Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Tour Bois-le-Prêtre: making the social desirable

The Tour Bois-le-Prêtre, standing alongside the périphérique autoroute on the very limits of the city, has recently been transformed from a crumbling outcast to an award-winning structure. Could it show the way forward for high-rise structures around the world?

Last month, architects Anne Lacaton, Jean-Philippe Vassal and Frédéric Druot picked up the Equerre d’argent 2011, an annual architecture prize awarded by the Moniteur press group. The judges saluted the way that the team had reimagined a structure that was originally built in the 1960s, transforming it from a banal concrete block to a sustainable building that is open to its surroundings and filled with natural light.

The architects' leitmotif is 'détruire, c’est gaspiller' (destruction is waste). For this project, nothing was removed, but 3500m² of space was added to the 100 apartments, mostly by adding 'winter gardens' and balconies. For the people living in the tower block - none of whom needed to be rehoused during the work - an additional 20 to 60m was added to their homes. On top of this, heating costs will be drastically reduced and noise pollution from the neighbouring motorway will almost completely disappear.

The tower when originally built, in its 1980s form and how it looks today.

The exterior of the building now looks like the kind of modern, smart block that would attract young professionals worldwide, but according to the residents, it is from the inside that the changes have been most noticeable. Looking at the slideshow on the website of the city of Paris, it is almost possible to forget that the building not only overlooks the motorway, but also the Batignolles cemetery!

Tower blocks are still the subject of great debate, particularly in Paris, but it is difficult to see how this particular project could be seen as anything but exemplery. Organisations such as SOS Paris claim to want to preserve the architectural heritage of the city, but exactly what heritage is there to save in these city-limit corridors alongside busy roads, cemeteries, factories and warehouses? If people have to live in these zones, shouldn't we at least give them the chance to rise up above their surroundings?

Another argument against towers is that they are community destroyers, but alongside the tour Bois-le-Prêtre, the city of Paris is currently creating an entirely new street (Rue Rebière) of mixed social and private housing - and the results are surprising to say the least!

The nine architectural agencies involved in the creation of these buildings worked together from the beginning of the project, in association with the city of Paris and local residents. In total, 180 new apartments will be available from 2013, 140 of which have been earmarked for those in most need of accommodation.

A far cry from sterile Haussmannian uniformity, each building on this street is different from the next, and each stands alone. And yet there are still very clear links between them all, noticeably through their playfulness and through the regular use of openings (balconies, terraces) that look out onto the street or towards neighbouring properties (see the M building for a good example of this).

There is one other feature they all share - they all back onto the Batignolles cemetery. Experimental housing perhaps, but at least we can be sure that there will be no complaints about noisy neighbours!


e said...

Hello Adam,

I'm always eager to see posts like this one because they show how communities are coming together and thinking about sustainable housing options and needs for accommodation.I'm curious to know whether, for example, there is wheelchair-adapted housing available in these?

Adam said...

Thanks for your comment e. There definitely seems to be a desire to create a community here, with the infrastructure (creche, schools - including the only 'international' college/lycée in the pulic sector at the end of the street) already in place.

You raise a very good point about wheelchair-adapted housing. I'm still shocked by how little is adapted in France to the disabled, with the result being that you simply don't see people in wheelchairs in the city.

Certainly the tower is adapted. There are no steps up from street level, and there are of course large lifts in the building (another plus point compared to the traditional Haussmannian building). I would certainly hope that these other new structures include everything necessary to make them adapted to wheelchair users, but I'm afraid that in France this still isn't a subject that is sufficiently wel dealt with by developers and urbanists.

PeterParis said...

Nice job by the architects (may not include the original one!)! :-)

Now, or course, we see one of the top floors. What about those on the level of the pereferique? I know, this is not easy and flats for normal income people are needed... but basically I believe that buildings around these big traffic flows shoule rather be offices.

Another question is what will reamain of the 1960 architecture? Not much, you may add hopefully, but will we one day regret that nothing has been left? Well , I guess that nobody would regret this building in its original form.

gee said...

greatn blog, these architects have a lot to answer for er?

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