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Louis Lupien — University of Cambridge 2021

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A project about the direction of urban transformations in suburban Paris and how it is possible to use emotions, more specifically the atmosphere of love, as a compass.

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TABLE OF CONTENT

Table of Content

Note on Format

 

In an attempt to marry the three core aspects of the Master in Urban Design of the department of Architecture in Cambridge (through which this research and project have been developed) and to make the most of the virtual environment in which this course is assessed and navigated, this portfolio is presented as a virtual object that merges thesis, implementation and design work in one interactive and immersive experience.

 

Therefore, this is simultaneously:

 

(1) a speculative design project about a housing estate in suburban Paris;

(2) a piece of philosophical and sociological research about the validity and potential of emotions — more specifically the atmosphere of love — as relevant tools for spatial practices;

(3) a virtual object existing in the world that will be used to make the case for the implementation of alternative futures in (or out) of suburban Paris and the potential of emotions to steer them.

A1

Les Agnettes Gennevilliers

Les Agnettes in the North West of Paris is a place right now in the middle of major transformations brought about by the arrival of a new train station of the Grand Paris Express on its Western Corner. Like dozens of other similar developments around Paris who will now be interconnected by the train network, it is now facing densification pressures. Les Agnettes and the dreams of the 50s are asking how should the story continue?

A — SITUATION

How should the

story of Les Agnettes be completed?

VIDEOS:

Le bidonville de Gennevilliers,ORTF  (1961)

Naissance d'une cité, Gennevilliers, Louis Daquin, (1964)

Doisneau, la banlieue en couleur (2017)

 

R Urban / Networks of civic resilience, Atelier d'Architecture Autogérée (2021) 

Why Les Agnettes?

The cité (housing estate) of Les Agnettes in the North West of Paris is in the middle of major transformations brought about by the arrival of a new train station on its Western Corner. The neighbourhood is an emblem of what Colin Rowe was calling The Architecture of Good Intentions: places born under the illusory impression that a rational urban plan dreamt by one person (or a few) can produce a collective and socially sustainable vision for city making. Product of post-war optimism and the efforts of its then communist mayor (Waldeck L'Huillier), the dream of Les Agnettes came to supplant the pre-existing slums in order to provide housing for the Newcomers. Later in the 1990s and 2000s, the area — like many others of the kind — came to be infamously known for its criminality and poor living conditions.

 

Today, being threatened again of the same scenario by the densification intentions of the Grand Paris, the residents of Les Agnettes have been looking for alternative ways for the story to unfold. This project is the projection and the visualisation of one of these alternative futures.

Map of the

Grand Paris Express highlighting the developments under threats of densification.

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The neighborhood, of 6,827 inhabitants, with a culturally diverse population and a notably low-income average (20K€/household)(Apur,2014), is at the centre of the heavy gentrification processes going on on the outskirts of Paris in relation to the coming of the Grand Paris Express: a new network of rapid transit lines. This new inter-communes system will connect Les Agnettes, with the construction of a new station on its Western corner, to the surrounding suburbs. Most importantly, it will give access, in minutes, to La Défense, the most important economic area of Paris. The densification efforts come after the neighbourhood has been selected as a high priority area by the NPRNU (the national program for urban renewal) financed by the ANRU (the national agency for urban renewal), managing nation-wide a budget of 42 billion Euros affecting a total of 4 million inhabitants.

A1 Why Les Agnettes
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I will be using the rue Jean Prévost and the place des Agnettes as a Synecdoche for how the whole of Les Agnettes could potentially evolve.

Where are we at now?

A masterplan has been drawn for the area and is already under construction. One corner of it is still untouched and will be used as a synecdoche for projecting how the whole of Les Agnettes could unfold alternatively. The projection and its implications will be serving as case study example for other similar neighbourhoods that are right now earlier in the process and dealing with similar tensions.

 

By destroying or partially demolishing certain existing buildings and adding new blocks in between it, the mayor and planners are aiming at "changing the image of the neighbourhood" by densifiying it and making it more attractive to newcomers and businesses. The efforts have unsurprisingly raised opposition from local inhabitants who have looked for different ways for the story to unfold. 

