What can an architect do with the ITER buildings ... change their morphology? Impossible: each building's height, footprint, volume and organization is determined by the processes it harbours. Coat the buildings with colours? Possible, but risky: what blends nicely into the environment at noon under a bright summer sun may look dull and depressing under the cold November rain.
All buildings, with the exception of the Control Building, will be covered in alternating cladding of mirror-like stainless steel and grey-lacquered metal. © ENIA Architectes
"We faced an interesting problem," says architect Simon Pallubicki, a partner at ENIA, the firm chosen in 2009 to work on the exterior architecture of the ITER installation. "The buildings on the platform were extremely heterogeneous in terms of functionality, size and construction mode; commonly used architectural parameters like regularity and alignment were absent."
Modified building permit granted
Following modifications to the layout of the ITER site by the European Domestic Agency, responsible for the construction of 39 scientific buildings and dedicated areas on the ITER platform, the ITER Organization submitted a building permit modification request to the French authorities in November 2012. On 18 March 2013, the ITER Organization received notification that the modified building permit had been granted; this important document will be annexed to all building contracts on the site to minimize contractors' risk. ITER's original building permit was granted in 2008.
The architects at ENIA, a Parisian firm specialized in multiple architectural domains, were presented with a double challenge: how to lend unity to apparent architectural disorder and how to integrate the project harmoniously into the surrounding landscape.
The solution they chose was daring but restrained. All buildings, with the exception of the Control Building, will be covered in alternating cladding of mirror-like stainless steel and grey-lacquered metal. The proportion between the mirror-like and lacquered surfaces will vary according to facade orientation: 80 percent mirror on the east/west facades and 80 percent lacquer on the north/south facades. For the Control Building in the northwest corner of the platform—the "brain" of the installation—the choice was made to clad the building entirely in polished stainless steel.
The architectural choices made for the cladding materials will allow for the harmonious integration of the scientific installation into its natural environment, with the buildings picking up hues of the passing seasons and blending poetically into their surroundings. The polished, mirror-like stainless steel also expresses, according to ENIA, "the precision of the research work being performed inside of the buildings."
The architectural choices made for the cladding materials will allow for the harmonious integration of the scientific installation into its natural environment, with the buildings picking up hues of the passing seasons and blending poetically into their surroundings. © ENIA Architectes
Architecture is as much about functionality as it is about aesthetics: the metal cladding will also enhance the insulation qualities of the buildings' "skin."
While they were working on the architectural project, Simon Pallubicki and his colleagues spent a lot of time hiking and driving around the site. "We did a lot of reconnaissance work, sometimes close by, sometimes as far as 40-50 kilometres from the platform to evaluate the visual impact of the installation."
The ITER scientific facilities, say the ENIA architects, "should settle deep into the consciousness of the neighbourhood population and should leave a positive mark on local and regional history." They feel that clean facades, reflecting the ever-changing shades of skylight and seasons, will express what is at stake in ITER: the perspective of harnessing an unlimited, universally available and environmentally respectful energy source.