Two distinct urban situations characterize the housing project in the 14th arrondissement of Paris: on one hand, the blocks facing the Rue des Suisses and the Rue Jonquoy and on the other, the courtyard with high fire walls at the back (îlot).
Our two apartment buildings on Rue des Suisses and the Rue Jonquoy are incorporated in the frontage, typical of housing blocks in many Parisian arrondissements. Verticals characterize the overall design of the relatively homogeneous façades of the adjacent buildings. As in most Parisian quarters of the 19th century, the street thus conveys certain elegance despite the fact that the individual buildings are not particularly attractive. Our two apartment buildings with their folded frontage and folding shutters fit seamlessly into the vertical arrangement of the frontage. The folding shutters can be adjusted individually by tenants so that, in spite of the targeted homogeneity of the façades, the overall impression of their appearance varies. As in the neighboring buildings, the flats are accessed via a central staircase, with a concierge checking the entrance on the Rue des Suisses.
The situation in the courtyard in the back was entirely different, because there were no predetermined urban specifications to use as a typological basis for the project. How should one go about planning the flats? What city-planning strategies should be pursued? What kind of buildings, what kind of architecture should be placed there?
We tried to realize a model for living that is relatively unusual in the centre of Paris, and that would attract an entirely different kind of tenant than the street-front buildings. Instead of competing with the towering fire walls, we settled on a horizontal strategy, that is, we kept the buildings low to ensure that as many flats as possible would be directly and intimately connected with the grounds and the garden.
An extended, three-story structure with arcade-like balconies forms the backbone of the complex in the interior of the block. Adjoining it are cottage-like, one-storey buildings for the kitchens and bathrooms. In front of the long garden wall that runs along a school playground, we built a few extra small, one-family homes with gabled roofs. The result looks like a seemingly random system of small units, courtyards and lanes with fragments of old and new walls covered with cultivated and wild vegetation.
This urban model comes as surprise when one enters the courtyard because it presents such a great contrast to the alignment of 19th century blocks facing the street. But on taking a closer look, one discovers a few remnants of a still older, pre-Haussmann quarter, little streets like the Villa Mallebay, Villa Duthy or Villa Jamot, whose small scale and proportions are reflected in our buildings.
The living quarters in the different buildings and parts of buildings vary greatly in size, layout and placement, but all are designed with maximum daylight and interesting views of the landscaped courtyard.
The fair-faced concrete walls have been covered with a large, grid-like net of synthetic ropes to provide a growing base for climbing plants like ivy and wild grape vines. Wooden roller blinds along the three-storey façade run on molded metal tracks, giving the building a profile, like a piece of furniture.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2000