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. Something went wrong sending our fifth and last postcard, but thanks to La Poste it finally arrived.
Experiments from the 60s and 70s
Ivry sur Seine, lies like Montreuil, just outside the Boulevard Périphérique. Its location along the Seine has created an extensive industrial zone between the river and the railway line that runs from Paris to the southeast of France. This industrial zone is still functioning. The center of Ivry has been considerably changed in the 70s. Several architects with great modernist ambitions, have designed a new centre. The most striking project is Les Etoiles from 1972, designed by Jean Renaudie. A project with a raised ground level, stacked terrace houses and integrated commercial facilities. Renaudie really liked triangles, which form the basis for the housing plans. And that works surprisingly well. Interesting is that the project is not only the centre of the city with its good public facilities and commercial spaces in de plinth, but also has provided great housing, that offers a world of its own. A kind of Bjerget (BIG, 2008) but without the liveless plinth. The triangle as a shape does not form an obstacle, but is inventively used by Renaudie to fit the complex into the context.
A somewhat older couple who have lived in Les Etoiles since the beginning guides us around their house. Their children grew up in their house of hundred square meters, organized around a real roof garden. The complexity of this project, caused by this concept of stacked terraced houses with the triangle shape, does not result in impossible maps. On the contrary, the plan is convincing spacious. The older couple moved within the complex over the years. They raised their children, and now the children moved out, they still enjoy living here. A strong quality of this project is the internal quality, independent of the hectic environment of the centre of Ivry. The project expresses both the uniqueness of the individual as the complexity of the city. It connects with existing edges of the plot and with the existing streets. Sometimes the building looks high and urban and sometimes more small-scale and intimate. It also seems to better adapt to the context and use than for example Robin Hood Gardens (Alison and Peter Smithson, 1972) in London, a project from the same time. This project has not been able to withstand the test of time because of its hermetic design.
Les Terrasses is another very convincing project in Ivry sur Seine from 1967, designed by Atelier de Montrouge, an architectural collective of which Jean Renaudie was part before he started is own office. These two turrets with stacked mansions in a generous collective garden were at the time built for EDF employees; Electricité de France, the largest electricity company in Europe.
The structure of these slender towers is very special. On each floor there is an apartment that runs all around the core and has views and outdoor spaces on all sides. Some levels are linked to form maisonettes. Recently, the buildings have been redeveloped and renovated. Unfortunately, one tower is now divided into smaller one and two room dwellings. The other tower still has the original layout with large all-round apartments. Just as in the centre plan, the quality is guaranteed on the plot and to a limited extent depending on its environment.
Top down gentrification
too, you see many new construction activities as a result of the pressure on the regional housing market. Contrary to Montreuil, which we visited earlier, the municipality of Ivry arranges this development top down. Ivry Confluence, the plan for the industrial zone, aims to strengthen the relationship with the Seine and to realize a mixed-use densification program for housing, work, facilities and commercial use. In total, approximately 5600 dwellings will be built on plots owned by different clients. A part is already realized. Unfortunately the experimental drive that characterized Ivry in the 1970’s has disappeared. The architectural quality and quality of living of these new buildings in Ivry Confluence is certainly not bad, but also not really surprising. The large-scale approach to the transformation in Ivry gives the area a completely different atmosphere than Montreuil. The new developments manifest themselves as independent enclaves in the existing neighbourhood, without interaction between old and new. In addition to the construction of new homes, there is also a lot of attention for the public space, something that receives less attention in Montreuil, among other things due to the more fragmented, transformation of city plots.
The more large-scale approach of transformation is an interesting source of inspiration for projects in Dutch cities in which large-scale industrial areas, with fragmented property, are transformed over a longer period into mixed-use residential districts, such as Amsterdam Sloterdijk 1. Ivry Confluence shows that attractive residential areas can arise in an industrial area, changing over a longer period of time by focusing on not to small scale clusters and paying attention to good quality public space. This does not detract from the fact that more space for the architectural experiment can contribute to a new identity in these areas, and can persuade residents to settle in an area (yet) dominated by industry.