Perimeter block, courtyardPerimeter block, infill
Diener & Diener (Roger Diener) | Paris, France | 1995-97
Image of Roquette
Street (south) facade

ArchitectDiener & Diener (Roger Diener)
Address117-119, rue de la Roquette, 11th arrondisement
Building TypePerimeter block, courtyard
Perimeter block, infill
Number of Dwellings37
Date Built1995-97
Dwelling Types2-4 BR flats
No. Floors5-7
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
limestone, aluminum, metal
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesshops at grade, parking for 53 cars

Roger Diener is well known for his buildings and urban proposals for geometric minimalist housing and mixed development blocks in Basel, Berlin, Amsterdam, and, most recently, this project in the 11th arrondisement in Paris. This site, along the processional street that connected the Bastille area to the old Père Lechaise cemetery a few steps away across Boulevard Mènilmontant, continues the firm's emphasis on strategies for additive building within the context of existing streets, blocks, and buildings. The building elements used in this rebuilding process are typically extremely simple, prismatic blocks, logically and volumetrically organized to complement existing site conditions and clearly organized in plan, section, and elevation. Rue de la Roquette was the street of funeral processions to Père Lechaise Cemetery. It was also the site of guillotining that took place fairly regularly in front of the two 19th century prisons that stood further down the street, one for men, La Grande-Roquette, removed in 1900, and the other for women, La Petite-Roquette, not torn down until the 1970's. Built in a district of dilapidated buildings, the Diener project is one of the first new buildings to be built at the north end of the street that aligns with the widths required under the new zoning. The site is organized around two, separated ell-shaped blocks that face the street and define two courtyards, one paved and one landscaped, on the interior of the block. A row of shops face the street, however, ground floor apartments and the building lobbies open to the inner courtyards.

The elementarist/modernist pallet is an obvious quality of the street façade. In each building, four floors of flats, positioned on top of a raised plinth that will be used for shops, define a cornice that more-or-less continues the height of the block. Above this, both buildings set back and extend up one more floor on the eastern side and two more floors on the west, a total of six and seven floors. These blocks are not part of Haussmann's Paris and this variation in heights reflects the random nature of the existing block massing. The two buildings are separated by a narrow coulisse leading through a tall narrow open passage to the courtyard. The subtle differences in building height is also a quality of the facades where windows are of equal widths and are equally spaced, but change from windows to doors with built-in balustrades on the west block and the courtyard façade of the eastern block. The building massing and windows mirror the street façade where the limited selection of window sizes is again applied. The building lobbies are entered from a very serene, minimalist courtyard and ground floor flats have windows directly on this court. The west block also has a small garden on the west side of the building where the ground floor flats have more privacy. The building plans and flats are extremely well organized and redundant. The corner position of vertical circulation defines several different-sized dwellings on each floor that have windows facing either the street or the courtyards. The equal size and spacing of the windows is an indication of the very systematic plan. The limestone facades are devoid of any extraneous detail without except for the repetitive windows, sills and balustrades, and the schematic articulation of the structural frame in the plinth of shops along the street.

The stripped-down, geometric quality of Diener designs is quite uncommon in most recent examples of social housing in Paris where a much more layered, effusive--and probably expensive--style prevails. In the huge ZAC projects where several blocks are being redeveloped at a time involving thousands of new apartments, shopping, schools and infrastructure, a completely new architecture reflecting current trends and construction technology might be appropriate. But for many other areas that are redeveloped parcel by parcel, building by building, a more stylistically neutral, contextual, kind of architecture that responds to basic zoning, existing building massing and detail, and the definition of private courtyards, is probably a much less intrusive process of more enduring value.

L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, June, 1997, pp. 35

AV Monographs, No. 65, V-VI, 1997.

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