A3 Where are we at

Proposed masterplan scheme for the area in 2018.

MG -AU (2018).

(Additions in Yellow

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The area is right now under the densification plans carried by masterplaners SEMAG 92, architects MGAU and PRAXYS for landscaping. They have developped over the course of a decade a plan for the densification of the area. After years of consultation and protest coming from the local population, they have now downscaled the project and started to destroy and kick-started the reconstruction for a section of the site. The arrival of new money and residents that will diversify the economic demographic of the area have brought with itself its load of development that fits this new potential offer.

Proposed developments for the future of Les Agnettes by Agnece RVA.

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1964

From:“NAISSANCE D’UNE CITÉ, GENNEVILLIERS” by Louis Daquin, 1964

"Every year, Genevilliers loses its gray suburban feel. A new city is advancing with its bright, harmonious, functional and airy neighborhoods. The past and its anarchic constructions recedes, sometimes leaving behind a small sad pavilion or a tiny garden. The past stains, the new imposes itself. Cité des Agnettes, the first part of a self-imposed program by the municipality under the leadership of its communist mayor. Mayor: “Rational town planning and the construction of comfortable housing for workers were imperative for a town like Gennevilliers. It was therefore necessary to meet the needs of modern life.” The outlook is realistic: 30 years are here now which guarantees the future. This city was a distant land, a land of royal hunting. A country of chatelains and sailors: a shattered country. There is now a marked road which should lead to happiness."

2018

From: "PRÉSENTATION DU PROJET DE RÉNOVATION URBAN DES AGNETTES“  by Patrice Leclerc, 2018"

"We want to densify in order to “faire de la ville”, allow new populations to come and live in this district and thus create the economic conditions necessary for the life of local shops. We also want to diversify in order to offer a wider residential offer within the neighborhood and rebalance socially by building mainly home ownership. This will be an important factor in changing the image of the neighborhood, of the schools, to bring it closer to other areas of the city.

What's the issue?

Even if the intentions of the local authorities appears (again) to be good, the projected developments are proposing what appears to be a repetition of history (the first time as tragedy, the second as farce).  Antisocial and isolating blocks —with no relation to the context they are placed in — are threatening to swiftly gentrify the area by pricing out the current residents or physically expropriate them. While the existing buildings and urban realm definitely has the potential to be improved, another more inclusive, more delightful and more locally directed alternative path can be projected. The situation that Les Agnettes is facing is widespread across all developments touched by the Grand Paris Express and the tensions they are trying to negotiate are shared by many. 

A2 What's the issue?

Unsurprisingly, resident have been unsatisfied about the changes brought about the mayor, master-planners and architects. The demolition of certain “barres” or tower — and the displacement it brings with it — have shocked locals who are seeing their family, friends and acquaintances leave the area. The walling off or expropriation of still present pre-war housing, the creation of new unaffordable blocks and the destruction of green and playground areas are all reasons that are contributing to the unsatisfaction of local residents. Reduced to silence, the unsatisfied inhabitants of the area did not find support or energy to provide alternative options for the restructuring of their area.

In 1921, Le Corbusier was projecting rationality in the city of love.

 

In 2021, what would love look and feel

like in the city of rationality?

What are the aims of the project?

Imagine an alternative future for the urban development of Les Agnettes.

Visualise potential conditions and systematic changes that would address the current isolation experienced by the residents.

Put forward a direction and a process that could be considered by other neighbourhoods that are dealing with similar tensions. 

Make the case for the use of  emotions (more specifically the contemporary simulated urban atmosphere related to the emotion of love) as a direction for urban transformations.

A4 — What are he aims
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"Cubes, squares, rectangles. Everything straight, everything even. Clutter has been outlawed. But a little disorder is a good thing. That’s where poetry lurks. We never needed promoters to provide us, in their generosity, with ‘leisure spaces.’ We invented our own. Before the war, there were nooks and crannies everywhere. Today people are trying to eliminate shadows, straighten streets. You can’t even put up a shed without the personal authorization of the minister of culture. Spontaneity has been outlawed. People are afraid of life."

