January 1, 2011

Hit the Slopes: Ski Rossignol Headquarters by Hérault Arnod Architectes

Founded in 1907 by a carpenter named Abel Rossignol, the company now known as Skis Rossignol has constantly been at the forefront of innovation­. Rossignol not only came up with the first all-metal skis used to win Olympic gold, in 1960, but also popularized fiberglass versions. Among past racers to have schussed to victory in Rossignol gear is super-legend Alberto Tomba. Current champs include slalom star Jean-Baptiste Grange.

When Hérault Arnod Architectes entered the competition to build a new Rossignol headquarters in the French village of Saint-Jean-de-Moirans, Isabel Hérault and Yves Arnod­-personal and professional partners-were sure about one thing: They weren’t going to design a standard office building. “It seemed necessary to come up with something very strong in terms of identity,” Hérault says. “After all, we were dealing with a mythical brand, more or less part of the French national­ heritage.”

Rossignol’s brand may have been strong, but logistics had become unwieldy over the decades as divisions developed in multiple sites. “Even­tually, it was really complicated for teams to work together,” Arnod says. Thus the decision to find a shared location­ for administrative and manufacturing employees involved with professional racing skis.

The brief didn’t necessarily call for everyone to be under the same roof. For Hérault and Arnod, however, any other arrangement seemed unimaginable. “Everything that goes on in the company is a direct consequence of making skis. It would have been absurd to have a beautiful building for the headquarters and a shed next door for the factory,” Arnod says.

Besides accommodating two different functions, the building would have to address the chosen location’s distinct pluses and minuses. The 15-acre plot is right next to the Lyon-Grenoble highway; a tollbooth is just 100 yards away. Still, there are spectacular alpine views on either side. As inspiration for the form of the building, Hérault and Arnod looked no further than those summits and slopes. The architects also envisioned something organic and radical that would conjure up the fluid movement of skiing. The final shape also closely resembles the outstretched wings of a bird.

The roof sweeps up from the ground at the back of the building to crest in the middle, then gently curve back down. And the virtues of this are not only aesthetic. The central rise acts as an acoustical barrier, protecting the staff café’s roof terrace, in front, from the noise of highway traffic.

Mountain references abound inside­ as well. There’s a chalet-style fireplace in the reception area, set into an expanse of sprayed concrete textured like a rock face. A similar feature wall runs 525 feet along the triple-height skylit passageway that divides the building into factory and office sides and widens at one end to house a showroom. Between the showroom and reception, rising and descending on a freestanding hydraulic hoist, is a bright red elevator modeled on a cable car. 

A few steps from the cable-car elevator­, strategically placed in line with the main entry, a window in the feature wall offers a tempting glimpse into the factory where the racing skis are produced. The trick for Hérault and Arnod was to figure out how to focus on the company’s inner workings without disclosing any proprietary information, “the parts of the manufacturing process that?have to remain hidden,” as Hérault puts it.

Taking up 43,000 square feet of the total 126,000, the factory side is mostly buffered from the distractions of the central passageway by a row of technical facilities, testing rooms, and cloakrooms on the ground level. Serving a similar function on the other side are restrooms, tiled in Rossignol’s trademark red, and meeting rooms, in a range of sizes. The café, meanwhile, hovers over the passageway like a flying saucer. “At midday, you can hear the sound of knives and forks, and the smell of food wafts about,” Hérault says, describing this setup as a welcome touch of domesticity.

As with the rest of the spaces, the café is outfitted with a mix of modern classics and contemporary pieces-stools by Harry Bertoia, chairs by Charles and Ray Eames, tables by Piero Lissoni and Marc Krusin-while an angular freestanding fireplace in black-painted steel competes for attention with the mountain views. Hérault refers to the café as Rossig­nol’s “high-altitude restaurant,” a nodding wink to the ones in Courchevel. “When you arrive by cable car or chairlift, they’re always quite magical,” Arnod says. It’s a return from nature to civilization, coming out of the cold and into the warmth.

Photography by Eric Laignel.

jérôme moenne-loccoz; camille bérar; mattias jäger; alexandre pachiaudi; nicolas broussous: hérault arnod architectes. cotéba; génie des lieux: space planners. batiserf: structural engineer. spie: mep. ertcom: roofing contractor. amlgame; smac + sdcc: curtain wall contrac­tors. e2f: foundation con­tractor. botta; cdi; kennel: concrete contractors. bonnardel: woodwork. ertcm: steelwork.

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