A/D/O by MINI | DREAM of Timber Towers

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Architecture

DREAM of Timber Towers

Architect Dimitri Roussel of DREAM is pushing the limits of large-scale timber construction in France, using the material for high-rises, sports centers and entire new neighborhoods.

Dimitri Roussel has timber on his mind. The young French architect, who set up his own practice, DREAM, after five years as a partner at Laisné Roussel, is a self-professed champion of bioclimatic architecture and sustainable construction. “I first met this ecological way of doing architecture with Sou Fujimoto on L'Arbre Blanc,” he said. “And after seeing that architecture can make a real change, because this building is really efficient in terms of energy conservation, I decided to push forward using construction materials that create really low carbon architecture.”

Today, Roussel says that 90% of his buildings are made with timber. “Wood is an old material for housing, but for big buildings, it's a blank slate that we need to create new references for.” With over six timber projects in the making, Roussel is well and truly paving the way for those new references.

Dimitri Roussel's timber architecture projects include Perspective, an office building in Bordeaux.

His most recent timber building, done in collaboration with Nicolas Laisné, rises seven stories high and houses almost 50,000 square feet of office space in Bordeaux. To date, it is the tallest office building in France to be built out of wood. And while this title will be revoked in 2021, when Jean-Paul Viguier’s Hyperion tower completes in the same city, it has set a new benchmark for how timber can be used in construction. 

Dubbed Perspective, DREAM’s wooden tower was built in 20 months – 5 or 6 months faster than with traditional materials – and Roussel is quick to emphasize timber’s other perks. “Wood has really specific characteristics. It's much lighter than concrete, it has much fewer constraints than concrete, and when you are in an urban context, it really helps to renew the city in a gentle way.”

Designed with Nicolas Laisné, Perspective is currently France's tallest wooden building.

A good example here is his approach to Place Mazas in Paris. Working alongside New York studio SO-IL and Nicolas Laisné, Roussel is rethinking two sites at the junction of Canal Saint Martin and the Seine River. The first is a seven-story co-living building entirely made out of locally sourced timber. The second includes a dismountable pavilion that will host co-working facilities, cultural events and reintegrate a homeless care center already on site. 

This smaller-scale building was designed to be temporary. “We did a building for 12 years. In 12 years, we have an economic system that will give it to the city, which can then choose,” said Roussel. “It’s a new way of doing architecture – we call that ‘urbanisme transitoire’ [temporary urbanism]. It's a way to build in a city that's going to change quickly. And wood, with this capacity to unbuild easily and reemploy the material, can be a solution for this kind of territory that's going to change a lot.”

Ongoing projects include Arboretum – a 32-acre campus near Paris (also main image).

Aged only 34, Roussel is committed to revolutionizing the timber building industry in France. His studio’s portfolio includes a wide array of ongoing office projects, like Arboretum – a 32-acre office campus in the suburbs of Paris that is built entirely out of wood. “It’s a building that will take care of the planet, and the people,” he said. 

He is also working in his hometown of Saint-Etienne, on what he hopes will become the first affordable bio-based housing building in France, at a cost of €1,000 per square meter – compared to €2,000 per square meter in Paris. Ultimately, Roussel said, the biggest challenge with timber remains cost.

Buildings like Biocoop demonstrate Roussel's ambitions for high-rise timber architecture.

“The industry needs to organize itself around how to produce massive wood with better competitive prices. And we architects, need to bring economical solutions, technical solutions. We need to bring poetry with wood, we need it to be beautiful. We need to make all of that because people are ready."

Comparatively, said Roussel: “timber is still 10-15% times more expensive than the traditional way. As long as wood is more expensive than the traditional way, it won't be used a lot. And I don't want wood to be just for Parisians and privileged areas. I want it to be for everyone.”

DREAM recently won a competition to design a wooden tower for the Paris 2024 Olympic Village.

This spirit of equality is something that permeates Roussel’s design approach and it is perhaps best portrayed by his other passion – sports. A former basketball player, he believes in sports as a community-building tool. “Now I try to bring the sports attitude into my architecture. For me, sports are the best way to mix people,” he said. 

In November, DREAM won a competition to build a 160,000-square-foot wooden office tower for the Paris 2024 Olympic Village. Most notably, the building will feature an indoor rooftop basketball court. “Right now, in Paris, to do sports is a nightmare. It's underground, it's always in a crappy area. So, in the city of tomorrow, I think sports for people should be next to their house, next to their office,” he said. “You need healthy people to make great decisions.”

The Olympic Village tower will feature a rooftop basketball court.

Text by Elissaveta Brandon.

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