Social Housing On The Boulevard Vincent Auriol

(Paris, France) 1987-90

This is a low-budget social housing project for 123 units, subsidized by the City of Paris under its mayor Jacques Chirac. The site is located at the end of the Boulevard Vincent Auriol near the Quai de la Gare road in the 13th arrondissement, a major traffic artery leading out of Paris. Across the river is the warehouse-punctuated landscape of Bercy.

The boulevard, a mainly residential zone traditionally separated from the historic centre of Paris by the Gare d'Austerlitz and the mammoth complex of the Salp£tri£re Hospital, had been becoming progressively run down. As is the case with so many commissions given to the younger generation of architects, the site is harsh. More specifically, it is a typically Fou-cauld landscape composition. It is immediately adjacent to the smoke stacks of the massive Salpetriere Hospital and to a home for the elderly.

What dominates the area is the 19th-century Métro Aérien (which fascinated Roland Barthes so much), which runs from one end of the boulevard to the other. Its heavy stone and steel structure embodies more than anything else the genius loci of the boulevard.

The architect might have chosen to negate the surroundings of the site and to retreat into an idealized world, like the post-modernists of the previous generation, for example Rob Krier and Oswald Matthias Lingers. Instead, Bouchez chose a simple, straightforward option: far from denying the site, he incorporated in a most unexpected way its most dominant unifying element into his own design - the elevated metro. In the architect's words, the choice was made because 'it was the only element to play with'.

Behind the double row of sycamore trees that separate the building from the metro line, the metro is reflected in the building. The facade, broken down into two blocks divided by three inner courts, reproduces the inflexions and rhythm of the metro's stone piers and metallic arches. The three inner courts are 'carved out' at equal intervals along its surface, which helps to distance the apartments from the noise of the traffic. A variation on the theme of cold grey stone and shiny metal, the grey, prefabricated panels of polished concrete that clad the facade, grey on the street side, white on the side facing the inner courts, were produced by IB Morin. They are not only of high visual quality, they also help to reduce the impact of the 40-decibel noise level outside. Visually, they are separated by three horizontal train rails of stainless steel. The irregularly placed openings imply movement through their broken patterns, as if imitating the jerky, staccato cadence of passing metro cars. The

(Opposite, above left) Volumetric plan of the building and site

(Opposite, below) Typical unit floor plan

(Opposite, right) The facade, screened by trees from the Métro Aérien

(Below) The brise-soteil

(Bottom) The Métro Aérien in front of the facade

brises-soleil on the southern side of the building. made of two glinting tracks of perforated, galvanized steel that swerve out from the roof of the building into the sky. also refer to the theme of the flying metro. The building, which combines high-quality construction with a very low budget - as the French architectural critic François Lamarre points out - and a good standard of urban livability. also succeeds in grasping in its static form le mythe moderne: in Baudelaire's much-quoted phrase, 'the transitory, the fleeing, the contingent'.


Chemetov & Huidobro Architectes


(Paris, France) 1982-90

For years France's Ministry of Finance was accommodated in the north wing of the Louvre. The design of its new building, perpendicular to and partly straddling the superhighway along the Quai de Bercy to the east of Paris, is the result of an open national competition held in 1982. The winning project, despite its sculptural, volumetric affinities with El Lissitzky's horizontal skyscraper (1923-25), carries the memory of the old classical, conservative spatial layout schema.

As Agnes Vince has remarked, the more innovative aspects of the building are related to its technical construction rather than its spatial organization: not necessarily a drawback. There are virtually inexhaustible possibilities in the classical way of partitioning a building, in its orthogonal grid structure, in its functional differentiation between servant and served, public and private, both differentiations expressed spatially in terms of the simple duality of room and corridor. And as the Ministry's plan shows, this classical formula, implemented through the paratactic ordering of offices along the two sides of a long rectangular prism, the services running down the middle, achieves a very satisfactory balance between efficiency and effectiveness, flexibility and spatial clarity.

