Edouard François is annoyed. His new building, Urban Collage, has been completed in Champigny-sur-Marne, a south-eastern suburb of Paris, and he is reflecting on the work of other architects in the area. “They say, ‘There is nothing interesting in this area – I’ll take my money and go.’ Then they do a shit,” François says. “I think this area requires you to give a lot, to be very generous. I don’t know if what I’ve done is good architecture or not – that is not my purpose – but I am sure I am contributing something to the area.”
François was concerned with the incoherent urban fabric of Champigny-sur-Marne. He identified a tension between the large concrete housing blocks, the townhouses and the small dwellings that had cropped up between them: “Everyone is putting little housing in front of the urban drama of the tower blocks. It’s complete heightism. No one wants to speak about it, they pretend it doesn’t exist.”
The development is an attempt by François to make the three typologies respect each other. “I want the housing block to respect the town houses, the town houses to respect the smaller dwellings,” he says. “We cannot classify this area as a shitty, ugly area. So I said to myself, you just have to superimpose all the models from the surroundings. So this building speaks to all the different types around it and makes them quiet.”
Urban Collage comprises 114 apartments, with provision for retail and parking. At street level, providing a plinth for the project, are three-storey townhouses clad in copper, zinc and terracotta tiles. Atop this are three more storeys of concrete housing units that draw inspiration from the blocks of 1970s structures of the adjacent estates. At the summit, plonked at ad-hoc angles, are eight single-storey, pitched-roof family homes. A timber construction at the rear of the buildings affords each dwelling outside space.
François was also wary of creating a monotony at street level that he feels is one of the main failings of the banlieues. “A good city centre has an event on every part of the street. In Amsterdam there is a door, there is a staircase, there is a shop – there is something,” he says. “If you go to the banlieues you don’t get these elements – you have a wall, a wall, an entrance, nothing, nothing, nothing, a garage.” Urban Collage strives to animate the street by providing a regular patchwork of materials and openings. “And what happens now?” François asks rhetorically. “People go to Champigny, and you look at my blocks, then you look at the other blocks and say, ‘It’s not so ugly.'”