Greetings from Marne la Vallee: redesign in de Villes nouvelles


During our research project ANA goes Europe, we investigate the role of the architect in the future European housing assignment. The trip we made this autumn led to Paris and its suburbs. The French solutions for matters such as living quality, densification, transformation of the Grand Ensembles and gentrification are instructive for the Dutch practice. The fourth postcard comes from Les Espaces d’Abraxas, the illustrious housing project of Ricardo Bofill in Marne la Vallee.

At the time the Dutch government incorporated the growth centres policy in the Second National Spatial Planning Policy Document (1966), the French government was forced to deal with an enormous housing shortage top-down. This is how the plan for the Villes Nouvelles derived. There are five around Paris. The largest is Marne la Vallée with almost 300,000 inhabitants, consisting of no less than 26 municipalities.

We visit the very first part of the new city that was built at the beginning of the 80s: the quarters Monts d’Est and Pavé Neuf both located in the commune of Noisy le Grand. These two neighbourhoods are located next to the A4, which connects Marne with Paris. The distance from Noisy le Grand to the Paris city center is only 20 kilometres. On the edge of Monts d’Est is Les Espaces d’Abraxas, a megalomaniac residential complex designed by Ricardo Bofill.
This project, extreme as it is, has regularly been used as a movie decor in science fiction productions such as Game of Thrones and Brasil. Les Espaces consists of three components: the Palacio, Theater and Gate. The Palacio in particular is an extreme residential building, a high, dark cavernous gap in precast concrete opens up to 441 single-sided oriented apartments.

Current problems
Les Espaces is in a poor condition. It is badly maintained. The public areas are dark and dirty and there is no supervision at all. We can imagine that people do not feel safe here. The project is completely isolated, on the one side it is restricted by a large parking garage and on the other by a busy access road. Because of these poor conditions it was investigated whether the project could be demolished, but this idea had been abandoned on grounds of high costs. In addition, some 600 households should be housed elsewhere. In order to improve the situation the municipality of Noisy le Grand opted for a different strategy. A continuous park strip must connect Les Espaces with the other parts of the area and bring more transparency to this densely built-up concrete neighbourhood.
An advantage of the planned park is that it also connects the new residential area, planned on the other side of the ring road, with the city centre. Very good ideas, but not yet an actual solution for Les Espaces.

We call Bofill!
Because Les Espaces d’Abraxas is such a characteristic project, the municipality Noisy le Grand asked the architect to think about the improvement. Ricardo Bofill (RBTA) initially was not interested. After he had met some of the proud residents of Les Espaces during a community festival organized by the municipality, he turned and accepted the assignment. It is very striking that in order to ‘finish’ the project he proposes to build up the same style on both sides of Les Espaces. However, its symmetrical design goes straight through the park planned by the municipality. It is not entirely clear how that is to be solved.
Unfortunately it is unclear what Bofill’s plan is for the existing building. We will have to wait and see if he is able to redesign the building in a way that solves the various problems. The chosen approach converts one of the weaknesses of Les Espaces, the isolated location, into a force. By using the free space around the building for more varied new buildings, a larger social mix can arise in the neighbourhood.

Pavé Neuf renewed
In Pavé Neuf, the adjoining neighbourhood, the renovation has already mainly been carried out. Again, the known range of interventions is visible. Just like in Monts d’Est (the neighbourhood of Les Espaces) this district is extremely impenetrable due to the layout with parking garages on the edge and a completely car-free centre. That is why some breakthroughs have now been realized. There is a high level of investment in public space. In Pavé Neuf, for example, a large new neighbourhood garden has been realized on the site of a parking garage. The buildings have also been insulated and refurbished. Pavé Neuf is already very dense, therefore it lacks space for new buildings.
As in Bobigny, it is striking that the approach shows a great respect for the original architectural and urban plans. Everything looks refreshed, but the question is whether there is sufficient improvement in the socio-economic field.


