Unbeknownst to themselves: housing!
July 2015. Perched on his terrace on the second floor of the Résidence La Palombière at Montoir-de-Bretagne, temping labourer at the chantiers de l’Atlantique STX France, enjoyed a forced rest. A warehouseman in a shipyard, he is off work and rests his back. He moved into the freshly delivered social housing project with his family a few weeks ago. In the building across, other tenants enjoy the warm sunlight and set up paddling pads for their toddlers on their loggias. The new neighbours exchange knowing glances. Many have finally found a first home after a chaotic residential journey or life accidents.
A few miles from the Saint-Nazaire shipbuilding yards, the territory of the commune of Montoir-de-Bretagne is split up by an industrial estate: the Saint-Nazaire airport, the Cadréan industrial and commercial estate, the harbour and a residential area around old villages. The latter typifies the peri-urban village near a regional French metropolis. To reach the Loire estuary, one must cross the highway, the railway and the Airbus fac- tory that privatised partly the landing strip of the airport. The smells and silhouettes of the smokestacks recall the proximity of the Donge refinery. A suite of neo-Brittany inspired pavilion is organised in successive fringes along new paths. All end up in a racket form at the limit between the natural and urban space. Thankfully, the horizon opens up: at the north of the tow, the Brière Natural Regional Park forms an unmovable barrier. This marsh is the second largest in France after the Camargue. The seven inhabited islands of Chaumière made using reeds – a secular local resource – emerge from the huge bog. The theme of the bog, and particularly that of bird shooting – gave its name to the real estate project steered by the social leaser of Saint-Nazaire, Silène Habitat. The works were entrusted in 2010 to architecture agency Broubouze et Graindorge.
After having practised in several high- profile agencies, Gricha Bourbouze and Cécile Graindorge found their own agency in Paris in 2005. Whilst professional recognition and access to commissions proves effortless in the capital city, they move to Nantes to focus on their family life. Used to designing and building housing, each new project gives them another opportunity to experiment construction solutions allowing a resilience of buildings in time: concrete or metallic structures for infill operations in existing areas; load bearing façades built in the more relaxed context of development zones.
They were very quickly noticed by Silène a housing company in charge of selecting the agency participating to the project management competition for the construction of 48 social dwellings in Montoir-de-Bretagne. The agency is the laureate of the competition with a proposition making ambiguous the perception of built volumes, between community and individual housing. “It is important to inscribe ourselves delicately in the urban and symbolic of this location, so we tried to “disturb” usual living modes, and offered some alternatives to excessively individualistic residential habits linked to these territories. The main criticism commonly addressed to the pavilion-style house is in the erosion of every notion of community. Therefore, we tried to define the spatial modalities of a joyful cohabitation”.
Over 150 meters long, 30 meters wide plot in a slight slope, Bourbouze and Graindorge affirm their relation to the wide landscape whilst fabricating an interior landscape. A two-rows three-dimensional matrix of the size of large houses lay out in quincunx alternates constructions and non-built areas. Subtle offsets offer a permeability of the views and courses whilst adapting to the topography. Between the constructions, an interior landscape of paths and gardens exiting on the distribution course are punctuated with a bench and a tree. Around the paving, the eight stairwells spread out, as well as housing-dedicated services: pocket parking under the buildings, individual cellars/bike sheds, letter-boxes, and access to the upper floors by opened stairs. On the upper floors, the volumes are pierced with spacious panoramic loggias facing the east, west and south to reach out for the distant views over the rural landscape.
Visiting the place, these fragmented constructions all feel of similar size. Only a small fold on the façade on the fifth and sixth plots marries the traced of a new road of the housing project. Closer still, the long paths give to see a collection of doors, communal areas, parking areas and above our heads fine gateways framing the landscape. The link between the two isolated buildings creates the “good” gap between the edifices. An attentive reading of the plans unveils a catalogue of typologies with an inventive assemblage: simplex over the garden, duplex and triplex, whilst the first floor is only used as an isolated entrance hall. The various types of distribution enrich the diversity of the dwellings: individual access to the ground floor, communal access via the stairs, and semi-individual access at the end of the gateway. Here, the architects experiment a hybrid residential typology that creates neighbourhood units so dear to Team X4: a collective urban structure with an individual perception.
