The agora of transformations

Faced with a changing world, more complex and unpredictable than ever, emlyon business school launched a competition in 2018 to design a modern campus that meets the needs of a Global Business Universities, the agora of transformations. The invention of a flagship to serve the pedagogy allowed the grouping led by Altarea Cogedim and PCA-STREAM to be named the winner. The agency designed a hybrid, open, lively, and totally modular space. Anchored in the Lyon metropolitan area, it will extend beyond its borders to provide an agora for the actors of change.

Placing schools at the heart of contemporary transformations

Our complex world of systems is challenging the limits of human intelligence as we enter an age of ubiquitous artificial intelligence. Collective intelligence and creativity have become the drivers of a knowledge-based economy. 

Since antiquity, educational approaches have been associated with architectural forms: Socrates and the Agora, Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum, the Garden of Epicurus... 

Business schools are faced with the challenge of training students for professions that do not yet exist, for a world drawn along ever-shifting lines, in a context of global competition between higher education institutions. emlyon business school aspires to create a flagship from which the school will shine on an international scale (with campuses in Saint-Étienne, Paris, Casablanca, Shanghai, and Bhubaneswar).

A response through collective intelligence

For PCA-STREAM, the challenge posed by emlyon business school—what should the architectural form of the school of the future be? —goes above and beyond the construction of a building. To explore the underlying issues, the studio put together a unique team and initiated a long-term exploratory program on the transformations of knowledge, academia, and schools in general.

The team harnessed the expertise of the architects of PCA-STREAM but also the Stream Lab, which has been engaged in a multidisciplinary research program for more than ten years. SCI-Arc’s think tank and students helped us revisit the archetypal forms of schools that have existed since ancient times. Eranos conducted a sociological analysis to identify the dimensions of representation and imagination at play. The BETC communications agency, well-known for providing spaces that promote creativity, has helped us develop a shared vision. PCA-STREAM’s interior designers teamed up with designer Ramy Fischler to analyze the new interfaces between the physical and the digital in space planning.

The project is the result of the hybridization of multiple experiences, which allowed us to take the intended uses as a starting point and to give precedence to the understanding of educational issues rather than architectural form.

A spatial embodiment of the Agora of transformations

Spatially embodying emlyon’s educational strategy while integrating the specifics of the site and the Lyon area required a tailored approach. Addressing the Early Makers vision led us to design a complex like no other, far removed from traditional business schools. 


1. A Hybrid, Lively and Versatile place

Our architectural approach takes the Early Makers program as its starting point: we analyzed the educational project of emlyon business school summarizing and describing the needs and spaces according to two typologies: maximum versatility and intense life. Versatility is achieved by drawing inspiration from contemporary office spaces, thanks to efficient and ultra-flexible generic typology. The building is designed to be adaptable to different teaching formats, and to those formats as they evolve over time, as well as to allow for a variety of spaces to combine collective activities and time for introspection and expression. The intense life is reflected in the typology of the street, a space of hyper-socialization and community that complements artificial and individual intelligence through emotional and collective intelligence.

The combination of these typologies in the context of the Gerland site generated the architectural form: four building complexes between Avenue Jean-Jaurès and Allée Fontenay, brought together and distributed by a central street and its spectacular core, the Cœur Battant. The typologies of business schools, art schools, corporations and event halls are hybridized in a building that is perfectly embedded in the district of Gerland.


2. An Open Building and Tool Combined

The flagship is an ultra-efficient and flexible combined building/tool, which enjoys a porous relationship with the city. It is precisely the opposite of the educational ivory tower with its siloed knowledge. It forms a space that is open to life, its neighborhood and the metropolis, as well as to businesses and events.

The inner street provides the school’s daily flows and important moments with rhythm. Between Avenue Jean-Jaurès and Allée Fontenay, the street creates connections between residents and users. The ramp highlights the physical interpenetration of the city and the school. A through street, overhanging and crossing the inner street, allows the district’s mesh of mobilities to remain unbroken and adds drama to the school’s activities. At the corner of the north-south through street, the bakery offers a convenient on-the-go catering option, as does the Café Jaurès on the plaza. On the ground floor, spaces are dedicated to corporate and associative partnerships. They break down the traditional boundaries of the school and put businesses at the heart of the learner's transformation process.

3. A Collaborative Ecosystem That Is a Catalyst for Creativity

The building is organized around the core feature of Cœur Battant, an active place for collective emulation. It serves all areas and opens onto the garden via the restaurant area. It is both quotidian and exceptional, hosting events and the key collective moments of the school.

Crossing Paths in Order to Innovate

It develops a flow-based logic that boosts interactions in order to create a real community. Everything is conceived with a view to promoting interactions, serendipity and collective intelligence.

Test to Learn

A series of specific spaces caters for the needs of a generation of learners who are protagonists in their own education, who use “test and learn” and prototyping. The experimental and creative spaces include the Learning Hub, the em Studio and the Makers Lab.


4. Powerful Architecture That Is Also Human, Lively, and Metabolic

It was conceived as a symbol of the renewal of the Gerland district, the dynamism of the Lyon metropolis and the ambitions of emlyon business school. It represents a beacon for students all over the world, reinforcing the attractiveness of emylon in the global competition between business schools. 

Paradoxical Iconicity

Faithful to PCA-STREAM's non-formal approach, the building rejects gratuitous design. Non-extravagant, even frugal, it derives its architectural ambition from the perfect match between a programmatic vision and the transcription of that vision into the design.

An Inspiring Space for Community and Collective Intelligence

The development of digital technologies and the rise of online courses could have threatened the physical space of the school, but instead they underscore its importance as a place for exchange and experience. The flagship provides a community space for collective intelligence. An inspiring place of life and emulation of which learners will be proud and in which they will become active protagonists in the unleashing of their potential for creation and innovation.

A Building/Metabolism

The abundant access to green outdoor spaces and the quality of the landscaped areas reflect a metabolic approach to building that creates a new relationship with nature. The place is actively involved in urban renewal and the exemplary environmental performance of the neighborhood. It provides multiple facilities, including a living roof, meadows to mitigate pollution, rooftop solar power generation, to name but a few. Versatile and conceived with future reconversion and shifting uses in mind, the Hub approaches sustainability through the lens of common sense, also to be found in the passive solar design of the terraced south-facing façades.

©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen
©Jean-Philippe Mesguen


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Client emLyon
Location Parvis Jean-Jaurès, Gerland — Lyon 7
Surface area 30 000 sqm
Cost 100 M€
Status In Progress
Team — Promoteur : ALTAREA COGEDIM
— Architecte mandataire : PCA-STREAM
— Architecte de réalisation : INSOLITES ARCHITECTURES
— BET Façades : ARCORA
— SSI et Sécurité : CSD & ASSOCIÉS
— Sûreté : RISK&CO GROUP
— AMO Environnement : ARTELIA
— Paysagiste : BASE PAYSAGISTE
— Contrôle technique : SOCOTEC

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