Greetings from Montreuil: slow gentrification in Paris East


During our research project ANA goes Europe, we investigate the role of the architect in the future European housing assignment. The trip we made this autumn led to Paris and its suburbs. The French solutions for matters such as living quality, densification, transformation of the Grand Ensembles and gentrification are instructive for the Dutch practice. The third postcard comes from Montreuil, a small municipality in the eastern part of the Métropole du Grand Paris.

Montreuil lies just outside the Boulevard Périphérique. It is a municipality with about 100,000 inhabitants. The city has an industrial past and one of the last communist mayors in the region.
Montreuil is very popular with the so-called Bobos (Bohemian Bourgeois) because it has a mixed character: a diversity of social classes and activity. There are many former industrial buildings that could very well be transformed into lofts. Montreuil is small-scale, almost as a village. And not unimportant in terms of the popularity of the municipality, is that the house prices in Montreuil are on average € 5,000 per m2 lower than in Paris (€ 10,000). Since 1975, the number of high educated people in Bas Montreuil, which is closest to Paris, has increased fivefold. Montreuil wants a slow gentrification, a very gradual transformation in which space is retained for the original residents and entrepreneurs, and a mix of high and low incomes is preserved.

Here we visit Archi5. The partners of this firm (at least 4 of 5) live and work in Montreuil. Archi5 has realized several projects in Montreuil, most of which in collaboration with REI Habitat, a ‘young’ developer who prefers to build in wood.Archi5 and REI Habitat are focusing on small-scale interventions, in wood if possible, with a strong collective character. One of the employees of Archi5 shows us his property in the Le Bourg project. The compact dwellings strike deep into the block and lie around a spacious communal garden in which the existing trees are maintained.

Besides Le Bourg, the architects and developer have realized a number of small-scale implementations in the same neighbourhood. Archi5 is now being asked more often for this type of projects because they know how things work in Montreuil, and this is necessary, because certainly not all proposals for new construction projects are approved. For each project, the municipality decides if she wants to contribute to a new development. Wood seems to push all the right buttons, as does building for special groups. Next to the office of Archi5, a residential project with social housing for single male immigrants has just been realized. The project is in line with the vision of the municipality to make Montreuil an inclusive municipality.

Montreuil’s strategy of evaluating each proposal according the social significance for the municipality is perhaps somewhat unpredictable and therefore risky for developers, but it is also interesting because it allows for a slow transformation that preserves the character of Montreuil. Not making a comprehensive master plan makes it possible to only allow initiatives that add value for the neighbourhood. Such a strategy is an interesting reference for the transformation of existing industrial areas in the Netherlands such as the Hamerstraat area in Amsterdam, the Binckhorst in The Hague and the Merwe-Vierhavens in Rotterdam.


Greetings from Bobigny: hybrid solutions for the dense city


During our research project ANA goes Europe, we investigate the role of the architect in the future European housing assignment. The trip we made this autumn led to Paris and its suburbs. The French solutions for matters such as living quality, densification, transformation of the Grand Ensembles and gentrification are instructive for the Dutch practice.

The second postcard comes from Bobigny, a small town in the middle of the poor north-eastern part of the Métropole du Grand Paris. This is the area where in 2005 the famous Banlieu riots broke out. We cycle through Bobigny in search of a few Grand Ensembles, large concentrations of social housing, built in the 60s and 70s.

The first project we encounter is Cité les Courtillières-Le Serpentin designed by Émile Aillaud from 1954. Seen from above this is a fairly extensive neighbourhood, consisting of an endless winding building around a courtyard of 500m x 200m, and two clusters with residential towers.
We speak to one of the four complex managers of Le Serpentin. He is present on site daily from 9 to 5 and knows all the inhabitants of the 600 houses in the complex. He tells us that the renovation of Le Serpentine, funded by the ANRU, a national renovation program, is almost complete. The façades are insulated and lined with subtly coloured tiles, the elevators have been renewed, the houses have been renovated inside and PV panels (which, actually do not work yet) are placed on the roofs. The central park of 4.2 ha will also be completely renewed. A small piece of the long pendulum has been demolished to improve the connection of the complex with the surroundigs. The layout of the public space looks much better with more abundant planting. Previously there was only grass and trees. The new playing area for children is already being used.