— Robert Doisneau

Old Paris is no more

(the form of a city changes more quickly, alas!

than the human heart)

— Baudelaire, The Swan (1861)

Les Agnettes is here

(the form of a city can change

at the pace of the human heart)

— Louis Lupien, Interplay (2021)

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EXISTING CONDITIONS

Agrocité

Existing community garden by Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée. Feidlwork base for summer 2020

Place des Agnettes

Grocery and Café (The only ones of the whole km2 of the development

Housing "Barres"

Homes / Barre 128

Est. Pop  / Barre : 355

Playground

Gathering social space for families and children

Future Parking Spaces

Current empty field to be converted in parking space

Greenery used as parking

Patches of "greenery" used as parking spaces.

Driving School

Pharmacy

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"To restore a building is not to preserve it, to repair, or rebuild it; it is to reinstate it in a condition of completeness which could never have existed at any given time." — Viollet-le-Duc

Who has done it before?

In 1902, Louis Bonnier, a critic of the straightness and monotony of Haussmanian streets was projecting an alternative future for Paris. An altered version of the roads that the Baron (Haussmann) had projected that was letting the creativity of craftmans/architects and the intentions of the inhabitants shine through. He was using the generous and solid canvas of Haussmanian architecture to bring the buildings to "a state of completeness that had never existed". The situation that architects and urban planners now have to deal with in the wake of the transformations of the Grand Paris share similarities to how they had to answer to Haussmann at the beginning of the 20th Century. Straightness, generosity and solidity as the dormant support for the flourishing of the personality, situation and culture of the local inhabitants of the banlieues.

All Drawings : Louis Bonnier, "Les Règlements de Voirie", Paris : Ch. Schmid, 1903, p.23, fig.4)

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Existing Conditions (Before 1902)

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Potential Conditions (After 1902)

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Existing Conditions (Before 1902)

Potential Conditions (After 1902)

The story that Louis Bonnier projected granted new freedoms to builder and architects, which lead to the explosion of the Art Nouveau movement and the invention of whole new typologies for the streets of Paris.

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B1 — Who has don it before
B — PRECEDENTS

How did Louis Bonnier do it?

He set in motion the completion of Haussmanian streets by:

Completing the story by projecting

an alternative future for it.

Pointing out the necessary changes for the completion to unfold in the direction he projected.

B2 — How did Louis Bonier do it?

How can this be used today?

By adapting the process to the conditions, situations and realities of the Grand Ensembles, we can visualise alternative paths for how the future of these neighbourhoods can unfold and orchestrate the necessary changes for those stories to develop. 

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Louis Bonnier

(1)

Completing the story by projecting an alternative future for it.

(2)

Point out the necessary changes for the story to unfold in that direction.

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How the story unfolded:

The explosion of the Art Nouveau Movement

The invention of whole new typologies

(e.g.: batiment à gradins of Henri Sauvage or the buildings of the rue Mallet Stevens)

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Louis Lupien

(1)

Completing the story by projecting an alternative future for it.

(2)

Point out the necessary changes for the story to unfold in that direction.

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How should the story unfold?

Using the emotional spectrum as a compass, more specifically the atmosphere of love as a direction.

B3 — How canthis beused today?

Has anyone already attempted to complete

the story of the grands ensembles?

Many have. Lucien and Simone Kroll, one of the most notable example, have dedicated their whole career at completing the spatial narratives of the grand ensembles (large-scale high-rise housing projects) by projecting what they were naming complexity and by redefining the role of inhabitants and architects in the production of space.

Their work was conceiving architecture less as a solution or an answer, but more as a continuity of continuous differentiation. Where the story unfolds step by step, incrementally for the city to gradually evolve and progressively represent the lives, intentions and personalities of the inhabitants of the area. By accepting the existing structures as they are, by redefining the role of the architect as an active agent embedded in the local government as a translator of intentions, Lucien and Simon Kroll have been able to set in motion a movement in many functionalist developments where the character of locals have been able to come forth and become progressively inscribed in the built form of their surroundings.

