architect: Moussafir Architectes
location: Paris, France
The commission for this social housing project came from SIEMP, a public enterprise whose surgical, case-by-case approach responds to the city’s revised urban renewal strategy.
Contrary to the 1980s-90s policy of razing entire blocks, today Paris prefers to maintain what can be maintained.
Moussafir Architects’ Tetris houses were part of a larger regeneration program for a squalid neighborhood in Northern Paris: delinquency and unacceptable living conditions were the challenges to overcome. The action plan developed in close cooperation between the city, local associations and the landlord included new and refurbished low-rent housing, as well as studios for artists and musicians.
Led by urban planner Patrick Céleste, the project was shared between seven architectural teams. Three plots entrusted to Moussafir Architects were sited on two narrow streets separated by a low-rise housing block; a garden in its middle enabled visual interaction between the two parts of the project. Surrounded by massive 1960s buildings, this tiny fragment of the city retained its faubourien spirit and scale.
The project was shaped by the desire to respect the neighbourhood’s scale and density while maximizing space and daylight available to future residents. The houses are perfectly aligned with their neighbors; the two rue du Nord buildings even have a one-family home neatly sandwiched between them. The intention to blend with the context is emphasized by exterior treatment: lime stucco echoes the texture of surrounding facades; most window openings have traditional proportions.
The shutters are covered with the same kind of stucco so that closed windows almost disappear on the facade.
The only articulated elements are the extensions of living rooms: large frame-like juts constructed from iroko wood. Standards established for social housing severely restrict the size of apartments. Tetris uses a series of design solutions making the most of the available resources. The compactness of the plots made it possible to build no more than one apartment per floor. Ground floor apartments are suited for residents with reduced mobility; a strip of private micro-gardens serves as a buffer and privacy screen for ground floor tenants. Taking advantage of the front and rear facades’ North-South orientation, living rooms are given a double aspect. The difference in ceiling heights – 3,40 m for the living room and 2,60 for the bedroom – amplifies the apartment’s day zones. This was achieved through staggered, Tetris-like
arrangement where the first-floor bedroom is placed upon the ground-floor living room, and so forth, creating individualized layouts for each unit. Full-height, wood-framed bow windows serve as distinguishing marks for each apartment, while opening the living room towards the street. Ateliers and apartments are designed identically, acknowledging the blurred boundaries between contemporary home and workspace.
The banal and the exceptional coexist in Tetris houses. Recognizing the value of ordinary things, the project contributes to the continuity of urban fabric, and at the same time enhances it by adding unique features. Besides, the use of basic materials allowed redirecting part of the budget for improved quality of living spaces.