Perimeter block, cornerSlab, corridorSlab, double-loaded, skip stop
Rue du Chevaleret
Ciriani, Henri | Paris, France | 1987-91
Image of Rue du ...
Corner facade

ProjectRue du Chevaleret
ArchitectCiriani, Henri
AddressRue du Chevaleret/Rue Charcot 13th
Building TypePerimeter block, corner
Slab, double-loaded, skip stop
Number of Dwellings46
Date Built1987-91
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1 & 2 BR flats/ 2 & 3 BR maisonettes
No. Floors9
Section Typeskip stop
Exterior Finish
ceramic tile, plaster, sandstone, metal
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Services2 levels of parking, several shops

The big rail stations in the "East End" of Paris, Gare d'Lyon and Gare d'Austerlitz, have long been obstacles to the urban development of the Seine River frontage between the Isle St. Louis and the zone of the Thier walls. Broad swaths of tracks, warehouses and other industrial uses along both sides of the river not only restricted the use of these prime river front areas for commercial and residential use but they also devalued adjacent land along the tracks. With the inauguration of Mitterand's Grands Projets competitions for major new buildings and the simultaneous adoption of the Plan Programme de l'East de Paris, in the early 1980's, efforts were directed to begin the redevelopment of the East End of Paris along the river. Critical elements of this program include two of the last of the Grands Projets, the Ministry of Finance, by Paul Chemetov, built at Bercy just north of Pont Bercy in 1988, and construction of a new National Library by Dominique Perrault, on the opposite side of the river between 1995 and 1997. The Bercy wine market was replaced with a new public park including new residential and commercial districts in the late 1990's. Rive Gauche, an enormous new community that continues the elevated zone of the National Library along the river was planned to be built completely covering the tracks into Austerlitz station and included new residential quarters and a major new commercial boulevard, Avenue de France. When this new community is finished it will include several thousand new dwellings, 900,000 square meters of office space and 300,000 square meters of shops and other facilities. The 13th arrondisement, long isolated from contact with the Seine, will now connect to the river via a vast elevated structure built above the tracks. (See ZAC, Seine Rive Gauche, for a more complete description of the Rive Gauche area.)

Rue du Chevaleret is a meandering street along the bottom of the sloping north edge of the 13th arrondisement, an area that had long been a marginal neighborhood because of its proximity to the industrial zone of the tracks. The city's proposals to build Rive Gauche, however, greatly improved the value of property along Rue Chevaleret and, by the mid 1980's, several new projects were underway along this street. Henri Ciriani's building is located on one such site, the corner of a perimeter block facing Rue du Chevaleret and Rue Charot. Ciriani is well known for earlier social housing in the new towns around Paris, Evry, Marne-La-Vallee, at Saint-Denis, a town just north of Paris, and for other recent apartments in The Netherlands, but this is his first housing in Paris.

The 9-story building completes the chamfered corner of the block resulting in three different facades that are organized as four distinct elements. A zone of duplex apartments that wraps the corner, forming two separate facades that share a common entrance at the corner. This central zone of duplexes changes to a zone of flats at each side where they abut adjacent buildings along the street. The zone of duplexes is expressed as a very plastic, reticulated frame of infill panels with projecting balconies while the zones of flats to either side are detailed as flush walls with strip windows and integral balconies. A row of shops occupies the ground floor and forms a raised base for the apartments above. The lobby is raised slightly from the sidewalk and extends to the rear where there is a view of the courtyard. In response to zoning requirements, the building steps back above the cornice at the top of the 7th floor. An additional row of duplex dwellings is located above this on the Rue du Chevaleret façade, set back forming continuous roof terraces.