However, according to the complex manager, the problems are not resolved. “La drogue, la drogue!” he calls several times during our conversation. He also refers to children who are playing in the park without parental supervision. He finds this a bad idea in this neighbourhood. He also tells us that recently new homes have been realized on the outskirts of the area, with the idea to bring more social diversity into the area. Whether the theory works out in practice, the he unfortunately could not tell.
Our biased view of the northeastern suburbs being one large concentration of social housing in large-scale buildings, turned out not to be true.

We continued cycling through endless low-rise neighbourhoods in search of Cité de l’Abreuvoir. This ensemble was also designed by Aillaud. In this district, with 1500 homes from the 1950s, the renovation, again financed by the ANRU, has yet to be started. The municipality has already formulated ambitions. Dialogues with the residents take place. The same problems arise here as in all large social housing complexes from the 1960s and 1970s: poor insulation, small dwellings and outdated public space. The positive thing is that not only the complex and the public space are being improved, but that public transport is linked to the area to improve the connectivity. The current residents are worried about the affordability of their homes after the renovation, and whether they can continue to live there. After all, one part will be demolished to make room for new housing to attract people from outside the neighbourhood.

With mixed feelings we cycle back to Paris. The spatial approach of the Grands Ensembles focuses primarily on aesthetic renovation, not on programmatic, social or management renovation. On the one hand it is nice to see the original plans being respected. Rigorous demolition to introduce other forms of living and thus to achieve a better social mix as has happened in the Bijlmermeer and the Western Garden Cities in Amsterdam, are not to be expected here. The ensembles are left intact and reinforced in their original idea. The renovation of Cité des Courtillières has been done very well. Residents can once again be proud of their neighbourhood and finally may feel that they have been heard. On the other hand, this approach also raises questions. The houses remain small and dark, they still do not have outdoor spaces and the plinths are still anonymous. The park is beautifully designed but has a big surface that requires intensive maintenance. Will there be sufficient budget for this in the future; experience learns that this is rarely the case. It is also questionable whether this renovation enables the neighbourhood to reinforce its social economy; Is it possible to achieve a more diverse composition of residents, given the limited realization of new owner-occupied homes in relation to the large number of existing social rental homes? It is impossible to answer these questions now. For that, our visit to Bobigny is far too short, the approach was only recently implemented, and the problems of the Banlieus are far too complex.

Greetings from Paris: hybrid solutions for the dense city


During our research project ANA goes Europe, we investigate the role of the architect in the future European housing assignment. The trip we made this autumn led to Paris and its suburbs. The French solutions for matters such as living quality, densification, transformation of the Grand Ensembles and gentrification are instructive for the Dutch practice.

171019-TS-paris routes map

Paris is actually a small city. The city border lies at the Boulevard Périphérique. Within this ring, 2.3 million people live on 105 km2 either 22,000 inhabitants per km2. In comparison, the municipality of Amsterdam has 853,312 inhabitants living on 219 km2 either about 4,000 inhabitants per km2. And as if this is not dense enough? The city of Paris is currently working on a number of very complex projects to further densify the compact city.

La Métropole du Grand Paris
For the last years the housing market in Paris has been under enormous pressure. The average purchase price for an apartment is now € 10,000 per m2. This is unaffordable for most families. Fortunately, France has a system of social housing that is much more extensive than ours. In France they use different price levels depending on the composition of the household and income. Households with a gross income up to € 70,000 per year qualify for social housing. This system enables a diverse and larger group of people to live in the city.

