CourtyardPerimeter block, infill
Vandrezanne Apts.
Buffi, Jean-Pierre | Paris, France | 1988-90
Image of Vandrezann...
View of larger courtyard.

ProjectVandrezanne Apts.
ArchitectBuffi, Jean-Pierre
Address11, rue Vandrezanne/14, rue du Moulinet (13th)
Building TypeCourtyard
Perimeter block, infill
Number of Dwellingsna
Date Built1988-90
Dwelling Types1-3 br. flats and 3 br. duplexes
No. Floors4
Section Typeflats and maisonettes
Exterior Finish
stucco, ceramic tile, concrete, glass block, metal details, metal windows
Construction TypeR-C frame
Ancillary Services shops and offices along rue Vandrezanne, balconies

The change of urban design strategies from the open planning typical of the groups of high-rise towers and slabs that dominated Paris housing design in the 1960' and 70's to the "contextual" ideas of the 1980's and 90's is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than in this project by Jean-Pierre Buffi. This deteriorating, chaotic, functionally disparate neighborhood in the 13th arrondissment, a short distance from Place d'Italie was partially redeveloped in the 1960's when a block was cleared and replaced with several, freestanding, tall concrete residential towers and some supporting commercial spaces. Twenty years later, across the street, the city gave a competition for the design of a similar neighborhood but applying the principle of rebuilding the tissu existent rather than wholesale demolition. Buffi & J. Lamude won the competition with a design which emphasized a strategy to rebuild the texture of the îlot by designing a network of narrow passages and small courts; a little city, dense but intimate, the exact opposite of the colossus of Galaxie on the opposite side of rue Vandrezanne. The program was continually changed and reduced after 1984 with the result that it was reduced to only 80 apartments and a few shops and construction did not take place until 1988-90.

Buffi's project follows the grain of the block which consists of small long parcels generally parallel and aligned to the street and extending through the block from rue Vandrezanne to rue du Monlinet. This pattern is the basis for the design of the three courts and the solid/void pattern of parallel buildings and spaces. Blocks in this part of the 13th arrondissment are typically long and narrow so that the large void on the interior of the perimeter block typical to much of the city is here abbreviated to frontage along the street and a pattern of quite random, leftover open spaces on the interior. This site extends through the block from Vandrezanne to du Moulinet, but changes from a long frontage on the north to a very narrow infill block on the south. Two parallel rows of building define three long courtyards extending through the site. Perpendicular to these, another set of parallel building elements defines the ends of the courtyards and narrow passageways between the through courtyards. Entrance can be made from either street along a promenade of narrow passages, steps, and landscaped courts into a tranquil realm of apartments most of, which have balconies overlooking the courtyards. Each courtyard is different but all have both hard and soft landscape, are aligned north south, and receive ample sunlight. The first courtyard is experienced as a partially paved and landscaped vestibule to the interior of the block off rue Vandrezanne and defines further passage to the end of the courtyard. The second is central to the complex and is defined as a symmetrical group defining an axis extending to the south, down and into the third courtyard which is also landscaped, enclosed by existing structures and a new ell-shaped block with encloses the long side of the courtyard and makes frontage and another entrance along rue du Moline. The individual buildings vary in height from 6 floors along Vandrezanne to 7 floors along du Moulinet, however, the blocks around the courtyards are 4 and 5 floors in height. Ground floor dwellings have private entrances while upper apartments are reached with four different stair/elevator stacks. Most apartments are one to three bedroom flats although there are two level duplexes at the top two floors along rue du Moulinet. Most apartments have balconies or small gardens. Landscaping consists of raised planters along the building surfaces to provide some privacy for ground floor residents, walls, lighting, and paving. The Vandrezanne facade is a very closed, planar surface that continues the line of existing buildings and is rendered as a dark gray rampart to the Galaxie towers across the street. Offices and two building lobbies occupy the ground floor with 5 floors of flats above stepping back to form a continuous terrace at the top. The rue du Moulinet facade, which is very narrow by comparison, also fits the line of existing buildings but is white with recessed oblique walls painted Etruscan red--a preview of the interior courtyards--and steps back forming terraces for the duplex apartment at the top.

The promenade from the street via either entrance, through the courtyards and into apartments with balconies overlooking the courtyards is a very developed and expressive spatial theme. The variation in building heights, the spatial variation of narrow/wide, dark/light, and the use of stairs, ramps, and garden terraces to enhance the experience of moving through and around in these spaces all seem to be a development of the original concept of a small inner ôlot of squares and narrow passages. The architectural detailing of the individual building elements-balconies, corner windows, balcony balustrades and details, the articulation of building and balcony intersections-suggests an emphasis on the individual dwelling further developing the theme of small city. The use of color, from the black walls of some of the walls of the lower parts, including the bright blue ("Klein blue") walls of some of the garden elements, recessed gray walls in plaster, of the lower floors and the vertical gradation of color and as layers of building detail that enhances the gradation of light from floor to sky all help produce a remarkable illuminosity. The zone of three identical blocks extending between north/south building zones that are colored Etruscan red, reinforce the reading of spatial striations as part of the promenade experience and are also part of the intention to articulate building elements and suggest individual dwellings. The strength of the theme of individual courtyards rests with the central courtyard, which is detailed as a quadrilateral symmetrical vignette, approached on axis from the south, with the balconies on the long sides supported by finned elements. Because the third "tower" of the row along the north edge of the central court extends into the corner and helps make the entry vestibule to the entrance from Vendrezanne, a spatial connection between the two courts is implied.

Haussmann zoning provided zoning and building standards that ensured a uniform urban quality to the streets of Paris. In areas like this part of the 13th arrondissment where there was a much more diverse, chaotic pattern of growth, and mixed use that include industrial uses, starting over using CIAM planning ideas seemed like the only way to avoid the endless problems of piecemeal redevelopment. Buffi's project offers a different model for rebuilding neighborhoods like this. While the actual density here is probably far less that that achieved with high-rise apartment towers of projects like Galaxie, a much more private and residential scale is achieved with the strategy of rebuilding parts of the city like this. The adjustment of scale from the hustle and bustle of the Paris street to the quiet, serene but brilliantly lighted private realm of the interior of the block is all made as part of a ritual of passage from the larger city to the village within the îlot

Jean Michel Hoyet, Contemporary Architecture in Paris, Tech. & Arch., Paris, 1996, p. 92.

Techniques et Architecture, Sept. 1991, pp. 55-59.

Jean-Louis Cohen/Bruno Fortier, Paris La Ville et ses Projects (A City in The Making), Pav. de l

Jean-Pierre Buffi, Projects et Réalisations, Le Moniteur, Paris, 1994, p. 56-59.S

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