The result of an international design competition in 2004, the Zénith is a new cultural destination for Saint-Etienne and the first purpose built state-of-the-art music venue for the Rhone-Alpes region of central southern France. The new building is characterised by its aerodynamic roof and flexible performance space, and marks a major departure from Zénith’s tradition of using temporary venues. The project has two aims: to raise Saint-Etienne’s profile as a regional venue for arts events and to help drive the regeneration of this formerly industrial city.
The building’s distinctive cantilevered roof structure was developed in response to aerodynamic studies. It is designed to act as a wind scoop to channel and intensify the flow of air through the building to ventilate the auditorium naturally and thus reduce energy use. Cold air currents through the roof void are also harnessed, the auditorium ceiling slab performing as a radiant cooling surface, further reducing energy consumption. This system is fully reversible to take advantage of prevailing winds from both northerly and southerly directions. Additionally, the deep overhang of the roof canopy ensures that the glazed foyer is shaded from direct sunlight. The wider energy strategy envisages the use of water from boreholes to offset mechanical cooling and an underground thermal ‘rock store’ for the passive pre-cooling of the large volumes of air required in such a building.
Access to the concert hall is via a broad ramped plinth that bridges the busy Rue Scheurer Kestner and allows audience members to enter and exit quickly and efficiently. A glazed foyer organises internal circulation and provides access to all floors and visitor amenities. The auditorium is designed to be highly flexible and can be configured for audiences ranging from 1,100 to 7,200 people. Backstage facilities include changing and production spaces, staff refectories and delivery areas; there is also a VIP reception suite. A comprehensive landscape strategy links Zenith to 1,200 car parking spaces and to a proposed pedestrian boulevard, which leads to existing rail transport connections.