Rehabilitating the Iconic Anne Frank Middle School: a piece of 1980’s anti-corporatism

MARS Architectes restores the raison d’être of Jean Nouvel’s early work.

The Anne Frank Middle School was first designed and built during 1980, in Antony, France. 

As an early piece of his career history, Jean Nouvel, the school’s architect, took on a calling that many in the creative world might call “malicious compliance”. When the system imposed a set of expectations that would have stiffened the life of his art, he chose only the essentials – pole, beam, coffered ceiling, and facade panels – and duplicated them to an ecclectic statement of post-functionalist thinking.

Four years prior, Jean Nouvel co-founded the Mars 1976 movement, which opposed the dominance of corporatism in architecture. Through the Anne Frank Middle School project, Nouvel carried out these beliefs through working to the letter of the law, but not the spirit. His work became a subtle statement of independence and defiance, mirroring both his critical view on the world as well as the stages of life that the building would accommodate.

A middle school gives refuge to a transition in young people’s lives when everything is in motion, nothing is certain, but anything is possible.

The aesthetic of the Anne Frank Middle School harkens to this with its bright colours and innovative designs, a composition where nothing is out of place and each detail is considered as vital as the greater piece.

Just last year in 2023, MARS Architectes worked to rehabilitate the 600-student school. As the school had been in service for forty years, it underwent several modifications without the original design in mind. Updating the building’s necessary functions – including insulation, heating, and ventilation system with an goal to decrease energy consumption by 38% – presented also an opportunity to reconnect with the middle school’s raison d’être.

MARS Architectes determined that a new life for the building would need to play “on the pleasure of misappropriation, plasticity, the use of colors, varied compositions, signs” and “everything that allows [them] to go beyond function.”

This is a space where children will create life-long memories, grow through hardships and achievements alike, and prepare for a future in modern society. With MARS Architectes’ work, the Anne Frank Middle School not only serves the functional purpose of its walls, windows, and walkways, but also retains the meaning and soul that Jean Nouvel initially intended.

Photography by Nicolas Grosmond © All rights reserved.

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