While European cities present very low demographic growth today, they have extraordinarily urban and even agriculturally built environments. Adding to these circumstances circumstances certain environmental and social sustainable values, and bearing in mind the current economical situation, you can reach the conclusion that the re-use existing built patrimony – obsolete after new and continuous social, economic and technological changes – is a need. In this context, French architects Anne Lacaton & Jean Philippe Vassal have been developing an uncommon philosophy marked by their interest in preservation and social living improvement refurbishments, very far from the professional positioning of most reknown architects. Among their recent works are projects like the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and others like the new Architecture School of Nantes and the peripheral extension of Bois-Le-Prêtre tower in Paris.
This last project is the result of a competition organized in 2005 by Paris Habitat, the Public Housing Office that following the demolition and reconstruction policy, sought to create a new block of flats for this location. The composed team was headed by Frédéric Druot and Lacaton & Vassal Architects, and proposed an alternative solution in agreement with the contemporary economical situation, while remaining faithful to their own principles. The original building was designed and built in the 1960s by Raymond Lopez. It was later renovated in 1990s by Tecteam, adding a not very attractive exterior cladding to the façade which ensured that the building met technical insulation standards. However, the renovated façade created small windows that worsened the living conditions.
In Lacaton-Vassal-Druot's project, this façade has been removed and replaced by large transparent openings, so that the inhabitants will profit from the exceptional views over Paris, while increasing the sunlight levels and fitness for the inhabitants of the dwellings. The project consists of a rehabilitation and 3-metre-wide extension of the apartments with a self-supporting structure surrounding the perimeter of the tower, undertaken on-site and without dislodging the residents. This surface area is divided into two strips; first one of two meters wide hosting a 'winter garden' and the other accommodates a continuous open balcony with transparent balustrades.
Together with the extensions and modifications of the apartments, there was an addition of two new elevators, and on the ground floor the hall has been refurbished and opened to new a garden created in the back of the building.
The solution has been thought to be worth approximately of 100.00 € per apartment instead of the option of demolishing and reconstructing one proposed by the promoters of 170.000€, and permits a 50% reduction in noise and energy consumption.
The project of Lacaton-Vassal-Druot is a brilliant contemporary example of working within built-up heritage, solving with an exceptional industrial and even adaptable solution the problem which many European cities face.
Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (@GonzaloHerrero) and Maria José Marcos (@magicarch) are directors of DOT Agency for Architectural Affairs (@aaaadot), an agency for the diffusion of contemporary architecture through writtings and exhibitions based in Madrid and Paris.