Perimeter block, cornerPerimeter block, courtyardPerimeter block, infill
Saint-Fargeau Firemens' Housing
Brossy, Vincent | Paris, France | 1997-2000
Image of Saint-Farg...
End of the new apartments above the firestation.

ProjectSaint-Fargeau Firemens' Housing
ArchitectBrossy, Vincent
AddressPlace Saint Fargeau/Ave. Gambetta (20th)
Building TypePerimeter block, corner
Perimeter block, courtyard
Perimeter block, infill
Number of Dwellings45
Date Built1997-2000
Dwelling Types2.3 & 4 BR flats
No. Floors8
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
steel, concrete, perforated metal panels, glass,
Construction TypeSteel Frame
Ancillary Servicesfirestation functions, basement parking

This striking complex on a prominent site at the top of Ménilmontant hill combines the adaptive reuse of a turn of the century barracks and the construction of new center for the Paris Fire Department. A new glass and steel building built next to the masonry barracks dominates the street scene at this busy intersection and appears to levitate out over the street, seemingly unsupported by any apparent structure. In total contrast with its context--masonry and concrete walls vs. exposed steel frame and glass--this dynamic new building is certainly one of the most provocative and interesting examples of new housing in Paris. The new center includes 45 flats for firemens' families, rooms for 30 firemen who are on call, as well as space for the maintenance and parking of 10 fire vehicles, an administration and command center, an infirmary, a gymnasium, food service facilities, an exercise yard and tower for training, and a landscaped garden area for the residents.

The site concept was to use the long barracks building to establish the corner and define an open area extending to a row of 10-story 1970's apartment buildings to the west. The new 7-story slab was placed in this open space defining a large paved court that is used as a service and training area and a landscaped garden area to the west, an area with some existing old trees, the residue of the former open space on the interior of the îlot. A long low portal along the street houses the Fire Department command center, describes a zone of stalls for the fire vehicles, and functions as the gate to the service court behind. The end of this new glass and steel slab appears to be detached from the top of the command center and projects out toward the street. This end façade is wider than the end of the slab and has been detailed as a wider element divided by a deep cutout that is built to the side of the adjacent building. The terracing and widening of the end of the slab is critical to the treatment of the façade along the street. At the opposite end of the large training courtyard, an open tower that is used for training attaches to the side of the new slab providing some closure to the end of this space. The apartments on the upper floors are arranged around three point-access vertical cores and arranged with living spaces opening to continuous balconies overlooking the trees and landscaping to the west. The height and position of the new slab was determined by zoning requirements. The functional diagram thus places public functions such as the infirmary, food service, gymn, public offices and other large public spaces on the lower floors of the old barracks. The upper floors have been remodeled into rooms for the firemen, public toilets, and some family apartments. The command center is located above the vehicle stalls along the street. The masonry wall of the barracks and the glass curtain wall of the new building define a long narrow space between the two that extends as a high space beneath the new slab. Except for the curving lobby to the apartment levels that is accessed from the street through the garden, the slab seems to be unsupported at the ground floor. In fact there are just three supports for this huge slab and herein lies one of the remarkable technological features of the building.

An important functional requirement of the center was the large training court where vehicles could be moved about, hydraulic ladders operated and equipment serviced. While emergency vehicles are backed into the stalls facing the street for quick exit, the training court had be large and unencumbered by structure so that equipment could drive in, move around in the area and exit to the street. To accomplish this, a suspended structure was designed that has only three points of support. The lattice of steel structure obvious from the street is suspended from two huge girders on top of the building, each 210 cm deep and 85 meters long. Two "V" steel piers next to the curving building lobby and a structural wall along the garden side of the lobby are the only supports. These three supports hold up the girders and the steel frame is then hung with tension rods. The supporting system is painted red, red columns and red tension rods, while the framing system is painted dark blue. In effect the building is a bridge, 85 meters long, and seven stories high that is supported towards the center and is laterally stabilized by the stair tower and added section of apartments along the street and the training tower at the end of the courtyard. The color-coding clearly differentiates floor framing from structural support.

This remarkable structure, a combination of a primary structure using steel tubes, traditional framing using rolled steel sections and a system of tension rods, was influenced by studies of light weight tubular steel framing and latticed systems that were developed in the late 1950's by the engineer Jean-Louis Sarf and later applied in the Croulebarbe tower by Sarf and the architect Edouard Albert, built in 1958. Certainly this follows the tradition of innovative French engineering such as the advanced structures of Jean Prouvé, Piano and Rogers, and others. Beyond the suspension idea, the very light and transparent quality of this building conveyed by other sophisticated details and materials, the large panels of glass along the street that provide sound protection, perforated metal screens, the curtain walls with big hopper windows that face the training court, the rolling wood panels on the inside of the glass walls, and other elements, railings, terrace details and balconies. The transparent glass and steel character of the new additions contrasts completely with the dense masonry walls and small windows of the old barracks.

The combination of fire station and housing is an unlikely mix. The very functional ambience of the street front with the long unadorned marquee and emergency vehicles regularly moving in and out of the stalls and courtyard, would seem to be the antithesis of a residential place. Equally, the barracks building, is quite obviously a public gathering place that is hardly ideal for family living. The concept of separating the quarters for the duty firemen from the larger flats helps to isolate the purely residential areas of the project. The existence of mature trees and a very quite interior garden that is isolated from the bustle of the maintenance and training areas, the position of the curving glass wall of the entrance lobby, and the pleasant entrance walk through the garden help set the residential areas apart from the rest of the center. The apartments facing Place Saint-Fargeau, while they do not benefit from the interior garden, do have terraces which are raised well above the functional areas below, are partially glazed for sound protection or, as in the case of the two narrow flats at the western edge of the site have separate balcony elements. The residential floors of the barracks are organized around two vertical service areas that have common bathrooms in addition to the stairs and elevators. Here the high spaces of the original rooms were modified with mezzanine levels while the north end of the building has separate vertical service with two flats per floor.

While many European countries have housing programs for government workers, the strategy of providing residential quarters next to the functional operation of public institutions like the Police, Fire, and Postal offices may be unique to Paris. The Postal Service program of 1500 dwellings and the new Saint-Fargeau center shown here suggest an attitude about ensuring that public services have a very visible public presence and that the construction of public facilities like these can be the catalyst for rebuilding city neighborhoods.

AMC, June-July, 2000, pp. 76-81.

Adventures Architecturales à Paris; L'art dan les règles, (exhibition catalogue) Éditions du Pavillon de l'Arsenal, Picard Éditeur, Paris, 2000, pp. 42-47.

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