The Parisian suburbs are known for their grands ensembles, massive suburban apartment complexes built in the 1950s and 1960s.
Square, monofunctional and surrounded by open spaces, they are the materialization of the reigning Modernist ideology of the time and are the first view foreign visitors get from Paris as they arrive from Roissy Charles De Gaulle or Orly Airport, as in the view of Sarcelles below.
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Less well known, but no less spectacular, is perhaps the subsequent wave of urbanization that occurred in the 1970s and 80s around Paris. In reaction to Modernist principles, the designs of the new housing developments were characterised by a return to classical forms of architecture and ornamentation.
A group of young architects, wanting to shy away from the mere “functionality” of Modernism, took advantage of the new urban plans of the 1970s, the villes nouvelles, which provided them with an opportunity to implement their burgeoning ideas. Using the most advanced building techniques at their disposal, they attempted to show that building mass housing at a reasonable cost with unique details could be possible through standardized production.
With this idea in mind, I surmised that taking a day trip to check out these developments would lead me to those buildings where you have the impression that the architect went crazy and nobody told him to stop…I was right. Here are a few choice cuts.
Les Espaces d'Abraxas, was conceived by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill as an inhabited monument in the context of the ville nouvelle of Marne-La-Vallée. The 591-unit complex is made up of three main parts: the Palacio, a 19-story high apartment building; the théatre, a curved section of apartments demarcating a plaza in the centre; and the arc in the centre, modelled on a triumphal arch containing 20 apartments.
Source: Untapped Cities.
Not far from Espaces d'Abraxas is Les Arènes de Picasso. Buildings are organised in an octagonal layout with two 14-story tall circular units on two facing sides. A green park with a large figural sculpture is in the centre.
The complex accommodates 540 dwellings, a kindergarten, a high school and a few convenience stores. In the post-Modernist tradition, Spanish architect Manolo Nuñez Yanowsky intended to break with standardized, functional modern architecture.
The overall setting is highly symbolic--the two circular modules are aligned on an axis parallel to the Equator and are meant to represent the wheels of an overturned chariot. Repetition in design is avoided through a host of architectural details reminiscent of a Native American or Aztec art-deco aesthetic.
Source: Untapped Cities.
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