To visitors and tourists, the compact French metropolis of Rennes is perhaps best known for its half-timbered medieval houses and stately neoclassical architecture, including its eponymous 19th-century cathedral. In the town’s densely populated south end, however, the Blosne district is a strikingly different milieu, dominated by high-rise apartment blocks dating to the 1960s. Thanks to a recent intervention by Paris-based firm Antonio Virga Architecte, however neighbourhood is home to new a social hub that celebrates its bustling surroundings — yet also speaks to the city’s older and more intimate urban fabric.

On the site of a historic former barracks building, a nearly 2,000-square-metre community centre meets its high-rise neighbours with a bold, vernacular-inspired form. A cluster of steep, gabled roofs draws the eye from afar, with an interplay of façades that combines solid surfaces and subtle brise-soleils across wood, concrete and aluminum panel frontages. Punctuated by punched windows and generous loggias, the five house-like forms are joined together by glazed passageways, and interspersed with narrow courtyards.

“The building was designed in close consultation with the residents who wanted the place to evoke a village,” Rennes mayor Nathalie Appéré told Ouest France. In fact, the community centre’s name — “Polyblosne,” a portmanteau of the Blosne neighbourhood and the French term for community centre — was selected by local residents, as well as the neighbourhood’s elementary school children.

Managed by the municipality in partnership with a variety of non-profit agencies, the complex combines a cluster of multi-use community and social outreach spaces — including a reception hall and cafeteria, and a flexible room with kitchen and patio, a sports area with changing rooms and showers — with youth-specific programming, which comprises a digital lab and an audio-visual recording studio, as well as recreational spaces geared at a variety of ages. In addition, the facility houses office space for organizations that serve the local community. For the neighbourhood, it conveys a sense of home on a civic scale.

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