Dorms don’t exactly have a reputation for being foodie havens, and that’s no different in France. But CNOUS, the organization that’s in charge of French university housing and food, decided it was time for things to change. They brought in designers to rebrand dorm food, starting with a series of cafes and a mini-mart.
Mini M, a tiny bright orange and green grocery store, launched this summer outside a dorm at the University of Toulouse. In the past, there weren’t any stores in the area at all, explains Matali Crasset, a designer who worked on the project along with the graphic firm Praline. “Students had to walk 20 minutes to buy something like bread in the morning. The idea was to make something really close, and small, at a human scale.”
Inside, there are stands of fruits and vegetables and other healthy food, which Crasset says can’t be found at most convenience stores in France. The food is also cheap, because CNOUS is subsidizing it.
“It’s a social project,” Crasset says. “You have products without any margins. The students can really get food at a good price. In France, things are hard right now, and students have trouble making it through the month–paying for things like rent and heating. This project is giving them the possibility to have something affordable.”
Along with the market, Crasset and the other designers created Mini R, three versions of a small-scale restaurant that could provide an alternative to the university cafeteria. The first pilot was built at Orléans. Unlike the official cafeteria, Mini R is closer to the heart of the campus, and gives students more choices in what and where they eat. Students, Crasset says, seem to like it. “They want to stay in the space after they’re done eating, which they didn’t before.”
CNOUS wants to bring similar spaces to universities throughout the country, but for now, they’re focused on proving that the new designs work. “We wanted to have these first two projects so people could be convinced of the utility and what it brings to the students,” says Crasset. “Something new, fresh, and optimistic.”
Photos by Philippe Piron