(Ville Nouvelle de Melun-Sénart, France) 1982-86
In 1967 Alain Sarfati, together with fellow students Philippe Boudon and Bernard Hamburger. founded in Paris the architectural review Mouvement-Architecture-Continuite. This became one of the most important cultural- forums for architecture in Europe, and still remains so, long after the founding team has disbanded. From the start, the review's main interest was the relation between architecture and the city. The first issue contained a translation of Christopher Alexander's article 'A City is not a Tree'; subsequent issues centred around Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City. Ironically, then, much of the search for a truly urban, urbane architecture in France at this time was strongly influenced by American writers.
Almost twenty years later, not only the viewpoint but also the influence of American theorists of city planning is still evident in this housing project by Sarfati for a new district surrounding the city hall in the ville nouvelleof Melun-S6nart, in the countryside on the edge of Paris. The concepts behind it are unmistakably, on the one hand, Venturi's complexity and contradiction' and. on the other, Lynch's 'street' and 'imaginability'.
'Emerging out of the station,' Sarfati writes of the finished project, 'one gets the extraordinary impression of having set foot in the country, while at the same time an invisible line, an immaterial boundary, gives the distinct feeling that one is in a city.'
As opposed to those typically regimented, subsidized public-housing projects which are characterized by their simplified built form and reductive lifestyle, the Savigny-le-Temple housing is like an adventure playground in the individualization of the units, their entrances, their small-scale elements, the disrupted rhythms and contrasts usually associated with a historical street: smooth and rough, see-through and opaque, old and new. private and public, 'dirty real* and fabulistic, regionalist and international.
The aim was. as Sarfati remarked in his article 'The Exploded City', at a moment when 'the world has become a world of the interior', to provide 'an exterior, a public space which projects our ambitions'. The design of the street is his answer to this demand. The first building of the complex, with its strong gable element of concrete, is conceived as the beginning of a succession of widely divergent visual experiences, laid out along a route which ends in a corner made of white metal. The intention of the architect is to make the buildings look like the gleaming sides of the prow of a ship, 'marching in the street' like objects of 'envies, passions, dreams'. Roland Barthes would say, as if 'the dream of a city [were] temporarily grounded but waiting to go forward.'
(Left) View of the facade (Below) Site plan (Opposite)
(Above) Exterior view of the corner of the block
(Below left) An entrance staircase
(Below right) Plans and elevations of one of the blocks
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