The organisation of each house rests on a spatial principle of free platforms allowing a typological freedom and flexibility at long term. The structure is mixed: the load bearing façade is in 25 cm thick monomur bricks, a circulation node in concrete walls ensures the seismic bracing; the floors are in reinforced concrete stiffened by the raised concrete for the benefit of the loggias. A sole central pole ensures the intermediate fulcrum. This concentric structural principle thus frees the entire interior space. The panelling is free, organised by the position of the ducts leaning on the kitchens and the proportion of the square or rectangular living room enjoying the largest side on the lit-up façade. By type of plot, plots, the plans of the dwellings, tri- ply or doubly orientated, are completely different on each floor, and deploy according to the position of the loggia. These loggias are offset from one level to the next and from one block to another, thus avoiding direct overviews. They are so large – from 10 to 20 square meters depending on the type – that they offer an alternative exterior circulation from one room to the next.
This seemingly simple principle was not with- out difficulty to design and realise. The thick 30cm recovery slabs house buried beams, require sufficient metal. The alternation of the many loggias multiply the breaks in lowering vertical charges and the surfaces in con- tact with the outside, which are meant to be waterproofed and isolated. The application of energetic labels in force – Effinergie RT2005 and Qualitel – are increasingly constraining and the recent evolution of a seismic standard in the region contribute to render more complex the design and implementation of the structure studied and has impacted the overall cost of the operation. Moreover, in the aim of responding to the requirements of the couple of Nantes architects, the “French” project management designing method proves problematic. The splitting of responsibilities between architect, engineering bureaus and the contractor’s execution offices forbids too much precision in the technical drawings and regulations until the call for tender, whereas this type of project would deserve an in-depth study from the first phases of the operation. Bourbouze and Graindorge doubled their efforts to guarantee the result because, if responsibilities are shared with engineering bureaus from a contractual viewpoint, the workload isn’t.
INDIVIDUAL NETWORKS ARCHITECTURE
The exhaustive analysis of the distribution of networks characterises this new form of hybrid dwelling between individual and collective. The distribution of fluids – water, gas, and electricity – is collective for housing situated near the stairwell and individualised with dedicated cabinets for the other lodgings. However, each dwelling enjoys a wall mounted gas heater and cast-iron radiators. As simple to use as in a house for tenants, this type of equipment required a complex set up for the supply of gas distribution networks. Here via the floor ducts, there using less conventional paths without going through the neighbour, – in the ceiling, wall, slab then in aerial to reach the kitchens of the dwellings furthest away from the cabinet.
The same attention from architects is visible for exterior networks: on the walls, floors and fencing, all the technical elements – man- holes, electricity chamber, gas cabinet, and telecommunications – are integrated.
Here, no wood cladding no colourful composite panel or wooden fencing to announce the new constructions using a façade posting system. In this land of marshes and swamps, the architects seek the expression of banal built forms, clever balance between archetype and pavilion-style construction, and poor materials for a sophisticated implementation. By reinterpreting the vocabulary of suburbia, the pavilion, the architectural language is voluntarily neutral to blend into the décor. The project relies on suburban stereotypes – scale of constructions, formal expression of the house, and place for the car – drawn and amended with great precision. The scale of buildings corresponds to that of a large house, a manor, and maintains its domestic image whilst borrowing forms and materials to the imaginary of the pavilion: a basic roof and pinion form unclad from its trivial accessories: balconies, ironworks, gutters, porches… The work by subtraction of volumes of the loggias, selection of various materials – grey scrapped or coated finish, Lé tiles roofs, glass paste, polycarbonate fencing, crude block work walls – and a choice restrained to a range of greys feed this neutrality. All the constructive details are studied, with the objective of a certain abstraction, visual simplicity. However, many required titan efforts to put in place. Their sophistication is harmed by the restrained competences of the companies that own the construction markets. Indeed, construction choices are traditional in the mobilised know-how and forced small local companies used to standardised dwellings to respond to the call for tender at low cost. Yet the complexity of the project and implementation details goes beyond the apparent simplicity. From the inside of dwellings, everything seems oblivious: the entrance hall that directly opens onto the large living room, the relation between kitchen and living room with a large loggia, the bathroom enjoying natural sunlight as often as possible, the rooms depending from the living room to limit the width of the buildings and maximise the living area. The link between the qualities of the dwelling and generated volume prefigures new urban forms.