The social rental housing is realized by various housing associations, never the less they cannot meet the demand. As in Amsterdam there are huge waiting lists. At Paris Habitat, the largest housing association in the city, alone 180,000 people are on the waiting list.
The fact that the municipality of Paris is small and surrounded by no less than 350 municipalities, each with its own management, also explains the enormous contrasts in density between inside and outside the ‘ring’. Paris would love to maintain its inhabitants and provide housing for everyone. For this reason the Métropole du Grand Paris has recently been introduced. A partnership between 131 municipalities, including Paris, with the aim of strengthening forces, combating inequalities between the various municipalities and strengthening the role of the Paris region in the world.

Densification of the dense city
The city of Paris wants to increase the share of social housing from 21% as it is now up to 30% in 2030. A very ambitious aim, taking into account that there are almost no building plots left and all remaining construction sites are extremely complex. At the moment a number of locations are under development, many of which lie directly next to the Boulevard Périphérique.

We have spoken to Mélanie Moisain and Anna Carnac of Paris Batignolles, an organization that manages the big building projects for the city of Paris. We talked about the policy of the city of Paris regarding residential construction and about a number of recent development areas such as Clichy Batignolles, a housing project on a former railway yard. Clichy Batignolles has high ambitions: amongst others a park of no less than 10 hectares, 50% social housing, a large program of offices and facilities, moving and overhauling the shunting yard, and very high density housing. According to almost everyone we have spoken to high-rise is not an option, Paris suffers from a serious high-rise trauma since the city built a number of mega high towers in existing neighborhoods in the 1970s. The absolute high (or low) point being the Tour Montparnasse. Recently the city decided on building a bit more high-rise, but certainly not too high and very carefully fitted into the urban fabric. By selling al lot of building land, the city of Paris can finance ambitious development like Clichy Batignolles.

Home, hybrid high-rise
An illustrative statement that shows all ambitions of the city of Paris is the project Home, in Masséna-Bruneseau by Comte & Vollenweider Architects and Hamonic + Masson & Associés. This hybrid ‘tower block’ consists of a block volume that follows the street alignment, defines a clear boundary between the public street and the collective courtyard, and has a public program in the plinth. On the plinth are two residential towers. The highest and most prominent tower contains social housing (€ 10-15 / m2 / month) and the lower tower contains owner-occupied apartments (€ 10,000 / m2). Although the building height of the towers is not that high, only 50 meters, compared to the proposed residential towers in the Amsterdam Sluisbuurt (125m) or in the center of Sloterdijk (90m), this project does show that it is very well possible to develop new urban typologies. Typologies that respond to the need for high densities, introduce new living qualities such as large private outdoor spaces, generate pleasant urban spaces such as well-functioning public streets and collective courts and bring about a social mix.

#3 Parisferique c’est magnifique


ANA goes Europe continues! 
Op 8 oktober vertrekken we naar La Métropole du Grand Paris. Het is de derde onderzoeksreis op rij, eerdere etappes leidde naar Duitsland, Denemarken, Zweden en Noorwegen.

Franse thema’s
We richten ons vizier op Frankrijk omdat het als een van de grootste en meest invloedrijke landen van de Europese Unie ingrijpende veranderingen kent. Groeiende ongelijkheid is op dit moment in Frankrijk een van de belangrijkste politieke thema’s. Is de tweedeling tussen arm en rijk, kansarm en kansrijk, in de stad zichtbaar? We zijn benieuwd hoe deze ongelijkheid in de Franse steden is opgelost en hoe er oplossingen zijn gevonden voor verdere verdichting van de metropolitane regio. Welke woonkwaliteiten worden gerealiseerd in gebieden met hoge dichtheid? Hoe zijn betaalbare woningen en aantrekkelijke alternatieven voor de middenklasse vormgegeven?

