An architecture that encounters an individual in his/her moment of vulnerability and despair fight for justice and hope, and of resistance and refusals, Snøhetta-designed French Asylum Courts is a case study of architecture’s rendezvous with a human soul. Cour nationale du droit d’asile (CNDA) or the National Court of Asylum is a unique body of the jurisdiction in France that foresees the cases of individuals who have appealed against the decision of Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides (OFPRA) to withdraw their refugee status. A place of justice for over a thousand people from more than 160 countries annually, it is a point of final jurisdiction that decides the future of asylum seekers in France. The Court caters to asylum seekers dealing with residence permit disputes, refusals, and appeals against the order to leave the country through safety and transparency.

New French Asylum Courts That will Inspire Safety in Montreuil designed by Snøhetta -Sheet1
National Court of Asylum and the Administrative Tribunal_ ©Aesthetica.Studio

Sustainability | French Asylum

Sustainability remains at the core of the proposed design of the Asylum Court. Snøhetta has proposed a truly sustainable design that not only promotes biodiversity through a variety of green spaces but uses passive and active design techniques to maintain thermal comfort without excessive energy consumption. This has been accomplished through the orientation of facades and the use of photovoltaic panels in the glass facades. The carbon footprint of concrete has been minimised by adopting a low-carbon strategy. Natural and bio-sourced materials like wood and wool insulation have been used. Daylighting in many parts of the interior also contributes to low energy consumption.

Day lighting in Courtroom_ ©Aesthetica.Studio

Man and Nature

In the wake of numerous research indicating the positive physiological and psychological impact of an individual’s exposure to nature, Snøhetta has invested in nature’s healing and comforting qualities in the asylum court. The project endeavours to create an oasis of calm and relief by placing large gardens and landscaping generous in diverse vegetation and direct access to visitors and employees. Moreover, the shared spaces have access to natural light, which adds to the project’s aim to make the experience in the courts less stressful for the users. Catering to the employees who work under this immense stress are secluded outdoor courtyards and gardens that function as a space for meetings and breaks. The designer admits to having created shared green space to evoke a sense of equality and to demonstrate how architecture and nature treat everyone equally regardless of the final jurisdiction made by the court.  

New French Asylum Courts That will Inspire Safety in Montreuil designed by Snøhetta -Sheet4
Connection to Nature through Lobbies_ ©Aesthetica.Studio

Project Overview

Snøhetta, along with Eiffage Construction, OTEIS and AMOES engineering offices, has proposed a design for relocating the National Court of Asylum and Administrative Court of Montreuil. The National Court is spread across several buildings in Montreuil, while the Administrative court remains in the same area. The union of these two courts results in the creation of shared spaces, gardens, and services which subsequently give birth to a more hospitable built environment for the employees and visitors. The project covers an area of 22 162 m2 of floor area with 45 courtrooms, including 40 National Court of Asylum and the remaining 5 for the Administrative Court. The project also creates provisions for 932 workstations used by 940 employees daily. The construction work is scheduled to initiate in 2024 and see its completion by 2026.

New French Asylum Courts That will Inspire Safety in Montreuil designed by Snøhetta -Sheet2
Aerial View_ ©Aesthetica.Studio

Architecture of Acceptance | French Asylum

A place of high tension and turmoil, the national court of asylum in France is a place that functions as a beacon of justice. To be hospitable to an individual in their darkest moments of despair, the design uses an open and public lobby and waiting-for areas in the main building surrounded by a 700 m2 of landscape that offers serenity. A sober architectural expression of the court that fits into its neighbourhood along with its landscape rich in luscious vegetation is accessible to the visitors rendering it a truly hospitable space. To symbolise justice and transparency, Snøhetta strives to provide the best humanistic approach for visitors and employees by acknowledging and addressing the complexities of the procedures housed by the project.

New French Asylum Courts That will Inspire Safety in Montreuil designed by Snøhetta -Sheet3
Main Facade of the National Court of Asylum_ ©Aesthetica.Studio

Urban Context

The Asylum Court falls under one of the first stages of an ambitious urban renewal plan for the La Noue neighbourhood in Montreuil, including building new schools and sports and residential programs run by Snøhetta’s Paris Studio. As such, the site is proposed to be opened up, connecting it to its urban context by employing a series of public walkways. Provisions have been made to improve site accessibility to pedestrians, cycles, and cars. With an extensive emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility, Snøhetta strives to ensure an intuitive understanding of the spaces transcending the barrier of nationality and language. A clear visitor flow has been designed through a network of internal and external pathways to fortify this understanding of spatial connection and access. These are accentuated through the use of universal signage and way-finding.

New French Asylum Courts That will Inspire Safety in Montreuil designed by Snøhetta -Sheet5
Connection between blocks and to the Urban Context through Gardens_ ©Aesthetica.Studio

An amalgamation of the old and the new

Holistic use of architectural heritage is another noteworthy concept Snøhetta has made through the adaptive reuse of a pre-existing 9-story 1963 building designed by Arthur Héaume and Alexandre Persitz. The renovation of the facade assures the retention of the concrete grid quality of the building. It uses large glazed windows to ensure plentiful daylight and thermal comfort in the building. The part of CNDA will be hosted here along with the main lobby, reception area, and a rooftop terrace framing a panoramic view. The new part of the complex, the administrative court, is designed to be built with raw and durable materials providing solidity and reliability in its appearance.

An adaptive Reuse of an Architectural Heritage in CNDA ©Aesthetica.Studio

The creator of the Magic | French Asylum

The project came into existence through the hands of a Norwegian-based Snøhetta, a firm specialising in the multi-disciplinary practice of architecture, landscape, interiors, product design, and graphics design. Rather than isolated masterpieces, projects designed by Snøhetta are samples in a series of contextual examinations which are symbolic over associative and comments over statements. The narrative of the projects is the storytelling of a shared experience of the contemporary conditions in play within the given frame. With spaces in the projects being directed and framed by human interactions, the firm flaunts various projects that are evidence of these design philosophies. The relocation of the French Asylum court is one such example that best aligns with Snøhetta’s values and demonstrates the ability of the firm to dive into the major issues of our time through unique architectural interventions.



Archinet (2023). Snøhetta’s design for a new French asylum court seeks to offer ‘a place of calm during a time of intense turmoil’ [online] Available at: (Accessed February 25, 2023)

ArchDaily (2023). Snøhetta Paris Designs New French Asylum Courts That Inspire Safety in Montreuil [online] Available at: (Accessed February 25, 2023) (2023). Snøhetta relocates French asylum courts around a green heart [online] Available at: https://Snøøhetta-relocates-french-asylum-courts-around-a-green-heart (Accessed February 25, 2023)


An architecture and art enthusiast, Rashmi Gautam, is an Architecture Student from Nepal in search of her own expression in forms of words and design. Finding solace in the company of literature, art and architecture, she can be found brooding in the nearest library or museum.