Pelleport Apartments
Borel, Frédéric | Paris, France | 1996-99
Image of Pelleport ...
View down rue Pelleport towards south facade.

ProjectPelleport Apartments
ArchitectBorel, Frédéric
Address15, ru des Pavillons, (20th)
Building TypeTower
Number of Dwellings10
Date Built1996-99
Dwelling Typesflats
No. Floors8
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
stone, stucco, metal, glass
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Services2 levels basement parking

This is the latest of a series of three unusual residential complexes designed by Frèdèric Borel in the Ménilmontant and Belleville districts, north of the Père Lachaise Cemetery between 1985 and 1999. The first of these projects was a deep infill site along Boulevard Belleville completed in 1990 for which Borel received the 1990 Le Moniteur prize for the best first commission by a young architect. The second group of apartments built as part of the Postal Service housing program in 1994 was also built on a deep infill site along rue Oberkampf. The latest building, designed in 1994 and finished in 1999, was built on a corner site on Mènilmontant hill overlooking the city. This fascinating trio of projects, built about five years apart as renovations of the fragmented context of this part of the 20th arrondisement of Paris constitute a remarkable exhibition of the experimental building ideas of this young architect. All three were built on small difficult sites and all employ a unique architectonic pallet of forms, colors, and materials which can be seen to develop and evolve over this 15 year span, and all challenge conventional notions about the design of individual apartments.

Rue Pelleport rises as a steep incline up Mènilmontant dividing at the top of the rise into rue Pelleport and rue des Pavillons. Borel's building occupies the sharp angle of this intersection. Its small size and odd shape, the setback requirements, the change in elevation between the two streets, and the very diverse nature of the surrounding buildings, further complicate this difficult footprint. Existing buildings along the streets typically vary in height from 4 to 5 floors. Adjacent to the site, however, are the blank party walls of a three story building facing Pelleport, the end of a 16 story 1970's apartment slab, and, along the lower side of the site, the stepped, blank party wall of the 5 story building facing rue des Pavillons. Because of the longer frontage along rue des Pavillons, this was the only place for a ramp to the basement parking. A more chaotic site context can hardly be imagined.

Rather than trying to complete the party wall context by building onto the existing party walls, a strategy which would have resulted in a low number of apartments and big formal problem about what to do about the end of the slab, Borel opted to make a free-standing tower. Detached from the adjacent buildings, this tower seems literally to grow from the lower reaches of the site and presents a dominant, albeit blank façade at the top of the long straight rise of rue Pelleport. The new 8-storytower, is thus detached from the adjacent walls and is organized with an elevator and circular stair at the back of the site that is rendered as a tall-free-standing element that is attached to the block of dwellings. The apartments have windows facing the two side streets, but present a large blank surface to the axis of Pelleport. The detached, expanding nature of the form in plan is even more exaggerated three-dimensionally and is expressed as a tower which expands upward and outward from the lower levels of the site in a form that has been compared to a flower. In typical Borel fashion, this expanding form is accomplished with an additive ensemble of skewed fins and walls, levitated planes, canted blocks, and a mix of non-parallel, tilted, rounded, and discontinuous forms that seem to grow upward out of the site, that are simultaneously attached but detached from the ground plane and terminate with several disparate forms rendered in bright colors that form a penthouse condition at the top of the tower. Typically there is one large three bedroom apartment per floor organized with bedrooms facing east to rue Pelleport and living spaces and kitchen facing west to rue des Pavillons. This north-south division of the plan is further expressed with a long airfoil-shaped wall that separates the baths and bedrooms from the large living area. Entry and kitchen back-up to an undulating wall separating the service core from the main block of the building. Several terraces are formed in this part of the building as the tops of discontinuous elements that grow from the excavated base.

The chaotic overall form is quite responsive to solar considerations. Windows are zoned as small vertical gaps between finned walls but there is a glazed solarium off the living area facing west. The end wall of the tower facing south, is treated as a blank panel with only a narrow vertical slot of louvers marking the living zone, an element of louvers at two of the upper floors, and a small punch-out at the second floor as articulated features of this façade. The south façade, is also rendered as an independent elevated panel that is cantilevered forward of the structure at the street level and steps back at the penthouse floor. This detached form coupled with the blank curving corner of the living zone results in a bastion-like form facing, south. The acute intersection of the triangle is symbolically expressed at the sidewalk with a curious red concrete berm, a translucent glass fence and an intersecting green marble wall. The main entrance to the building is along rue des Pavillons. A stone wall, glass fence and metal gate define the entrance to a ramp leading to the lower level lobby and the entrance to the garage.

As in the earlier examples of the trilogy, Borel uses a diverse mixture of materials and colors. Plaster, stone, metal panels, clear as well as translucent glass, metal louvers, glass fences, metal gates, aluminum, and concrete all co-exist here along with brightly colored elements. The continuous vertical zones of glass, the continuous vertical opening of the elevator and the continuous ends of the fin walls, seem to belie the organization of several floors of flats and result in a very exaggerated vertical emphasis. A certain scalar dislocation results and what seems to be a large, tall building is actually only the height of the Haussmannian envelop. While the concept of the free-standing tower results in the very unproductive blank party walls of the adjacent buildings, walls that are covered with painting, signs and the inevitable traces of the ancien ville, a strategy of continuing the existing party wall building to the corner would have resulted in the view of the equally unproductive end of the modernist rising above the lower street buildings at the end of the Pelleport axis. The highly idiosyncratic forms, colors, and materials, and extreme plasticity of Borel are hardly contextually derived, but perhaps room needs to be made for such deconstructivist experiments in the rebuilding of the urban landscape of cities like Paris.

Aventures Architecturales à Paris: l'art dan les regles, Éditions du Pavillon de l'Arsenal, Paris, 2000, pp. 130-135.

GA Houses, No. 45, March, 1995, pp. 22-23.

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