Tijdens de voorbereiding van deze reis spraken we met Nederlandse stakeholders over hun visie op de woningbouwopgave van de toekomst en over de vragen die ze ons willen meegeven op reis. In Parijs spreken we o.a. met ontwikkelaar Paris Batignolles over verdichtingsprojecten langs de Boulevard Périphérique. Met Archi5 architectes bezoeken we een aantal invulprojecten die zijn gebouwd in hout. Architect Julien Beller zal ons vertellen over vluchtelingenhuisvesting en de impact die dat heeft op de stad. We praten met Jean Christophe Masson over de woonkwaliteit van hoogbouw. En we ontmoeten Paris Habitat, de grootste verhuurder van sociale woningbouw. Manager Urban Planning Department van de regio Noisy-le-Grand ontvangt ons om te praten over de stadsvernieuwing in Palacio d’Abraxas, een megalomaan woningbouwpaleis van de Spaanse architect Ricardo Bofill, gebouwd in 1982.

Op:  en onze Facebookpagina en ArchiNed. lees je verslagen van eerdere bezoeken en kun je onze bevindingen in La Métropole du Grand Paris volgen.

ANA goes Europe is een reis door Europa in etappes. Sinds 2014 onderzoekt ANA architecten de woningbouwopgave van de toekomst en de bijdrage die architecten daaraan kunnen leveren. Voor #3 Parisferique! C’est magnifique? heeft ANA een financiële bijdrage ontvangen van het Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie.





Homesessions, gesprekken met Nederlandse stakeholders in de woningbouw’

Momenteel bereiden we een etappe naar Frankrijk in september 2017 voor. Voordat we op reis gaan spreken we met Nederlandse stakeholders over hun visie op de woningbouwopgave van de toekomst en over de vragen die ze ons willen meegeven op reis.

Bekijk hier de verslagen van de gesprekken die we al hebben gehad:

Homesessions #1 Rosalie en Nathalie/ BPD

Homesessions #2 Peter Defesche

Homesessions #3 Lars en Leon/ DubbelL

En hier de korte impressies:

#2 the German Midfield


In may 2015 we visited 10 German cities, talked to 16 stakeholders and drove 2237 km in only 5 days. This speed-trip to the German Midfield learned us what the combination of political consistency, social innovation and initiatives by architects can bring to the housing assignment.

Intergenerational Housing
Germany is the most aged country in Europe; 20,6 % of the population is over 65. Intergenerational solidarity is the leading theme of the German policy. On a national level Germany is supporting the development of Mehrgenerationshauser, community buildings in which activities are organized that facilitate the interaction and thereby solidarity between different generations.  When families live spread out all over the country, the neighborhood should work as a new ‘family’-network that helps to be self-supporting in a society that can no longer organize every form of aid top down. This principle is also translated in new housing concepts.

We have visited several of these ‘Mehrgenerations’ housingprojects. Karmeliterkloster in Bonn is a very sympathetic project in which families live together with older people and form a small community behind the walls of an old convent. The size of this project, 70 housing units, guarantees a balance between collectiveness and privacy. In Pöstenhof in Lemgo, a smaller project with 34 units, the collectiveness is emphasized through the organization of access. This project is open to the neighborhood and integrates daycare for elderly who still live at home. Both examples have waiting lists, and prove that mixing generations could be an interesting solution for an aging society, when organized well.


Housing in shrinking & growing Towns
Germany has been dealing with shrinking towns for more than ten years and has developed consistent strategies for transformation of existing buildings and areas. At the same time Germany has so called ‘Schwarmstädter’, cities that grow strongly.

We have visited both sides of Germany. Freiburg and Tübingen are two small university cities in the South that attract a lot of young people. These cities are growing fast. Freiburg chooses to densify the city in the existing housing areas. The city struggles with developers to build delicate solutions and getting public support for these developments.. Tübingen, also a citiy that densifies, chooses to buy land and sell plots to baugruppen. Tübingen uses a consistent strategy for development that guarantees public support and that leaves room for new insights. This consistency in combination with a process of learning from mistakes leads to very consistent and coherent neighbourhoods.

