MEETT, the new “machine” building lifestyle
The new MEETT building offers an architectural connection to Toulouse’s farming and space industries. A modular “machine” building designed to host major science exhibitions and fairs, continuing the city’s innovative drive in recent years.
The architecture firm OMA has just announced the opening of the new building, which was designed and developed over the past ten years in Toulouse.
The southern French city – known as the ‘Pink City’ due to the colour of the front of its historic buildings – shares its traditional aspect with the industrial development of the aerospace & aviation industry. It is the location of the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), which has given the city a scientific and cutting-edge personality.
Recent years have seen a revival from the business momentum of other industries, with updates to its infrastructure, including a conference complex to host all kinds of congresses, conventions and business fairs: MEETT. A project which was kicked off ten years ago, and which has opened despite the pandemic.
The building’s concept leader was Rem Koolhaas, founder of the one of the world’s largest architecture firms, OMA, and his team, led by Chris van Duijn and Ellen van Loon, who collaborated with Gilles Guyot.
The idea was to create a transition between the open spaces of the Toulouse countryside and the city; between its roots in history and the driver of innovation and technological development. “The most important vital links of this century are found between the countryside and the city. A viable and desirable social link which will create new public spaces and buildings which provide resources for the city; the countryside will change, not just as a farming resource but a place for recreation and a full life outside the city” explains Rem Koolhaas in the recent presentation of his manifesto, book and exhibition “Countryside, the Future”.
The new MEETT is a project which is not just about architecture, but landscaping and urban design. The public space has become very important. It is not merely an infrastructure distanced from the lives of Toulouse residents. The horizontal and modular complex has a 15,000 m² convention centre able to host events with up to 10,000 attendees, a modular plenary hall with 3,400 seats, a 9,000 m² multi-purpose area and 12 meeting rooms. A 14,000 m² covered central path will link the convention centre with a 40,000 m² exhibition centre and a 25,000 m² open-air exhibition area. MEETT will offer 5,000 parking spaces and a quick tram connection from the airport (15 minutes) and the city centre (35 minutes).
These figures help to understand MEETT in terms of size, but beyond its scope and sophisticated design, we need to consider its future, because thousands of people coming and going does not seem sanitary or politically correct in the current climate. But as the French authorities and press have noted, the dimensions of the indoor space are ideally suited to social distancing and ventilation, and the indoor paths to the outdoor squares and gardens offer flexibility and versatility.
Since time immemorial, human beings have needed to meet in public spaces and squares to find out about new products and progress. Rallies, fairs, exhibitions where ideas and proposals are exchanged. The digital world is now an essential part of our lives, but the current pandemic has not dispelled the willingness and desire to have in-person meetings, which speed up negotiations. It’s clear that more human empathy is felt in person.
As noted recently by the architect Rem Koolhaas, during this pandemic there has been enormous pressure to get back to normal as soon as possible. So positive changes should not just be a pipe dream.
Chris van Duijn, one of the leaders of the project, answers to Lifestyle by Porcelanosa:
Q: Which are your own highlights of the projects you have developed?
A: An exposition hall project is about functionality and efficiency. During the development of this project this was a main driver, we wanted to design a beautiful project of course, but it should not restrict the functionality of the project in any way and we pushed ourselves to add more flexibility and more options than were requested in the brief, like a machine. The result is a project with very clear aesthetics, which work well on a large scale, in relation to the open landscape and large hangars, but also on a small scale from the interior.
Q: How is the natural light and the external gardens are connected with the interior.
A: Exposition centers are often very introvert buildings, where the concentration is to what happens inside only. Often this creates dull spaces where you totally loose orientation, feel trapped and you only realize where you are once you are back on the car park outside the expo halls.
MEETT is a project which is extrovert, where the activities inside are revealed through large windows or huge hangar doors we included in the design. But also by applying the translucent facade material, which provides a very lively and bright interior conditions, and a notion of the surrounding landscape.
Q: Do you think the great fairs and commercial exhibitions are going to remain in the immediate future?
A: Despite the current disruption of the Covid pandemic to large scale events, I believe that there is a need for these gatherings as soon as this is under control. Of course the digital realm is developing faster than ever before, and the acceptance of implementing these new forms, is very high. But more than ever before; we also realize that seeing people in person, being able to hold physical objects or to visit a life concert can often not replace its digital substitute.
MEETT is designed as a very flexible project, it can host not only expo’s and conventions, but also concerts or sport events, both in an indoor and outdoor condition.