On the banks of the Rhône in Geneva, Atelier Archiplein, a Geneva-based architecture and urbanism firm, has completed the development of a solid stone building, comprising ten social housing units and a workshop.
The building at 1 rue de la Coulouvrenière in Geneva’s historic center, was erected on one of the last remaining construction plots available on the banks of the Rhône. The plot belonged to the Canton of Geneva and was given to the Fondation Nicolas Bogueret (a provider of social and low-rent housing), for the development of social housing. The recently completed project by Atelier Archiplein is the result of an invitational competition in 2018 on behalf of the Nicolas Bogueret Foundation.
The project sits in an emerging industrial district, an area of Geneva that was built in the second half of the 19th century. The rue de la Coulouvrenière is dotted with industrial buildings from that period, many of which are used for various purposes today. The new social housing units are sited in a protected natural area on the banks of the Rhône, adjacent to a listed building — a one-time chocolate factory that is now a vocational training center. The project’s construction was therefore subject to careful planning, overseen by the authorities in charge of heritage conservation.
The site’s strong constraints acted to guide the building’s architectural composition, creating a dialogue with the environment. Atelier Archiplein opted to design a structural grid defined by large glazed bays. Its relation to the street, river, and open public space offered opportunities to integrate protective aprons, frames, and variations in the grid, and to anchor the building within the context of the site.
Atelier Archiplein developed the project using a simple and rational architectural style that combined natural materials, predominantly stone and wood. The four-story building’s entire vertical construction is made up of solid stone. “Building with natural materials provides us with an opportunity to question current modes of construction with regard to environmental and climatic issues,” says the studio. For Atelier Archiplein, there is an affinity with centuries-old construction methods, one that, far from being nostalgic, combines historic know-how with modern-day innovation and techniques. In its work with solid stone, the studio’s intention is to “contribute to the development of massive stone architecture that expresses the spirit of the times.”
The exterior of the building comprises a load-bearing stone facade; its interior core is also made from stone. Two types of limestone were chosen for their technical characteristics and in accordance with the principle of “the right stone in the right place,” says Atelier Archiplein. On the exterior, Sireuil stone (a yellowish-brown limestone quarried in Sireuil, France) was chosen for its hardness and expressive sedimentation. On the interior, Chauvigny limestone (quarried in Chauvigny, France) was chosen for its significant compressive strength.
The studio emphasizes the fact that a “strict combination of stone and wood participates in the resolution of structural and seismic issues without having to rely on ‘chaining’ or the inclusion of reinforced concrete.” Through an ambitious engineering approach, stone was used on the basis of its inherent resistance to compression. The project’s only reinforced concrete is found in the stairwell.
The building’s apartments are “intelligently and efficiently distributed,” says Atelier Archiplein. “To this end, an exterior gallery runs along the street side. This space, both circulation and balcony, offers possibilities for sharing, co-living, and [chance encounters and interactions] in a dense area.” Although each apartment is described as small, they have an outdoor south-facing space and large picture window that opens onto the Rhône, increasing the sense of depth. On many of the windows, Atelier Archiplein added a folded sheet metal lambrequin (a short piece of decorative drapery) and a welded iron wire mesh railing. Powder-coated in black, these adornments allude to historic ironworks and industry.
Surface area: 1,200 square meters (12,917 square feet).