On the other side of Germany we have visited Halle and Leinefelde, two former DDR towns with big plattenbau neighborhoods. The population of Halle Neustadt has shrunk with 50% since the ‘90’s. The city of Halle lost 80.000 inhabitants after the reunion. Most part of this loss is subscribed to Halle Neustad. The measurements undertaken by the city aim for renovation and demolition of the existing housing stock. During the recent years 13.500 dwellings have been demolished. Leinefelde has also demolished large amounts of buildings in a very short period of time. The remaining stock is being renovated as far as the exterior is concerned; behind the fresh new stucced facades the old plattenbau plans without elevators remain. The city of Leinefelde has followed a very consistent top down policy but didn’t leave much room for new insights or bottom up initiatives. Whereas these insights are needed for sustainable urban development both in terms of growth and shrinkage.

Sustainable Housing
Germany is leading in Europe when it comes to sustainable energy policy. Already 25% of German energy is gained from sustainable resources. One of the more interesting building experiments is the energy contest taking place in Frankfurt. The two major housing corporations are ‘competing’ in building energy-plus-apartment-buildings. Neussauische Heimstadt has almost finished a small energy-plus-apartment block in Riedberg, on the outskirts of Frankfurt. The even bigger energy-plus-project of ABG Frankfurt in the city center is still under construction.

These buildings generate a surplus of energy to supply all the housing related energy demand and facilitate several electrical cars.
These energetic ambitions do have an enormous impact on the architecture. Roof and south façade are filled with solar panels to a maximum amount. Balconies and roof terraces are banned to the other sides of the building or skipped completely. One can wonder if integrating energy generating systems in housing projects to such an extent is the right solution for the future of housing.

Bottom Up Housing
Tübingen is one of the more extreme examples of the self build town. Tübingen has fully professionalized  ‘bottom up’ town planning.  In the nineties this town has started to give room for Baugruppen. We have visited ‘Französisches viertel’, the oldest area and ‘Die Alte Weberei’, the newest development area. This phenomenon of Baugruppen has started in the smaller towns as a means to build affordable housing for young people. But now also some of the bigger cities start to see the plusses. In Köln we have visited the project Baufreunden of Office03, in one of the first development areas in Köln with plots for Baugruppen.
In the Netherlands this phenomenon of self-build-housing  has been given an enormous boost during the recent housing crisis. Now that the housing market is recovering again the discussion has started to preserve this way of developing. It brings a lot of variation, housing quality and social sustainability to cities but it also demands a strong government policy to get and keep it organized. Tübingen is a good example in this perspective. It has chosen to follow this way of developing because of the qualities it brings to the city even in times of strong pressure on the housing market.

German Architects in housing
German architects have always had a bigger responsibility compared to Dutch architects. German architects operate as main contractors and are also responsible for the other advisors and the builder. On the one hand this gives the architect more possibilities to control the quality until the end. On the other hand it leads to architects taking less risks in the design of the technical detail.
Also in the many baugruppen-projects architects are often the initiator, which makes their position even stronger. It gives them more control to guarantee a typical German high building standard. Recent developments in the Netherlands show more often the architect in the role of initiator.  This gives them also the possibility to claim a stronger role in the process. If Dutch architects could combine this with their conceptual and typological approach to the design this could result into an integral high quality in housing.

What ’s next?
The trips to Scandinavia and Germany have shown us a part of Europe that is doing well, by healthy economies as well as by a well-organized society. Things function, policies are executed.
In October we will visit Spain & Portugal; the Southern survivors. This part of Europe has had more trouble to survive in a turbulent context of large financial problems, immigration overflow and a less stable political history .

A book and new European prototypes
What do these trips bring us? Future housing themes are being  answered with new design solutions all over Europe. We have started a collection of housing prototypes, new solutions to future housing issues: New European Housing Prototypes. And we are preparing a book about our discoveries in Europe. More about this in next posts.