Perimeter block, cornerSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, point-access
Quai de Seine
Lion, Yves | Paris, France | 1991-1996
Image of Quai de ...
The facade facing the Bassin de la Villette.

ProjectQuai de Seine
ArchitectLion, Yves
Address47, Quai de Seine/7 Passage de Flandre, 19th
Building TypePerimeter block, corner
Slab, gallery access
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellingsc. 130
Date Built1991-1996
Dwelling Typesstudio, 0,2, 3 & 4 BR flats, 2BR maisonettes
No. Floors4-8
Section Typeflats & maisonettes
Exterior Finish
plaster, stone, metal, glass,
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesshops, parking

Perhaps no French architect can match Yves Lion's production of quality housing over the past decade or so. Ranging in size and complexity from large residential complexes in the Paris new towns to the design of discreet infill projects, this considerable oeuvre includes the remodeling and conversion of historic barracks to housing, the conversion of an office complex to apartments, individual buildings in the ZAC sites in Paris, and the Cité de la Méditerranée, a new community under construction on the Marseilles waterfront that will house 30,000 people. Throughout all of this work, Lion has maintained a consistent, logical, and disciplined reference to late Modernist ideals, materials, construction, and details, eschewing the effusive, idiosyncratic style popular in much recent French housing for an urban architecture of clearly organized prismatic forms and planes, one responsive to existing contextual conditions.

This group of apartments, the main block of which faces east along the Quai de Seine, is the first of a group of similar waterfront residential projects designed by Lion in the 1990's. Within the overall context of the architect's work, these three form a definite sub-set: Quai de Seine, 1991 in the La Villette quarter, Les Hautes-Bruyères at Villejuif on the southern periphery of Paris built in 1995, and the blocks built along the Seine at l'îlot Schömberg, the site of old army barracks a short distance upstream from Pont de Sully, built in 1998. All three of these sites are seen principally from the water and all have a similar organization of articulated vertical blocks that alternate with zones of recessed balconies forming a linear, concatenated, solid and void structure. Although varied in their height, and program (Les Hautes-Bruyères has neither roof terraces nor ground floor commercial space), the use of an alternating banded horizontal organization of strip windows, corner windows, balconies, developed ends, cornices and bases, metal railings, and the flush detailing of the windows and blinds are all similar features of these buildings. Les Hautes-Bruères is a free-standing building in a park-like setting along a restored canal, while Quai de Seine and Îlot Schömberg are built in the context of existing perimeter blocks. In each complex, the superimposed order of vertical towers and layered horizontal zones is derived from the point-access type of plan organization and dwelling layout.

The Quai de Seine site includes 3 different parcels and three different program elements. The dominant site along the Bassin de Villette contains a center for the elderly and two and four bedroom dwellings most of which have living spaces facing the Bassin. The other two parcels are along Passage de Flandres, a narrow street perpendicular to Quai de Seine. These long, narrow sites that back up to existing buildings on the interior of the blocks, are organized in repetitive fashion along the street and include several small courtyards. The southern block, the end of which faces the Basin, contains artist's studios while the two blocks on the opposite side of the street contain one and two bedroom flats. These three parcels have thus been inserted into a complex site situation that required the completion of two different blocks with existing buildings of different styles and heights, the resolution of difficult corners, and the maintenance of a principal façade along the canal.

The waterfront façade is essentially organized as a series of connected point-access towers that transform in height and materials from one end to the other. This concatenated row of repeating elements is set on a continuous horizontal base of shops and steps from 8 floors at the north end to 5 floors at the south end, a response to the different heights of existing buildings to either side. This forms a continuous white plinth, two stories in height that is slightly recessed from the stone facing of the tower elements. This plinth is detailed with a lower zone of black ceramic tile, a zone of shop windows above which is a continuous marquee and the continuous horizontal zone of windows of the first floor of flats. The different heights are expressed in different materials that form interpenetrating layers on the façade. The northern corner block, 8 floors tall, is expressed as a glass curtain wall organized with alternating horizontal bands of clear and colored glass spandrels and an articulated base and cornice. This block is used for the elderly center and contains small flats, each with a glazed solarium. The divisions of the façade reflect the plan organization. The 8th story height extends south in an organization of four narrow 8 story towers are faced in gray stone and separated by narrow balconies with open balustrades that reveal a deep slot between towers. The deep cornice of the glass building is continued in the stone towers, now expressed as a blank panel with a single, offset, square opening. The southern end of the ensemble, which begins south of the intersection with Passage de Flandres, is 5 stories high, a reference to the lower buildings along this narrow street. This 5-story height is continued on the north side of the side street and then steps up to a 7-story height that is continued as an interpenetrating plane of white plaster in the recessed zone between stone towers.

The lower buildings along both sides of Passage de Flandres are five stories high. The artists' studios on the south side of the street are organized into four blocks of paired studio maisonettes that alternate with the small courtyards that open to the street. A zone of commercial space along the street is defined by the shop windows and a narrow balcony connecting the two flanking buildings across the space of the courtyard defining an entrance gate while continuing the street surface past the space of court. The resulting solid/void massing and layering is similar to the Quai de Seine façade, however now the relationship between the void of the courtyard and the two story high spaces of the apartments results in a much more complex and interesting spatial ensemble. The buildings are entered through the courtyards to stairs and circulation galleries along the backside of the building. The upper studios share deeper terrace spaces between dwellings overlooking the courtyards below. The two story high interiors of the studios are clearly expressed on the facades with blank zones of gray panels alternating with glazed panels at the ends of the double-height studio spaces and use a similar pallet of materials; black ceramic tile, white windows and glazed panels, white plaster walls, open balustrades and dark gray facing panels. On the opposite side of the street there are two identical narrow slabs that face the street and have access from open galleries that back up to existing buildings on the interior of the block. A small courtyard between slabs provides access to the rear gallery that has light wells for natural lighting. These blocks have commercial space along the sidewalk, continuous horizontal strip windows, corner balconies and step back at the top floor where there is a covered terrace. Less developed architecturally, these two blocks each contain three small one and two bedroom dwellings per floor and effectively continue the alignment and general appearance of the other modest buildings along this street.

Lacking the consistency of the Haussmann parts of Paris, quarters like the 19th arrondisement that consist of a chaotic mix of streets, block shapes and building types, heights, and styles, present a much more challenging problem for the urban designer. Strategies for a process of ameliorative repair and rebuilding of these districts necessarily require analysis, interpretation of existing conditions, flexible concepts and the intelligent choice of materials and details. In the absence of a well-defined historical context, Quai de Seine is a good example of how the applications of a modernist vocabulary of forms, materials, and details can be used as the medium for rebuilding neighborhoods like this.

Hoyet, Jean-Michel, LArchitecture Contemporaine a Paris, Editions Techniques & Architecture Groupe Alteda, Paris, 1996, p. 135.

Lion, Yves,Yves Lion, Gili, S.A., Barcelona, 1992, pp. 33-41.

Lion Yves, Yves Lion, études, réalisations, projects, 1974-1985, Electra Moniteur, Milan/Paris, 1985, pp. 100.103.

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