© Pascal Delcey © Roland Simounet © Pascal Delcey

Founded in 1972 by Roland Petit, the Ballet National de Marseille is a leading, internationally renowned dance company. In 1992, the creation of the École Nationale Supérieure de Danse de Marseille and the construction of a 6,000 m2 building housing nine rehearsal studios – two for the company and 7 for the school – and a 300-seat theatre, added yet more dimensions to the Ballet National de Marseille. The school welcomes an average of 120 young students a year, preparing them over nine years for a career in professional dance.

Roland Simounet was born in Algiers in 1927.

He studied at the School of Architecture in Algiers, then in Paris, and began designing buildings in 1951.

He took part in the International Congress of Modern Architects and designed the Djenan El Hasan housing project in 1956-1958, the Timgad housing project in Algeria and the hall of residence at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar.

In France, his works of note include the Grenoble School of Architecture in 1977, the renovation of housing block no.1 in Saint-Denis and three museums: the Museum of Prehistory in Nemours from 1975 to 1979, the Picasso Museum in Paris in 1985 (restoration of the Hôtel Salé), and the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern Art from 1979 to 1983.

A member of the Académie Française d’Architecture, Roland Simounet was awarded the Grand Prix National d’Architecture in 1977 and the Equerre d’Argent in 1985 for his work on the Picasso Museum.

The building in Marseille’s Parc Henri Fabre which is home to the Ballet National and the Dance School opened in 1992.

Movement, equilibrium, challenge, freedom, joy

Running, climbing, stamping, hurtling, pushing, spreading out to work, relaxing: stages proposed for the living journey through the École Nationale Supérieure de Danse de Marseille. Like a huge piece of working scenery, a gently climbing ramp leads to the building’s entrance and a raised inner courtyard open to the sky. Brought together, students and dancers enter the light-filled lobby which is extended by walkways. Two generously proportioned staircases on either side of the porch, featuring a simple straight stairway, divide the students and dancers and lead them towards the garden level. Here the School’s students step onto peripheral walkways, moving through their cloakrooms before reaching the studios opposite.

This is where the cloakrooms and dressing rooms for the Company’s dancers are located, in a wide curved envelope comprising the large studio’s apse. For them, movement extends towards the upper levels, where chill-out rooms, gentle ramps and paved terraces articulate and spread out into a labyrinth open to the sky.

The living, active journey – alternating through covered passageways and light-filled spaces – leads to the heart of the building. Here the soothing volumes and simple geometry of the School’s studios are bathed in a diffuse glow while the vast naves of the large studios are enclosed by high walls and filled with light. Outside, in a long travelling shot, the building reappears, solar, unfurling its heavily structured volumes and balanced by the stage wall built like a beacon. Movement, rhythm, harmony, forms: appropriate responses for this place dedicated to Dance.

Roland Simounet