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Snøhetta relocates French asylum courts around a green heart

Feb 16, 2023

How can architecture and landscape help support asylum seekers facing a life-changing experience? Together with Eiffage Construction and the engineering offices OTEIS and AMOES, Snøhetta has been chosen to design the relocation of the National Court of Asylum and the Administrative Court of Montreuil. The proposal collects the two jurisdictions on one site around large green areas to offer a place of calm during what can be a time of intense turmoil.

The National Court of Asylum, or Cour nationale du droit d'asile (CNDA) in French, is a unique jurisdiction in France that judges cases for individuals who have appealed against the decision made by Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides (OFPRA). Every year, it welcomes several thousand people of more than 160 nationalities. The court is, therefore, the final jurisdiction for deciding the future of asylum seekers in France, dealing with residence permit disputes, refusals, and orders to leave the country. 

This project will relocate the National Court of Asylum, which is currently spread across several buildings in Montreuil, and the Administrative Court to the same area. Collecting the two courts will allow them to share spaces, gardens and services to create more welcoming and safe conditions for visitors and for the 940 employees working across the two jurisdictions.

A place of hospitality

Snøhetta is designing the complete relocation, including buildings, landscape, wayfinding, interior, and furniture. The proposal aims for the new locations to be a symbol of justice and transparency and a place of hospitality for all its users. The project strives to provide the best possible environment for everyone involved, acknowledging the complexity dealt with by all the employees and visitors of these courts. 

Messages of transparency and safety are conveyed through a sober architecture that fits into the more residential neighborhood and by opening up the lobby and waiting areas. As an extension to these shared spaces, a 700m2 generously planted garden will be accessible to visitors, offering tranquility and promoting biodiversity.

Nature as a tool to offer support

"In this project, we wanted to introduce large gardens to support people who may be in a challenging situation by providing a place of calm and relief, hopefully making their experience less stressful," explains Snøhetta’s co-founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.

A growing amount of research indicates that exposure to natural environments such as parks and green urban areas positively affects mental and physical health, reducing blood pressure and distress as some of the many results. 

"It is, therefore, essential to increase access to green areas in dense urban environments, where contact with nature is often a rarity, especially in projects like these where people are emotionally vulnerable. We want architecture and landscape to be meaningful tools to affirm the role of justice in a democratic state. Here, everyone will be treated equally by the architecture and nature, regardless of how the courts judge them," Trædal Thorsen adds.

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Snøhetta relocates French asylum courts around a green heart