Simone et Lucien Kroll, Une Architecture Habitée, (2013)

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"We do not despise the old structures.

We dress them up little by little."

— Atelier Lucien Kroll, Enfin chez soi (1996)

Simone et Lucien Kroll, Une Architecture Habitée, (2013)

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B4 Has anyone attempted to competed the story o

Do these processes inscribe themselves

into more contemporary trends?

Many current architects and urban thinkers are borrowing from science fiction the practice of worldbuilding to make visible a specific future either within a defined space or in a whole fictional universe. Thinkers like Liam Young for example, calling himself a "speculative architect", is projecting worlds that are helping to illuminate certain areas of the future in order to help us make more strategic decisions within the present.

Planet City by Liam Young projects a world as if it would be rebuilt with an entirely different set of values and assumptions and ideals. Imagining a city that hosts the whole planet.

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"Architecture as the prototyping of possible futures."

— Liam Young

"The future is a vast dark and shadowed landscape. The more torches we have shining, the more we can see and map that potential landscape and the more we can make strategic choices about the path that we want to follow. To scaffold alternative ways of being."

B5 — Do These Process iscribe themselves

How is this project different from the ones of

these other people who have done it before?

While (C3) Liam Young is projecting worlds in relation to the relationships we have with technology or (C2) Lucien and Simone Kroll are using what they name complexity to complete the Grands Ensembles or (C1) Louis Bonnier is making projections in the name of freedom of expression, I am advancing that we can use the emotional spectrum — and their spatial manifestations (atmospheres) — as a compass instead of aimlessly projecting potential spaces. We can use Louis Bonnier's concrete pragmatic approach, the engaged participatory process of Lucien and Simone Kroll and the projective practice of speculative architects like Liam Young and add an emotional dimension and direction to them.

B6 — How is your project different?

In what direction

should the future of

Les Agnettes unfold?

In which direction should we point the torch?

This is the purpose of this project and the thesis behind it. Since projections are technically infinite, I advance that we can use emotions, more specifically their spatial manifestations — atmospheres — as a compass to visualise worlds. And I am arguing that in one treasured corner of that spectrum, there is a story we have been telling each for a while now, a story with a very rich imagery, that permeates every aspect of our lives, a narrative with a strong cultural significance that blossomed in parallel with modernity. A story that could help us make better streets.

B7— In which direction should we point the torch?
C — APPROACH

How can the emotional spectrum be used as a compass to project spatial futures?

In everyday life, we use our emotions — how we feel in the present — to direct our decisions towards positive, pleasant and engaging situations and away from the negative, unpleasant and disengaging ones. They are condensed constructions of the past, the present and the future that materialise themselves in an embodied experience. The same way, atmospheres (spatialised emotions) can serve us culturally to make more strategic choices in the present and orient the direction of futures.

For more on the construction of emotion: How emotions are made? By Lisa Fieldman Barret, Pan (2017)

C1 — How can the emotional spectrum be used

What are emotions like in space?

How do we feel, produce and project
emotional experiences (like love) spatially?

At the cultural level, geographers are using the term atmosphere to name our capacity to simulate emotions in space. Out of words like cosy, eerie or bleak, we can simulate, in our minds, detailed affective worlds that we can experience in their full sensuality (think of the last great novel you have read and feel again that space you created out of ink on a page). It is this capacity — at the individual and cultural level — to simulate spatialised emotions that, I sustain, is of special interest for spatial practices.

C2 — What are emotions lie in space?

Robert Solomon — Love: Emotion, Myth and Metaphor

Why do simulated atmospheres

can be useful for spatial practices?

Since they also exist culturally, the set of imageries that they contain carries with them the meaning of the emotion they are associated to. Atmospheres can therefore be considered, like myths, as cultural tools. By containing their own rituals and imagery — influenced by a mix of personal experiences and cultural exposure — they tell us stories that contain clues as to how to imagine and project “a way to live in the world that we construct for ourselves". They are a way to adapt our experience of reality in order to reframe the way that we engage with it.

C3 — Why do simulated atmopsphre can be useful?
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Not to escape reality, but

to give us a chance to inhabit it fully.