Perimeter block, cornerPerimeter block, courtyard
Ménilmontant Apartments
Gaudin, Henri | Paris, France | 1986
Image of Ménilmonta...
rue du Ménilmontant facade

ProjectMénilmontant Apartments
ArchitectGaudin, Henri
Address44 rue de Ménilmontant (20th)
Building TypePerimeter block, corner
Perimeter block, courtyard
Number of Dwellings36
Date Built1986
Dwelling Types2 & 4 BR flats, 4 BR maisonettes
No. Floors5-6
Section Typeflats and maisonettes
Exterior Finish
plaster, ceramic tile, metal windows & details
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesshops, below grade parking

The Ménilmontant apartments established Henri Gaudin as an important force in the Post Modernist movement in Paris in the early 1980's. Along with an earlier housing project at Maurepas in the new town of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (1981), and a third group of dwellings in the new town of Évry (1982), Ménilmontant offered an alternative image to the type of Modernist buildings that dominated Paris housing in the 1960's and 1970's. Later buildings and projects by Henri and his brother Bruno tend to overshadow these early projects, however, these modest housing projects were widely published and exhibited and reveal the unique sculptural style resulting from Gaudin's very painterly approach to design.

Ménilmontant is located on a site in a dilapidated neighborhood in the 20th arrondissement that is undergoing gradual redevelopment. Occupying the corner of a chaotically-organized perimeter block, the difficult sloping site and discontinuous context presented a challenging test condition for the application of Gaudin's new building forms. The "U"-shaped site arrangement is formed by two building elements. The first attaches to the party wall of the adjacent building along rue de Ménilmontant, extending to the corner while the second extends along the side street joining existing buildings fronting that street. The rue de Ménilmontant block is 6 floors high and continues the surface and horizontal zoning of existing buildings along the street. As this building extends back into the block it is expressed as a partially freestanding, stepping element that opens to and benefits from the open spaces on the interior of the block. The rue Delaitre façade is 5 floors in height and also continues the surface and organizational cues of existing buildings along the street. The site is entered at the corner, at the intersection of the two buildings. This idea is conveyed by the very sculptural building mass at the corner. The two elements define a narrow interior courtyard that connects spatially to the random pattern of voids existing on the interior of the block. This diagonal path is expressed as a ramp passing through the courtyard connecting the opening to the interior of the block with the corner entrance to the complex. The irregular building plans combine four discreet point-access buildings and contain a variety of dwelling types and shapes ranging in size from studio flats to 6 room duplexes. An important emphasis of the architect was to avoid the kind of stereotype flats that tended to dominant housing in Paris in the Post WWII era.

The planar walls along the street contrast sharply with the undulating walls and curved elements of the courtyard. This contrast between planar and curvilinear elements forms a critical dialogue in Gaudin's work, here constituting the raison d'ętre of the building plans and facades. The voluptuous quality of the plaster forms of the courtyard seems derived from Maurepas; turrets, curved and colonnaded porches and stairs and bay windows. The outer facades, rendered in ceramic tile, basically continue the urban planes of the street and the zone of shops along the sidewalk. But then this primary geometric solid has been subjected to a process of formal manipulation, simultaneously accretive and deductive, that transforms the virtual mass into one seemingly cut from a block of Plasticine clay. The continuation and dominance of the flush planar walls is maintained by an order of repetitive windows. A central zone of curving wall elements, bay windows, cantilevered beams, engaged columns and diagonal planes have been applied to this surface and form an additive layer of elements on both street facades. At the same time, parts of the virtual mass have been cut-away to articulate the intersection with adjacent buildings on each side, to develop the corner intersection, and to express horizontal zoning derived from the organization and details of existing buildings. While the results are highly idiosyncratic and may run the risk of becoming merely a bricolage technique for achieving a more dynamic appearance and good contextual fit, clearly, the results go well beyond Modernist ideas, forms, and details and firmly establish Ménilmontant as an influential paradigm for recent housing design in Paris.

Techniques et Architecture, Dec, 1987-Jan 1988, pp.69-71.

Archithese, April, 1988, pp. 53-54.

Archithese, July-Aug, 1988, no. 4, pp. 45-54

Henri & Bruno Gaudin, architectes, Éditions du Demi-Cercle, Paris, 1990.

Henri Gaudin, Éditions Norma, Paris, 2001, pp. 102-109.

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