It is obvious that, with the workplace units in a row on the two outside walls of the linear skin, the formula easily satisfies needs for natural light, view and natural ventilation. There is a window for every office, incidentally in response to a demand made by the staff stating their aversion to 'introverted' office spaces. It is interesting that the post-May '68 users considered this kind of environmental amenity as their first priority rather than more ideological considerations concerning, for example, the issues of emancipation or 'space appropriation' in the workplace. At the same time, the formula provided an arrangement with a low cost of circulation for the employees and low disturbance. Avoiding the hierarchization of offices in terms of centrality makes any future reorganization of administrative departments relatively easy. Finally, such a linear, tripartite schema is easy to remember and understand, therefore easy to find one's way around.

There are also symbolic benefits to be gained from this kind of traditional, undifferentiated, ordered schema: it can be taken as a representation of egalitarianism, utopianism and the absence of the ritualistic expression of homo hierarchicus. The only major exceptions to this flexible spatial organization are the spaces designated for the ministers and their immediate collaborators. These are located strategically at the prow of the bridge-building in a cubic volume whose slight de-axing is oriented towards Notre Dame. A different arrangement is prescribed for the administra tive offices as a whole. On all other floors, only the dimensions of the rooms reveal a hierarchy of the employees. Unfortunately, the basic concept gives rise not only to these positive qualities, but also to a prevailing character of bureaucracy and its inevitable corollaries routine, monotony, impersonality.

The design of the facade of the building stems from technical considerations, but its formal variety results to a great extent from an obvious effort to break away from the severe character of the plan (with some concern for acknowledging the influence of the 'rationalist motifs of the late 1970s). A facade, however, can be more than a statement of variety and fashion, especially if the building in question not only represents a massive information-processing industry, as any ministry does, but also happens to be a major government building.

The indecisive, and to some extent, unenthu siastic and somewhat banal character of the project is not the result of any lack of inspiration or some new kind of restrictive theory adopted here about architectural inventive ness. It springs rather from the overt absence of a new kind of architectural programme that redefines the role of the workplace, the basic identity of the project, as well as the role of the state, the project client, at a moment when new lifestyles and new world views are emerging in the advanced technological countries at the close of this century.

All the same, when one approaches the building from the road, travelling perpendicu larly towards and under it as it soars above one towards the river, its profile is quite exhilarating. Its effect is similar to what one imagines might have been created by El Lissitzky's horizontal skyscraper project, conceived as an elevated propylaeum opening onto the pen pheral ring surrounding the centre of Moscow, had it ever been built - an example of 'highway architecture' in the best sense.

(Right) The building stops at the Seine

(Below) The Ministry seen from the Seine

(Opposite) The building straddling the road

(Bolow right) Volumetric plan of the building within its site


Building Workshop Renzo Piano S. NICOLA FOOTBALL STADIUM

(Bari, Italy) 1987-90

This structure is an immense white rose, as in Dante's vision of Paradise in the Divine Comedy. that emerges out of the unsullied landscape of Puglia. The upper level, consisting of independent segments, rises like a soaring whorl of petals from a cup planted in a verdant mound of land. A roof of luminescent teflon seems to float in the sky above the upper edges of the petals, creating an illusion of pure white light over the white rose. Next to the stadium, Piano has preserved a single trullo, a small, traditional, cone-shaped, whitewashed building common in this area; in this context, it conjures up the image of a rose bud.

Piano is no stranger to wild metaphors. One has only to recall the concert chamber in the shape of a gigantic violin which he designed for the performance of the Italian composer Luigi Nonno's Prometeo in Milan (1983). But the association here, between a paradisial rose and a football stadium, between exalted purity and a theatre of ritualized violence, is unexpected. It generates a semantic dissonance that lends an aura of absurdity to the activities occurring within the structure.

More closely examined, this fantastic form, in addition to being a statement about an often violent kind of mass-culture, is a shrewd and pragmatic invention. The lower level of seats is carved out of the mounded base, while the upper level consists of 26 independent segments. The gaps between the segments help to separate rival factions among the 60,000 spectators it is designed to hold - a high priority considering the recent history of violence at football matches.

Peter Rice, of Ove Arup & Partners, was the structural engineer who turned this metaphor into an engineering feat. Each of the gracefully curved petals uses a minimum of support and is composed of pre-cast barrel staves assem-

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