Slab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, point-accessTower
Bobigny HLM Low Cost Housing
Candilis, Georges, Alexis Josic, Shadrach Woods | Paris, France | 1954-58
Image of Bobigny ...
Typical grouping of point-access slabs.

ProjectBobigny HLM Low Cost Housing
ArchitectCandilis, Georges, Alexis Josic, Shadrach Woods
AddressAve. de la Division Leclerc/Ave. Henri Barbusser/Ave. de l'Etoile
Building TypeSlab, gallery access
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellings722
Date Built1954-58
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1,2 & 3 BR flats
No. Floors5-17
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
concrete, plaster, aluminum windows
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesparking, some shops, community center

The firm Candilis-Josic-Woods, probably did more to determine the shape of French social housing in the 1950's and 1960's than any other group of French architects. Georges Candilis, a Greek, and Shadrach Woods, an American, met while working on the Marseille unité d'habitation in Le Corbusier's office, in 1948. Later they worked together in the ATBAT-Afrique group designing low cost housing in Morocco where they met Alexis Josic, a Yugoslav. The three formed the firm in 1955 along with two engineers, Henri Piot & Paul Dony. Between this time and the late 1960's, Candilis-Josic-Woods designed between 30 and 40,000 dwellings in France. In 1955, they won a national competition for the design of low cost housing called Opération Million, that included the commission to build 2500 dwellings in the suburbs of Paris and southern France. By 1962, several thousand low cost dwellings had been built under this program in the banlieu of Paris on 11 different sites and in other cities like Marseille and Bagnols sur Cèze in the south of France. The Bobigny site shown here is quite typical of these projects.

Both Candilis and Woods were active members of the CIAM group and were part of the Team X group that prepared the platform for the 10th CIAM Congress at Dubrovnik in 1955 and later organized the meeting at Otterlo in 1959. CIAM was dissolved after the Otterlo congress and the Bagnols sur Cèze project that Candilis and Woods presented at Otterlo marked the end of a period in the firm's work that had been dominated by late CIAM principles. Team X, a group of younger members of CIAM, was formed as a reaction to the functionalist ideals and Ville Radieuse town planning principles that had come to characterize CIAM Congresses and work. The four functional categories of the Athens Charter of 1933--Dwelling, Work, Recreation & Transportation--was replaced with a new set of categories that reflected a changing attitude about the relationship between physical form and socio-psychological need: House, Street, District, & City. The detached, free-standing groups of slabs and towers that had come to typify late CIAM planning was to be replaced with an emphasis on infrastructure, growth, linear organization and street and pedestrian networks. The elevated pedestrian streets of Allison and Peter Smithson's Golden Lane project, 1952, the continuous network of connected galleries of Park Hill in Sheffield, by Lynn and Smith, 1961, and the continuous linear network of housing proposed by Candilis-Josic-Woods in their winning competition for the new town of Toulouse Le Mirail, 1961 were the models of Team X urbanism. The change in principles is clearly evident by comparing Bobigny, which is an example of the late CIAM work of Candilis-Josic-Woods with Toulouse Le Mirail, an example of the firm's post Team X work.

Bobigny is a village on the eastern perimeter of Paris, a few kilometers east of Porte de Pantin along Avenue General Leclerc. A site that is several kilometers from the town center was selected for one of the Opération Million projects, to be built for the independent building society Emmaus as habitation loyer modere (HLM) or low income dwellings financed with government loans. Emmaus projects were usually built under strict planning and budget conditions and ancillary facilities were limited to a couple of shops, a parish hall and a community center. Bobigny contains 722 apartments that are versions of a range of stock apartment types.

The apartments are grouped into three different building configurations. The first is a single 17-story point-access tower, a version of a type of pinwheel plan developed by Candlis-Josic-Woods and typically has 8 dwellings per floor organized around a central stair and elevator core and short connecting corridors. The rest of the dwellings are organized in two different types of 5-story connected slabs. These buildings are organized either as gallery-access or point-access types. With each, building elements containing several flats per floor are connected to stair elements to create a form of segmented linear or ell-shaped slab. In both types, each apartment has a small balcony off the living area. The gallery slabs are all organized on an east-west alignment with the galleries along the north side of the building so the apartments face south. The access stairs for these buildings are attached to the gallery. Building entrances are located at the articulation between slab segments. These slab elements define a perimeter edge, interlock to define several large courtyards on the interior of the site, and align along Avenue de l'Etoile that runs through the site. The courtyard areas are used for parking and some defined play areas and are minimally landscaped. Commercial space was created in the ground floor of the tower and along Ave. de l'Etoile.

The extremely basic construction of concrete frame, masonry/plaster walls, infill windows, cantilevered balconies and recessed entrances results in a repetitive but hierarchical massing and elevation composition. The stepping strategy in the plan is an effective way to break down the zeilenbau effect of repetitive,unarticulated slabs. The windows combine a vertical infill panel and a horizontal clerestory that alternates with blank plaster walls. The tower connects two of the ell-shaped groups creating a dominant vertical element in the central area of the complex. The typical tower façade is a version of the frame and infill system. Here the plaster infill panel is slightly recessed from the structural frame and is punctuated with stock window elements that alternate from floor to floor resulting in a varied composition of identical parts. While the larger court spaces are well defined and partly landscaped, auto access and parking reduces their use as landscaped public spaces. Most of the ground floor apartments are raised slightly above grade for privacy.

A huge stock of international housing was built in the 1960's applying late CIAM doctrines. These projects can be seen on the outskirts of most large cities, the result of social housing programs charged with providing large numbers of economical dwellings. The application of rational building technology, prefabrication, and assembly techniques, inevitably resulted in repetitive zeilenbau formations, or naive, facsimile reproductions of Ville Radieuse high-rise towers and slabs, les grands ensembles of the Paris banlieu. Typically these projects were built on the outskirts of cities where there was available land. In the 1970's there was widespread public outcry about living conditions in these projects and many countries were taking steps to either remodel or replace them. By the 1980's les grands ensembles program in France was the subject of so much derision that it had pretty much been abandoned in favor of projects to renovate the central city. There were even examples of very innovative early CIAM projects that were demolished (see La Muette). In the face of all this reaction, the very innovative work of Candilis-Josic-Woods has largely been forgotten. It is ironic that none of the recent guides to modern architecture in Paris even mention the firm. While there are obvious lessons to be learned from the shortcomings of the CIAM model of housing, Candilis-Josic-Woods were designing within a system that was driven by a national program of low cost housing. Accepting the limitations of big districts of high-rise slabs and towers, their extensive studies of dwelling and building typologies is doubtless some of the most important housing research done after WWII.

Woods, Shadrach, Candilis-Josic-Woods; Building for People, Praeger, N.Y., 1968, pp. 42,53, 84-86,125,131,172.

Frampton, Kenneth, Modern Architecture; A Critical History, Thames and Hudson, London, 3rd edition, 1992, pp. 269-79.

Newman, Oscar, New Frontiers in Architecture; CIAM '59 in Otterlo, Universe Books, N.Y., 1961, pp. 114-127.

Smithson, Alison,

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