshops Building hosts workshops of the École Supérieure d'Art et Design (ESADSE) including wood, metal thermoforming, sculpture and model workshops.

The pedagogic building

The workspaces of the École Supérieure d'Art et Design (ESADSE), the computer and sound workshops, and the image center are located in the Educational Workshops Building.

The Batiment de l'Horologe

Fourteen apartments for scholars, artists and designers in residence are designed to be places of retreat for concentration and reflection, and a central common room allows artists to share and discuss their projects.


Having lost their use abandoned gardens provided a place for nature’s "work in progress" to augment the evolution of the landscape work of the Gardens. After a diagnosis of the state of foliage and an analysis of the characteristics of the two historic gardens, it was decided to retain their identities. Today, the sandy soil of the North Garden is endowed with an occupational basis which meets its many uses; the South Garden, designed as a large lawn with standing trees, is characterised by a contemplative atmosphere.

Design Skin

Project Data


The "Cité du Design" is an international design center and an institution for communication and research. The project is located on the National Manufacture d'Armes, a site of a former munitions factory in Saint-Étienne, France.

Client: Saint-Étienne Métropole 

Status: 2004 – 2009; Opening: 1st of October 2009

Location: Saint-Étienne, Loire, France

Cost: 41.5 Mio €

Surface: 17,250 m² (net), 64,000 m² Cité du Design

Awards: Prix Spécial de l’Équerre d’Argent pour la Cité du design de Saint-Étienne, 2010; Prix de la Construction Métallique, Bâtiments à usage tertiaire, and Ouvrages d’art, 2010;

Publications: Deutsches Architektur Jahrbuch, Germany, 2009; Cité du Design - Saint-Étienne, "01 Observations" and "02 Projections"; Edition: Jean-Michel Place; Designer: Andreas Schneider, IIDJ



Architects: LIN Architekten Urbanisten, Berlin, Finn Geipel, Giulia Andi, Stefan Jeske, Philip König, Jacques Cadilhac (project managers), David Lettelier, Susana Draeger, Judith Stichtenoth, Jan-Oliver Kunze, Wiesje Bijl, Laura Delaney, Olaf Dolfus, Simon Wiesmaier; Interns: Marielle Gilibert, Anna Heilgemeir, François Maisonnasse,  Muriel Poncet, Emma Willliams, Guillaume De Morsier, Alana Cooke, Berlin;
Local Architect: Dominique Berger, Sandra Tauveron, Cabinet Berger, Saint-Étienne
Assistance construction management: Maurice Guitton, Benjamin Wallerand, Lyon
Structure: Werner Sobek, Thomas Winterstetter, WSI, Stuttgart/New York
Engineering: Frederique Binvignat, Christian Desquiens, Betom Ingéniere, Corbas
Climate: Matthias Schuler, Arnaud Billard, Transsolar, Stuttgart/New York
Economy: Pierre Dumond, Alain Baland, Cyprium, Lyon
Acoustics: Richard Denayrou, Emily Morin, Altia Acoustique, Paris
Scenography: Gérard Fleury, Architecture & Technique, Paris
Lightning: Andy Sedgwick, Jeff Shaw, Ove Arup, London
Landscape Design: Clément Willemin, Frank Poirier, BASE, Paris
Information Design: Andreas Schneider, IIDJ, Tokyo
Art: Lucy + Jorge Orta, Paris/London
Photography: Christian Richters, Francois Maisonnasse, Jan-Oliver Kunze

Cité du Design
SCD-01-ESS-LIN-Internal View
Image 1/23 SCD-01-ESS-LIN-Internal View
Factory of arms
 SCD-02-ESS-LIN-historical view of the manufacture
Image 2/23 SCD-02-ESS-LIN-historical view of the manufacture
SCD-03-ESS-LIN-Diagram of relationships, the platine connects the various
Image 3/23 SCD-03-ESS-LIN-Diagram of relationships, the platine connects the various
SCD-04-ESS-LIN-04-development of the platine
Image 4/23 SCD-04-ESS-LIN-04-development of the platine
SCD-05-LIN-ESS-PLATINE night view, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Image 5/23 SCD-05-LIN-ESS-PLATINE night view, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
SCD-06-ESS-LIN-model structure
Image 6/23 SCD-06-ESS-LIN-model structure
 SCD-07-LIN-ESS-PLATINE; view from the exhibition space, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Image 7/23 SCD-07-LIN-ESS-PLATINE; view from the exhibition space, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
SCD-08-ESS-LIN-experimental panel for energy
Image 8/23 SCD-08-ESS-LIN-experimental panel for energy
Interclimatic laboratory
SCD-09-LIN-ESS-PLATINE, plan and climate section
Image 9/23 SCD-09-LIN-ESS-PLATINE, plan and climate section
Geothermal energy and canadian wells
SCD-10-LIN-ESS-LIN-Installation of reversible floor piping
Image 10/23 SCD-10-LIN-ESS-LIN-Installation of reversible floor piping
SCD-11-ESS-LIN-Diagram of relationships
Image 11/23 SCD-11-ESS-LIN-Diagram of relationships
SCD-12-ESS-LIN-Cité du Design opening, 2009, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Image 12/23 SCD-12-ESS-LIN-Cité du Design opening, 2009, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Design furnishing
 SCD-13-ESS-LIN-prototypes for furniture
Image 13/23 SCD-13-ESS-LIN-prototypes for furniture
SCD-14-LIN-ESS-St. Jerome in His Study, 1475, Antonello da Messina
Image 14/23 SCD-14-LIN-ESS-St. Jerome in His Study, 1475, Antonello da Messina
La Fabrique 5000
SCD-15-ESS-LIN-La Fabrique500
Image 15/23 SCD-15-ESS-LIN-La Fabrique500
SCD-16-ESS-LIN-The observatory tower
Image 16/23 SCD-16-ESS-LIN-The observatory tower
SCD-27-LIN-ESS-platine and observatory tower, photo: Christian Richters
Image 17/23 SCD-27-LIN-ESS-platine and observatory tower, photo: Christian Richters
SCD-18-ESS-LIN-restoration of the historical atelier, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
Image 18/23 SCD-18-ESS-LIN-restoration of the historical atelier, photo: Jan-Oliver Kunze
The pedagogic building
 SCD-19-ESS-LIN-Restoration of Historical building, APE, photo: LIN, Christian Richters
Image 19/23 SCD-19-ESS-LIN-Restoration of Historical building, APE, photo: LIN, Christian Richters
The Batiment de l'Horologe
 SCD-20-ESS-LIN-Bâtiment de l'Horloge, photo: Christian Richters
Image 20/23 SCD-20-ESS-LIN-Bâtiment de l'Horloge, photo: Christian Richters
SCD-21-ESS-LIN-garden panorama
Image 21/23 SCD-21-ESS-LIN-garden panorama
Design Skin
 SCD-22-ESS-LIN-aerial view of the platine, photo: Christian Richters
Image 22/23 SCD-22-ESS-LIN-aerial view of the platine, photo: Christian Richters
SCD-23-LIN-ESS-night view, photo: Christian Richters
Image 23/23 SCD-23-LIN-ESS-night view, photo: Christian Richters
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Urbanism ZAA Atlas Actif des Vallées Stéphanoises Atlas Actif des Vallées Stéphanoises 2008 Saint-Étienne France Research Study Completed + 1403
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Urbanism KSB Strasbourg - Kehl, Cour des Douanes - Zollhofareal Strasbourg - Kehl, Cour des Douanes - Zollhofareal 2013 Strasbourg/Kehl France/Germany Urban Design Competition 1st Prize + 1348
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