PARIS – Located in Paris’ Quartier Latin, the recently completed social housing project by Vous Êtes Ici Architectes is a sensitive exercise in local bricolage. Already tucked away in a small side street, a casual passer-by might miss it entirely, despite its large, orange-framed fenestration.
Claiming to 'de-densify' the city block – while actually adding 11 apartments – the architects have set a large portion of the resulting, rather sculptural building back from the street, permitting sunlight to reach an adjacent playground, all the while creating a small, front yard for the residents, as well as a back yard, which is accessible from another street.
The shape of building, which seems to be carved from a massive block, is dictated as much by the architects’ wish to create a liveable environment, as by city’s regulations, which stipulated two different building heights within the confines of the plot. The resulting structure consists of two irregular wings, connected in the middle by a staircase which mediates between the different levels.
To respond to Paris’ environmental plan, architects have clad some elevations with untreated spruce, which will age over time and blend in with the surrounding. ‘The other feature of the façade is the use of the pre-aged natural zinc, which integrates our intervention into typical Paris morphology, such as that of the neighbouring buildings,’ explains Paul Pflughaupt, one of the principals of Vous Êtes Ici Architectes.
The choice of bright orange for the window frames – and, by extension, the building’s common areas – found an ally in the local children, who expressed their approval during a kindergarten workshop, and now enjoy a more colourful view from their sunny playground. Another local irregularity is an old party wall, which was incorporated into the building. ‘This wall is like an archaeological artefact,’ says Pflughaupt, ‘it doesn’t belong to us and nobody was able to tell us more. It’s one of many mysteries typical of old urban areas in Paris.’