The subject of the grands ensembles (housing complexes) selected for the French Pavilion is a good example of the ambivalence of an architect’s role, which is often decried; once, the urban environment of towers and large housing complexes was even blamed for social unrest in the “schemes”, also known as “estates” or “projects”. On the contrary, the challenge raised by this exhibition aims to show that contemporary architects have things to say about the “suburban crisis,” by working on “transformation” rather than just “repairs”.
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Grands & Ensembles portrays a town with a population of 300,000 – 400,000: European, French, and part of the Paris region, but not found on any administrative map. The town, which stretches from Marne-la-Vallée to Aulnay-sous-Bois, is covered by the major mass transit system being set up in the Paris region to constitute a dense urban network. This would enable the town to avoid the dominant “wheel and spokes” trend in transport layouts that the “Grand Paris” project is attempting to overcome. We will call it the “Dorsale Est”, or eastern backbone.
In the municipalities making up the area, there are strongly contrasting types of housing, and yet they show little real variety; they include large complexes whose names have hit the headlines at times, and are well known even outside France. The complexes are often seen solely in terms of their social problems and their lack of strong economic activities.
Nevertheless, these large projects, which are undergoing wide-scale renovation, could trigger a radical transformation of the unloved area, and give it a major part to play in setting up the “Grand Paris.”
This means that in order to become a “real town” and put its human potential to good use, the area has to make the most of the contemporary issues it raises, and leapfrog ahead of “traditional” towns instead of merely trying to catch up with them. To attract new resident populations, it will have to highlight its own strengths: its exceptional situation in the metropolis, and the potential of its environment, a location bordering on green fields, where links between urban development and natural environment can be reinvented, and architecture could combat the usual urban solutions. Rather than being an exception to the rule, such ordinary solutions could consist of ongoing alterations and improvements.
A large-scale model, a documentary, and numerous graphics will be displayed, to highlight the potential strengths of this exceptional area, and especially its possible transformation, stemming from work done by Ateliers Lion associés, the ENSAVT school of architecture, the Campana Eleb Sablic firm, the SciencesPo Institute of political studies, and partners architects.
Space Design: THE Architectes, Nissim Haguenauer, Joachim Seyer, David Juhel Graphic Design: Guillaume Grall, Benoit Santiard