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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.
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?
How should the
story of Les Agnettes be completed?
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)
The Architecture of Good Intentions, Colin Rowe (1994)
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.
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.
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.
Mobilisation pour garder les tours des Agnettes, Le Parisien (2016)
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.
Proposed masterplan scheme for the area in 2018.
(Additions in Yellow
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.
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."
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.
Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
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.
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.
"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)
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
Homes / Barre 128
Est. Pop / Barre : 355
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.
"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)
Existing Conditions (Before 1902)
Potential Conditions (After 1902)
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.