Begun in September 2018, the renovations of Sciences Po’s newest site at 1 Place Saint Thomas d'Aquin have continued throughout the pandemic. The premises will soon become a central hub of the university’s Paris Campus. Ahead of their much-awaited opening this November, with the first classes to be held onsite from the start of 2022, we caught up with director of real estate Emmanuelle Dubrana.
How far along is work on the new site at 1 Saint-Thomas? What was the impact of the different lockdowns on the construction schedule?
Emmanuelle Dubrana: The renovations are now very advanced: at what’s called the “air-tight” phase in France. That means that all structures have been built, all façades restored, all historic areas refurbished and all joinery installed. We are now at the point of finalising the different spaces. Construction was forced to stop entirely during the first lockdown, but it began again in May 2020 and rapidly accelerated to an intense pace of work. It has remained at maximum capacity since then, without pausing over the summer period. That means we can expect the site to open its doors in mid-November!
What is there left to do before the site can open to the public and when will the opening take place?
E.D.: We are entering a unique and delicate phase of the renovations because Sciences Po staff are beginning to make contributions to the site in conjunction with the construction companies. On the Sciences Po side, we’re beginning to fit out buildings to get the IT and internet network up and running, for example, and to install audio-visual equipment. From mid-November, once the keys have been handed over, we’ll be able to settle in permanently. We will then need to continue setting up equipment, furniture and, more broadly, everything relating to general services: recycling bins, keys, water fountains, bathroom facilities etc. Our aim is to be able to move the first units in from mid-December and then to open the doors to our communities in January 2022. So students will have a full semester to explore the Saint-Thomas site. I’m really looking forward to seeing our communities making use of the passage between 13 rue de l’Université and 1 place Saint Thomas, a pivotal and symbolic feature of the new campus. It will certainly be a moving moment for all those who have worked on the project since it began.
Will there already be trees and gardens on the site when it opens its doors?
E.D.: Most of the trees were planted last winter. In fact, our first apples and pears have already appeared in the Rachel Lambert Mellon Garden. Magnolias have been planted in the cloister, where the paving has just been finished. Now we need to finish planting in the Gribeauval Courtyard and on several walls. The vegetable garden plots in the Rachel Lambert Mellon are ready, but it will be up to our students to decide what to plant and to maintain and harvest what grows! The garden and cloister will also house works by sculptor Iván Argote. He decided to involve a group of students in designing his pieces. The fruits of that project will soon be visible.
Who will work and study on the new site once the renovations are finished?
E.D.: The entire student body, from undergraduate through to PhD level, will have the opportunity of attending classes at 1 Saint-Thomas, depending on their timetable: in total, the 13 rue de l’Université and 1 place Saint-Thomas sites will hold a third of all classrooms on the Paris Campus. All students will also have access to the site library, be able to book the project rooms and use the independent study spaces and informal areas on the site, where every square inch has a purpose. That’s not to mention the social areas and meeting spaces, cafeteria, courtyards, entrance hall etc. As for offices and staff areas, the site will house four of our seven Graduate Schools, several research centres, the Research Directorate, part of the Institute for Skills and Innovation, the Centre for Entrepreneurship and the McCourt Institute.
What spaces are you most excited to discover “in real life”?
E.D.: I can’t wait to see how students decide to make use of the Gribeauval Courtyard and its terraces. They definitely have the potential to become a unique hub at Sciences Po, particularly given the power of sloped spaces for bringing people together – as is the case for the paving in front of the Centre Pompidou, for example. What I’m looking forward to most of all, however, is being surprised by uses of the space that we neither expected nor planned for! No one can predict in advance where people will choose to meet, sit and drink a coffee, chat, think, take a break etc. That’s what is most interesting and beautiful to see.
What differences are there between the architectural plans and the reality you will soon be unveiling? Have there been any surprises?
E.D. The reality often surpasses images in the plan! It comes with an extraordinary addition that only advances in the construction work could reveal: the presence and importance of light in the campus. The architects were able to foresee that; for us, it’s more difficult to envisage ahead of time. The colours, tones, windows: all of that allows light to enter and circulate. It’s spectacular. The renovations have also unearthed their share of historical surprises: ancient foundations in the library and, in particular, an 18th century staircase, whose original stone had been completely painted over and that the renovations have restored to its former glory. Personally, I also felt immense emotion when the construction company took away the scaffolding from the cloister and I beheld, for the first time, the restored façade and the incredible way it reflects the light.
What effect will the new site have on the neighbourhood and the different Sciences Po sites?
E.D.: In terms of the surrounding neighbourhood, this year is set to be a major one for our Paris Campus! The opening of the new Sciences Po bookshop, now located on the corner of the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Rue Saint-Guillaume, is a small revolution of its own: for the first time, the Sciences Po name will be visible on this legendary boulevard. The paths taken by our communities are also going to change, what with the passage between 13 rue de l’Université and 1 Saint-Thomas and the various renovations to bring the campus closer together. Finally, other projects are to be launched in 2022: the building of new classrooms and a third place for students at 30 rue Saint-Guillaume, with study spaces, social areas and a few catering services. The new building will have a glass façade that faces out onto the street, a rare sight at Sciences Po, which is usually housed behind walls or in the courtyards of former town houses.
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