Livability Paris Style
Borel's design is nothing short of an intriguing, fanciful creation. Housing units line the periphery, and a sunken garden, landscaped as curvy mounds and winding valleys covered with greenery, occupies the middle. At the back end of the garden, two eccentric, nearly windowless towers sheathed in stone punctuate the space. One is light gray and the other dark; the contours of one slant up and those of the other down. Borel uses the dynamics of both empty space and solid volumes as feature elements of his architecture.
Also by Borel is an utterly unconventional 17-story apartment building on Rue Pelleport (1999), looking like a constructivist sculpture rattled by an earthquake. Geometric planes, some brightly colored, stand tall, albeit not straight, in a compressed, seemingly random conglomerate of unitary parts. Disorder and upheaval are dominant impressions from the entry side. In extreme contrast, the perspective facing Rue Pelleport is of a single white plane.
On closer inspection, the Borel building also has eccentricities — like the long band of vent-like openings and three extension panels demarcating the surface; the red pyramidal wedge that incongruously appears to be holding the entire side of the building aloft; and the barrage of colorful shapes jutting up from the rooftop.
The Quartier Tolbiac Redevelopment has groupings of housing arranged along the quay and office structures lining Avenue de France. Pedestrian paths and verandas add openness to the layout while apartment terraces provide privacy and striking views.
The facade of the third block of apartments on the garden is distinguished by a checkered pattern formed of black and light-gray panels that slide over the windows as sunshades. This design by Philippe Gazeau (2000) also includes balconies situated as bridges or cantilevered out from a blank wall like an open drawer.
Near the Place Nationale is a 25-unit public-housing building by Architecture Studio (1985-87), unabashedly displaying a raw industrial aesthetic and vanguard creativity. In addition, it stands as a kind of prototype for construction on a "leftover," difficult site. One facade angles back sharply from the corner, where an open structural frame denotes the entrance. This frame is actually part of an imaginative crane the architects had to develop to construct the building, since the narrow, wedge-shaped plot wouldn't accommodate an ordinary crane. Not only did the architects leave the crane as part of the building, but they conspicuously exposed it at both the ground and roof levels as a focal design element.
The architects drew further attention to the building by transforming the entire left facade into a tiled street-métro-bus map showing the exact location of the building in relation to the surrounding area. The mural is so captivating, with white diagonal lines crisscrossing in all directions, that you hardly see the orderly rows of windows immersed within.
Nearby is a housing project by Christian de Portzamparc and Georgia Benamo (1979). Initially, the city planned to construct two tower blocks for public housing on this site. The architects, however, challenged the inhumanity of monotonous, assembly-line buildings, proposing instead a conglomerate of eight individualized structures (209 units) set around a modest courtyard.
From the street, the dramatic half-circle and rectangle cut into the white facades and inset with bricks betray a blatant lack of conformity to a regularized, conventional design. More egregious deviations occur on the buildings turned toward the inner courtyard. They are different heights and odd shapes; spaces between the structures and juxtapositions are eccentric; windows are of various sizes and diverse designs; flat surfaces are punctured with voids and recessed elements; and isolated arches and lintels hang in the air high above passageways. The rhythmic play of elements cuts the scale even as it animates the environment.
As its title suggests, "Les Echelles du Baroque" or "Scale of the Baroque" (1979-84), by Ricardo Bofill, was inspired by Italian baroque architecture, especially the circular piazzas and overwhelming sense of grandeur. Bofill borrowed freely from these sources to produce a witty, modernized pastiche.
The complex has 270 units divided between two clearly differentiated interior plazas. "The Amphitheater" has bush-laden balustrades and a semicircular grass courtyard, with pseudo-baroque elegance and pomposity. What you see is literally a facade; the pillars and columns are surface-deep imitations.
Irreverent indulgence in baroque-modern construction is even more flamboyant in the second, elliptical plaza, "The Columns." In this design, Bofill has transformed a colonnaded facade into mirrored glass. And here the columns are neither surface designs nor structural supports: they are habitable spaces. This public housing gives its residents privacy and a quiet, ennobling form of living space that accommodates its urban setting without succumbing to its mass, dehumanizing mundaneness.
More housing by Architecture Studio in the Parc Citroën is squeezed into the angled space between Balard and Cauchy Streets. Although occupying most of the land area, various aspects of the design create a sense of openness and inspired efficiency. Foremost among these are the double-row layout with one structure behind another, the diagonal back on the front row, a green space in between, height variation, and the division of the low structure into segments separated by space.
The office units lining Rue Cauchy boldly revamp the usual. Not only their triangular form but the sunshade system capped by a visor-like framework on the rooftop are eye-catching and inventive.
Amid dismal tower blocks on Rue de Flandre, displaying bad urban renewal from the 1960s and 70s is a stellar apartment tower (1996) by Tectône. By using different colors — rust red, white, black, slate gray — the architects not only define and contrast each tall subdivision but also effectively subvert the mass volume of the tower form.
Other notable features include the stepped arrangement of loft-scale windows on the gray facade, the progressive cantilevering of a corner stack of balconies, the screen and metal cylinder enclosing fire stairs, and the horizontally angled front and glass-covered roof garden on the red segment.
Although the Tectône design juxtaposes variant, multicolored, angular, upright parts, it doesn't have an explosive, random character. A cohesiveness prevails largely because the diverse elements fit tightly together, and contour lines, especially diagonals, animate the structure without creating dissonant rhythms.
Incorporating creative architecture, lots of green space and people-friendly areas for both office and housing , these new neighborhoods are attractive settings. Because they include significant components of the city's culture, education, entertainment, corporate and transportation domains, they are also part of the inner-city structure.
Sidra Stich is an art historian, travel writer, and author of art-SITES Britain, art-SITES Spain, art-SITES France, and art-SITES Paris.
This article is excerpted from art-SITES Paris copyright © 2002, available from art-SITES Press and at Amazon.com.
Note: Photos in the book are in black and white.