PERI-URBANISM OF THE FUTURE
Whilst all attention focuses on the pavilion-style housing development, urban modes conceived like simple products, and its pavilions chosen from a catalogue, the moral criticism pains to go beyond the circle of urbanist architects and a handful of enlightened elected officials. To understand the reasons behind its proliferation, one must try to characterise it: a sort of large flat ensemble with a completely atrophied urban thought by a fragmented splitting purely geometrical linked to the search for a maximal profit. The new neighbourhood of the Ormois in Montoir-de-Bretagne is implanted in a landscape boasting spectacular preliminary qualities to its project implementation. The inhabitants of housing developments and peri-urban areas often mention the landscape quality as the motivation for their settlement. Almost always in this sort of situation, the qualities of the landscape, of the site, in what makes the attraction disappears after the completion of the project. If something remains, one turns one’s back to it, as though sparing it from the mediocrity of the master plans and the houses by masking what, yesterday still, made this place enchanting. This is very much the case here: we border the Brière, one of the most remarkable sites in the region. The site of the Brière is well protected: building on the border means ensuring the continuity of this landscape for a long time, guaranteeing a magnificent horizon to modest houses, giving them effortlessly the very value that their own configuration would not attribute them. “Ordinary” houses produced by the pavilion-style architecture turns its back to the landscape. The subdivision plan pretends that this incredible landscape did not exist and the development could very much be situated in Lorraine, in the Paris region, around Lyon, above a rock formation or next to a waste plant.
The project proposed by Bourbouze and Grandorge remains very modest: standard construction, relatively poor materials. They question the notion of qualitative density in this context, used to a too feeble density of individual or semi detached houses. They bring reflection paths on the road of the integrated house naturally integrated to the daily journeys under dwellings. Parking is not shameful or completely staged, but rather, it is assimilated to an extension of the hallway. The disposition in mass plans is not blind to the landscape: some transparencies are maintained, views open onto the marsh from the interwoven dwellings. These housing projects acquired the benefit of an unmovable landscape with great economy.
What were the production conditions for this operation? What financial balance? What cost of the real estate for social housing? The client, Silène Habitat, inherits from 90 years’ experience in the construction of social housing. Founded in 1924, the low-cost Public Housing office of the city of Saint-Nazaire is now attached to community supervision. This new action perimeter gives it a great consistency of action at inter communal scale. The operation is part of the multi-sites ANRU programme. The demolition of blocks was carried out on same large whole, but the reconstruction of housing was disseminated over several communes. The splitting of demand responds very closely to the pools of jobs and profiles of candidates. Unfortunately, this social requirement favours smaller surfaces. The imbrication of typologies with a maximum of small typologies is not easy for a distribution. The choice of this fragmented urban form requires few surfaces per floor, but multiplies their number. Similarly, the lines and surfaces of the façades are very important in relation to the habitable floor surface. However, the budget did not go over. The permanent presence of operational managers from the start to the end of the studies on the part of the project management, the efficiency of the internal organisation allows to install a relation of trust with the client, perhaps not foreign to the quality of the built project.
At Silène Habitat, specification sheets are constantly evolving and are not closed. It evokes the needs and does not impose solutions of principle or space organisation. Moreover, to valorise feedback, the leaser organises numerous visits of its operations upon delivery with the elected officials, internal services and the clients to capitalise on the successes, the failures, and the points for improvement. It is also the occasion to exchange on the consequences of the application of future regulatory constraints that put a strain on the development budget. On its part, the SONADEV, an actor of local development at the service of municipalities finances the roads and infrastructure networks by balancing its books by reselling land at market price, including to the leasers. The collaborative spirit that reigns between all the decision scales of the local political life makes possible the construction of an innovative architecture whilst producing quantity of high quality social housing. Whist the society demand for architectures is partially absent, whereas from the point of inhabitants or company directors, the fight of Gricha Bourbouze and Cécile Graindorge lies in the difficulty to produce an Architecture with the community housing orders, whether social or private.
- Bourbouze & Graindorge
- 48 logements
- Montoir de Bretagne
- 4700 m²
- 4.9 M € HT