Paris is a sea of cranes these days, with hundreds of infrastructural and renovation projects underway ahead of next year’s Olympic Games. The city has simultaneously embarked on ambitious residential construction programs to ease rising housing costs. Among these campaigns is an agreement signed with RATP, the state-owned public transport operator which manages the city’s metro system, for the creation of 2,000 housing units in the capital by 2024.
Vaugirard Social Housing is a 104-unit housing project spearheaded by the RATP and designed by local studio Margot-Duclot Architectes in collaboration with Basel-based Christ & Gantenbein. The project is built on an industrial site of more than two hectares and integrated with the renovation of a metro line maintenance workshop which has operated here since 1910. It is envisaged to house a number of RATP employees and their families.
A long building of stacked volumes and razor-straight edges clad in gunmetal gray, the Vaugirard Social Housing project is representative of much of Christ & Gantenbein’s work: subtle, understated and exactingly proportioned. According to the architects, the project is the outcome of intensive housing research conducted with ETH Zurich, which included a cataloging of “the strategies used to create identity, and optimizing access to light and ventilation within the volumes” of extant Parisian housing schemes in dense urban areas.
The development is large in Parisian terms. It holds 10,500 gross square meters on five levels, and its streetside facade is 124 meters in length. The volume is intermittently recessed and vibrates with a repetitive, staccato rhythm. It is built in a reinforced concrete structure with an infill facade of fabricated wood-based panels specified to lighten the construction for reduced costs and an improved ecological footprint. To allow undisturbed cohabitation between housing and the maintenance workshop, particular attention was paid to sound and vibration insulation. The housing structure is structurally separated from the workshop below by spring boxes to prevent the transmission of vibrations and sound waves.
The building is enveloped in a facade of metal and elements of steel with a transparent varnish. It expresses a strict grid which is clearly the basis for the project’s layout and design. Floor levels are articulated with a continuous horizontal extrusion that stretches across the building’s many volumes. Meanwhile the cladding and window system consists of full-height vertical modules. Each of the expressed blocks is topped with a light and rigid metal balustrade painted to match the facade. The project’s combination of metal, wood and concrete is, according to the design team, a merger of Paris’ typical Haussmannian and its industrial forms of architecture.
The project is designed based on four apartment types that range from studios to five-room layouts. The units are mostly column-free and, due to the building’s orientation, offer a spectrum of orientations with transversal and diagonal views. The apartments are light-filled and each features a balcony or loggia. The loggias are intermediate, unheated perimeter spaces that help to regulate the building’s temperature.
Vaugirard was the name of one of several French communes annexed to Paris during the expansion of the city’s boundaries in the 1860s. The region has been mostly absorbed into the 15th arrondissement (rue de Vaugirard integrates the main street of the former village). This project was completed as the first part of a larger master plan to reinvigorate and render accessible a previous infrastructural space in the Vaugirard neighborhood, which is primarily residential. A new street has also been constructed as part of the scheme, to serve the Vaugirard complex as well as the eventual 300 housing units that will be built here by 2029.