Once upon a time, there was a helm and a tower on the peak of Saint Nazaire. The helm looked at the rue des Troênes devoid of privets whilst the tower looked at the rue des ajoncs without gorse. Both turned their back to an insipid green space. A few oaks from the former bocage lived side by side with newcomers: blue cedars from the Atlas, Lambert cypress and white poplars. This is how a green conversation started outside in 1975 went on and on. In the carnival of the builders of new dreams in rural land, trees were planted like so many confetti, and, in the promise of water and full-blown skies on all floors, we’d lost the paradise at its foot: the earth.
In 2006, the city of Saint Nazaire and the Silène public office of habitat decided to look at it together and to make it into a project that would onto the gardens in the large portion of the Western city. This is how the neighbourhood of the Chênaie became the place for a programme of urban renewal supported by its national agency.
On an invitation by DLW architects, our work soon focused on the unassuming idea of returning to paradise lost.
The large plot of land at the foot of the helm and the tower turned into a wooded clearing that pushed cars to its edges. The garages made place for single story dwellings with gardens and little balconies bordering the clearing. The balconies stretched into wooden terraces opening onto the setting sun. Ample place was made for the living and the forgotten pleasures of foraging for ancient flowers and forbidden fruits.
The very first spring, paradise was regained. On a request by the inhabitants who wished to know more about plants, we organised a day for “foraging, cooking and botanic”. We came with books on flowers, pruning shears, sticky tape, leaves, a basket and a portable wood over to cook fresh pizza bases with organic olive oil flavoured with garden herbs. The children picked blackcurrants before making – and drinking – juice. A Moroccan lady handpicked fresh mint from the wall and made a thirst-quenching beverage. We rolled the pastry as we babbled. Wood scented smoke whirled up outside as the children were putting together a garden herbarium on paper. The taste of the soil, the outdoors and foraging were ours once again, just like the dream of an oasis so dear to Pierre Rabhi. Ultimately, is there anything quite as joyful as a raspberry bursting in one’s mouth to appreciate the pleasure of living there?