The plan is organized as two double-loaded, skip-stop corridor buildings that interlock at the corner sharing a common lobby and stair. The corridors do not occur at the same level, however, so each block has its own elevator. This shift in section, the result of a sloping site, is also apparent in the elevations. Each block is organized with a zone of duplex apartments facing the street that have two story high living spaces and stairs connecting to upper levels that wrap over the corridor and have bedrooms facing the interior court. Smaller flats are organized in a narrow zone along the court side of the corridor and at the ends that abut adjacent buildings. The plan idea is also clearly expressed in the facades. The zone of duplexes are articulated as recessed infill panels in a two-story high structural frame on both street surfaces, and while a similar frame and panel system is used in each building, there are enough detail changes that two different buildings are clearly discernible. The reading of the structural frame is reduced in the zone of flats to each side that continues the street surface but have recessed balconies. The development of the infill panel is one of the most striking architectural features of the buiilding, recalling Rationalist traditions of articulated structure, but rendering the two main facades as very plastic and layered constructions. The columns and floor slabs define a grid 5.6 meters wide and two stories high, each being the two-story end of each maisonette. A limestone panel, placed slightly obliquely in each recessed bay, provides a rich pallet of materials and colors. While the internal two story volume of the living space does not extend to the exterior, the presence of this extended vertical volume is expressed on the façade as the two-story high bay and a vertical slot of fixed class with brightly colored operating panels along one side of the opening. A band of clerestory windows at the top of the panel defines the zone of the bedroom and study balcony on the second floor while the projecting balcony below expresses the position of the living spaces on the interior. The combination of modular limestone panels, flush aluminum windows with operating panels, vertical strip fixed glass with operating colored panels and the stucco and metal railings of the balcony results in a rich composition that is further articulated by the shadows cast by the structure and balcony on the oblique recessed panel.

These maisonettes are derived from Immeubles-villas and unité archetypes and are a potent demonstration that it is possible to build social housing with two story-high living spaces and spatially developed interiors. Like the unité type, the kitchen is adjacent to the entry opening to a dining area under the bedroom above. The stair, located at the entrance, rises up through the two-story height of the living room to the bedrooms and baths above. Two bedrooms, above the corridor and flat below, have balconies overlooking the landscaped courtyard. The third bedroom faces the street and has a small balcony across the façade end of the void of the living space that serves as a small study/work area with high windows on the street side but overlooking the living room below. The clerestory windows on the street façade light the upper part of the living room and the common open area at the top of the stairs that functions as a common family area overlooking the living room. The combination of balconies on both ends of the apartment, central two-story high void, and developed mezzanine condition are all quotes from a Corbusian legacy but applied in a very intelligible package suitable for larger families of modest means. The use of the bridge/mezzanine at the end of the living room recalls a similar spatial scheme used by Sert in the Montaner apartments in Barcelona of 1931, and like this example, avoids high glass walls that were an important architectural feature, albeit a solar problem with both the Immeubles-villas and unité prototypes. The problem of the exaggerated length and narrow width of the unité type is avoided here by the 5.6-meter width--it allows for two normal bedrooms--and shorter overall length--it allows for normal baths and kitchens. The mix of maisonettes and flats is also an important concept here. While dominated by the image of the 18 maisonettes facing the streets, there are actually more flats that vary in size from a studio dwelling at the lobby level to small one and two bedroom dwellings at the upper floors. Access to all these apartments is spatially developed from the entrance and lobby, moving to the rear of the building where there is a view of the interior garden, and passing to the upper levels along two-story high glazed walls that let light into the entrance hallways.

In 1995 an idea competition was held for the landscaping and further development of the west edge of the tracks along Rue du Chevaleret. The difference in elevation between the level of the proposed platform above the tracks and the level of Rue de Chevaleret required significant design efforts to improve the public spaces along the street and to provide access up to the Rive Gauche areas. Although the upper floors of Ciriani's building now have spectacular views of Perrault's library (across the tracks), in the future it will most likely face a landscaped street and wall on top of which will be a row of taller buildings. Rue du Chevaleret thus will have a completely new urbanistic role as a transitional element between the established neighborhoods of the 13th arrondisement and the new city being built at Rive Gauche.

Chaslin, Francois (introduction), Henri Ciriani, Rockport Publishers, Rockport, Mass., 1997, pp. 90-97.

Casabella, July-Aug, 1992, pp. 56-61.

L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, Sept., 1992, pp. 122-127.

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