Perimeter block, courtyardPerimeter block, infill
Boulevard Belleville
Borel, Frederic | Paris, France | 1985-89
Image of Boulevard ...
Boulevard de Belleville (south) facade.

ProjectBoulevard Belleville
ArchitectBorel, Frederic
Address100 Blvd. de Belleville (20th)
Building TypePerimeter block, courtyard
Perimeter block, infill
Number of Dwellings77
Date Built1985-89
Dwelling Typesstudio to 3 BR. flats and duplexes
No. Floors4
Section Typeflats/duplexes
Exterior Finish
stone, glass, steel
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesshops, 77 parking spaces below grade

The commercial district along Boulevard Belleville in the 20th arrondissment, is typical of many dilapidated, low-income, immigrant districts in Paris that lie in the fringe areas just outside the historic center. The blocks in this part of Paris consist of a building stock that varies greatly in age, style and condition, but typically buildings front the street in a regular line while the interior of the block is a much more random pattern of solid and void. In the late 1980's and early 1990's the Régie immobiliére de la Ville de Paris (RIVP) was rebuilding several projects in the blocks along and adjacent to Boulevard Belleville and, in 1987, Borel was selected as the architect for two RIVP projects in the block between Blvd. Belleville, rue Ramponeau and rue Bisson. RIVP liked to hire young architects for these projects and Borel was just 30 years old when he received these commissions.

The most interesting of the two sites, is a long, irregular, narrow parcel that fronts Blvd. Belleville but extends about 50 meters into the interior of the block. Borel's building strategy in this chaotic site is to insert a truncated paved courtyard back into the site from the sidewalk. A new building along one side of the court encloses this space. This building steps in height from 9 floors at the street end to a 7-story tower at the end of the court. The undulating roof of this element, its articulated intersection with the tower at the narrow end and the open arcade at the bottom all help create a forced perspective view into the interior of the block. To resolve the difference in the height of adjacent buildings, the Belleville frontage is designed as three different, separate, semi-attached objects. The two outer elements connect to the adjacent buildings and while taller, are detailed to respond to existing heights. The third element in the middle is recessed slightly and is rendered as a diminutive rounded, metallic, tower that picks up the height of the lower adjacent building and is supported on 8 round columns. These three miniature towers frame the perspective view into the courtyard. These towers are the most obvious examples of Borel's very idiosyncratic use of forms and materials; stone, metal, tilted walls, vaulted elements, deep cut-outs, elements of local symmetry mixed with automotive and railroad imagery amid subtle references to 1930's Parisian Classic Moderne

The long wall along the side of the courtyard has an elevator/stair core at each end and is organized with shops along the side walk and office space on the lower 4 floors facing the courtyard. The top floors of this block contain flats and duplexes accessed by an open gallery along the courtyard. This element steps in height from the vaulted top which is canted toward to street, to a terrace at the 6th floor rising again to the 7 story height of the rear tower. Attached to the opposite side of this stepped wall element and facing the interior of the block, is a lower, curving terraced element which steps in height from 3 to 4 floors. This forms terraces for apartments in the courtyard wall, and contains a combination of flats and duplexes apartments with windows to the landscaped interior of the block. Access to these apartments is via the rear tower and a two-story-high loggia on the 4th floor. The towers on the street all have vertical access from the elevator and stair in the left tower, and connecting bridges. In the combined group of buildings, there are 47 apartments varying in size from studio to 3 bedroom dwellings, several floors of commercial use, seven shops on the ground floor, and 77 parking spaces.

Borel's application of diverse forms, materials, and details and his application of "scenographic" and contextual urban themes in the design of the block and courtyard might be seen as a further development of the reactions to modernist building that were taking place in Paris in the 1970's. Borel worked for Christian de Portzamparc and was certainly familiar with similar strategies that had been applied with de Portzamparc's housing on rue de Hautes-Formes (1979). Henri Gaudi's apartments on nearby Ménilmontant, an infill project on a difficult corner site which also involved a courtyard and a pallet of complex forms (1986) was another local precedent. Antoine Grumbach's work in the Ménilmontant redevelopment, on the opposite slope of the Belleville hill, one of the first applications of the new redevelopment, infill strategy, while much less formally experimental may also be seen as predecessor to Borel's Belleville apartments. Borel received the 1990 Le Moniteur prize for the debut commission of an architect, for Belleville which thus becomes a pivotal design in Borel's work and the precedent for other similar deep infill sites including his design for the Post Office housing on rue Oberkampf, 1994.

Herve Martin Bedoire, Guide To Modern Architecture in Paris, Éditions Alternatives, Paris, 1996, p. 278

Frederic Borel, architecte: 100 Boulevard de Belleville; Paris Vingtieme/photographies de Nicolas Borel, éditions demi-cercle, Paris, c. 1990

Architectural Design, 1991, vol 61, no. 3-4, pp. 78-79

Abitare, July-Aug, 1992, p. 144.

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