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The Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Centre is built on a Unesco World Heritage-listed site near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte of Wilmotte & Associés, the centre was inaugurated in October 2016.
The site was earlier occupied by the French National Meteorological Service, which was purchased by Russia in 2010 for €73m ($80m). An international competition was launched by Russia in 2011 to develop a church and cultural complex at the site.
Archgroup and Spanish architect Manuel Nunez Yanowsky won the competition, but the design was not approved by the French heritage protection services as it did not comply with the French urban development regulations. Jean-Michel Wilmotte’s design, which won the second prize, was then chosen for development.
Construction of the €100m ($110m) centre was commenced in July 2014 and ended in September 2016.
Russian Orthodox spiritual and cultural centre design
The new centre is spread over an area of 4,240m² and includes four main components, namely the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox cathedral, an administration building, an educational centre and a cultural centre.
Each component of the 18m-high centre has a pure and minimalistic design establishing diversity and radiance in Paris, which is home to a number of architectural sites. The height of the building has been designed to ensure it merges with the existing buildings in the neighbourhood.
A key feature of the centre is the five onion-shaped domes, a unique characteristic of Russian religious architecture that tops the Holy Trinity cathedral. The building features one large central dome and four smaller domes with the Russian orthodox cross on top.
Facilities at the new Russian cultural centre
The administration building of the centre includes a 209-seat auditorium and foyer along with offices for the Russian Federation Embassy and furnished apartments for employees of the centre. The auditorium of the building can host a number of events, including conferences, lectures, concerts and films.
State-of-the-art technologies have been incorporated into the auditorium to ensure optimal acoustic performance. The auditorium walls are fitted with micro-perforated acoustic panels and smooth reverberant wood panels. The roof is designed to ensure sound absorption and reflection. The seats of the auditorium have been covered with fabric to further improve the acoustics.
The educational centre of the building can accommodate 150 students and includes classrooms, workshops, living quarters, canteen, a library and a courtyard. The cultural centre of the building includes two exhibitions spaces, a bookshop, and a coffee shop.
Materials used in the new cultural centre
The façade of the building is covered in Massangis stone, which was quarried from Burgundy. The facade construction used 1,600m³ of stone, while 12,000 elements of varying profiles, including 75 for the cathedral and 25 for the remaining three buildings were used to create a dynamic facade.
The onion-shaped domes of the centre are made of composite materials as opposed to the traditionally used copper, ceramic and slate materials. Traditional Russian orthodox cathedral domes are multi-faceted and feature an assembly of hundreds of copper sheets.
The architect wanted to create smooth domes, which is difficult to achieve through traditional methods. Composite materials were, therefore, chosen to manufacture the domes, which also reduced the weight of the domes. The central dome, for example, weighs 8t as opposed to 42t if constructed using traditional materials.
Each of the domes is made of a number of petals and a top cone. The petals were prefabricated using specific casts, while the large central dome is made of eight lower petals, four upper petals and a top cone. The four smaller domes are made of three petals and a top cone.
The domes are covered in a gold-palladium alloy to achieve the matte-finish envisioned by the architect. A total of approximately 90,000 gold leaves measuring 8cm² were used for gilding the fives domes.
The structure of the church is made of reinforced concrete and covered with stone cladding on outside and plaster for frescos on the inside. It was created by erecting 125t of scaffolding on the interior to which 17m-high formwork was fixed. Concrete was then poured from the top using a special formulation developed by cement company Lafarge.
The technique enables gradual hardening of the concrete immediately after pouring to avoid the creation of pressure at the base, which can lead to distortion of the formwork. It helped achieve a high-quality structure within a shorter construction time period.
Bouygues Bâtiment Ile-de-France was the main contractor for the construction of the building. The domes were manufactured by Multiplast.
Other contractors involved in the construction were Louis Benech (landscaping), VP & Green Structure (facades), Arcoba (HVAC, plumbing, high and low-voltage electricity), Green Affair (environment), Lasa (acoustics), Apex Incendie (fire safety) and Scène (Scenography).
Geoperspectives was responsible for the surveying, OTCI Restoration for the roads and utility networks, Speeg + Michel et Associés for convergence lighting, Comet for H&S co-ordinator, Atelier Juno served as BIM consultant, and ICOeng provided façade design.
Cluster Meca was responsible for dome study and design, while Decision was responsible for supplying tooling for the domes.
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