The Zone d'Amenagement Concerte (ZAC) at Bercy where the old Paris wine warehouses used to be on the banks of the Seine is an inspiring model of what planning can do to tame the mighty destructive forces of the market and Modernism, which together and separately, have done so much to destroy traditional European cities. The developments along rue de Pommard, where Jean-Pierre Buffi and others created a sequence of small courts and little streets leading down to the new urban park along the river, are some of the most sophisticated pieces of European urban housing built in the last decade (AR June 1995): they self-consciously draw on the traditions of Paris, while using up-to-date constructional techniques, and the spatial and formal potential these offer.
Now, the other side of the rue de Bercy (the spine of the whole development) is being rebuilt and one of the first results is the corner of the block where rue Corbineau joins Bercy. As usual in a ZAC, several architects have been asked to work together to ensure that there is a degree of variety within the strong overall plan - a tradition that goes back to Haussmann and perhaps earlier. Francis Nordemann and Georges Maurios worked out an overall scheme in which the heights of their contributions are related and the street front seems of a piece. It was important to present a united and strong statement on this site for it is surrounded by powerful neighhours. Across the road is the Bercy Palais Omnisport (the one which looks like a truncated green pyramid, with grass sides set at improbable angles); just a little further down the Seine is Chemetov & Huidobro's frightening Ministry of Finance, which bridges over the road and sticks out into the water (AR August 1989); and over the river are the mighty towers of the Tres Grande Bibliotheque (AR July 1995).
Nordemann and Maurios and their colleagues are in a sense required to provide an urban backdrop to all these detached object-monuments. They are helped in the task by the new height limits in the area, which allow them to go up nine storeys high (as opposed to the old six floor walk-up tenements which are virtually standard throughout traditional Paris). This has allowed them to create a predominantly horizontal slab with its lines emphasised by the generous balconies of each flat. Both schemes have recessed and darkened upper floors so that the traditional cornice line of the area is retained (though because modern floor heights are lower than those of the nineteenth century, today's architects can cram in seven storeys where there were only six before).
Nordemann on the corner site has responded a bit wildly, with slightly wonky dark stone faced balconies at the angle itself. Maurios has adopted a more sober approach and has the more interesting site. His chunk of facade on rue de Bercy is pierced by a pedestrian way running through the block almost at right angles to the big street. He has made a celebratory propylaeum which marks the entrance of the small tree-lined route and cut block heights to six stories, so that the thoroughfare is not too dark. As in the rue de Bercy facade, the treatment is predominantly horizontal, but here again, each flat is identifiable within the overall order, so a sub-theme of towers of individual dwellings is set in counterpoint to the strong lines of the balconies.
The problem with the first stage of the Bercy ZAC was that, excellent though both the urban form and the individual flats may have been, the traditional European tenement model (which has been the pattern of dense cities since the Roman Empire) was largely abandoned: there were few local uses (restaurants, bars and shops) in the ground floors of the housing blocks. As Nordemann and Maurios's work shows, this has been corrected to the east of rue de Bercy. There is a bistro and a huge sandwich bar on the main street; behind in the pedestrian part, there are a couple of little cafes: more may come.
This is not grand or gestural architecture, but it has a good deal to teach about modesty (not a quality for which French architects are usually renowned), respect for tradition and urban life. Paris could do with more such schemes in which humanity and decency are celebrated, rather than flashy figure.
Architect Georges Maurios Architects (assistance Luc Houel) Francis Nordemann Architecte
Photographs All photographs by Olivier Wogenscky apart from 3 which is by Stephane Couturier/Archipress
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||mixed development in Paris, France|
|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
|Previous Article:||Catalan context.|
|Next Article:||Singular suspension.|