Within the framework of the "Grand Paris" project, the municipalities of Saint-Denis, Saint-Ouen and Ile Saint-Denis were designated as key players for the development of the megalopolis. Besides, the prospect of the 2024 Olympic Games, will also contribute to radically change the face of the Parisian “Plain”.
The Plain as we see it today, with disparate architecture and a mixed identity, is the result of widely heterogenous developments since the 17th century. The presence of forests, agricultural crops, housing estates, various industrial zones and tertiary programs, indicate that the Plain has undergone multiple transformations. The Plain is however unique due to its inhabitants and commuters, the activities it hosts, its architectural richness and by the atmospheres that compose it. All in all, the Plain is a territory with immense potential but whose equipment and infrastructure, sometimes disparate, fail to create a harmonious lively region.
La Seine and Saint-Denis Island
The Olympic Games are an opportunity to rethink the Plain considering contemporary issues of urban development and draft plans for a new city.
In this specific case, the territory is crossed by axes of various natures and sizes, sometimes dividing the city, sometimes linking entities. This area is also varied in its dimensions, architectures, people, and environments. This diversity can be seen in plan, section, and concrete materials. But it is especially apparent in the perception inhabitants or by-passers have of the city’s identity. Indeed, the identity of the Plain is not clearly intelligible and varies greatly according to the people or the neighborhoods. Each street corner seems to have its own personality and thus, as a whole, forms a heterogeneous aggregate with sometimes fuzzy characteristics.
The transformation of the site into an Olympic village and later into a city district led the architect to reflect on solutions to many timeless and contemporary issues. The transformability of architecture, the ecological impact and the carbon footprint of buildings, the reconstruction of the urban fabric, the hierarchy of mobility, the integration of the community in public space. Unfortunately, it appears that the question of the identity of contemporary cities is often secondary or altogether neglected, for the purpose of profit, image, or simply by intellectual laziness.
Thus, emerges the problem: how to think the contemporary city as a unique and evolving entity with its own identity rooted in time, within the framework of sustainable development and in consideration of contemporary issues?
Transforming the existing - Build to ressurect the city
13 000 Athletes Housing - Shops - Restauration - Offices - Workshops - Exhibition space - Flexible Room - Museum - Medical Center - Charity Association House - Sports Center - New docks, parks and public spaces
In our changing society, many questions arise regarding our ways of life, our constructions, and the appropriation of our territory. The world’s population continues to grow, and the land is gradually becoming an exhaustible resource. Urban sprawl consumes living space and tends to spread uncontrollably. The densification of existing cities is one of the solutions to this urban sprawl, however, it involves many reflections on community life, flow management, the viability of a space as a moving entity, sensor and transmitter, emotions, and sensations.
Resource management and the search to limit our impacts on the environment involve working on construction materials and techniques that can be re-used and transformed over time. In our case, a work of crucial importance is the construction of thousands of dwellings and programs destined to be transformed a few months after their construction.
The rehabilitation of the fabric by densification and the ecological impact of the building constitute two critical axes to approach the transformation work of the Plaine Saint-Denis. However, for the Plain to be perceived as a comprehensive and pleasant, the sensory, emotional, and stimulating dimensions of architecture must coalesce with the functional characteristics of the city. The city should be an active, lively, welcoming territory adapted to contemporary issues both in its composition and in its perception. It is therefore a question of integrating past and contemporary buildings in a vision of the city as an evolving entity. The error would be to create a breach with the territory’s history and to build a new functional fabric disconnected from localities, perpetuating the lack of homogeneity in the city, and spoiling the opportunity to create a new inclusive identity.
Contemporary architecture tends to focus on concept and image. Most of the emerging buildings are ‘object-buildings’, frozen in time, disconnected from all territoriality. To see each construction as a work of art apart, the territory turns into a collection of built-objects devoided of emotion and deprived of landmarks. We live in a world of images and modes whose impact on architecture and the landscape is significant. Pallasmaa in The Eyes of the Skin asserts that: "the inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the negligence of the body and the senses." We favor complete transparency, light and photogenic over the interaction of the senses, alternating darkness and light, variations in detail that participate in the unconscious magic of the first of the major arts. It is not an apology to neoclassicism nor a desire to return to traditional architecture, but a need for harmonious contemporary composition, whose subtle features evoke the temporality of the place and create a wholesome atmosphere.
Architecture is so important to our environment and its people that the architect should not be completely free. Sartre believes that space has prevailed over time, that the body has become detached from the spatial and social context. If architecture is considered "an expression of culture", it is necessary to ask what is the culture of the Plain, and how to develop it.
To think of the city as a single, united, and evolving entity is to imagine it as a metabolism, a complex system of exchange of resources and information. Associated to densification, the punctuation of well-composed programs and activities can behave as a set of nerves bounded by people and united in a global system; a system with its own identity.