Building Communities

Sponsored by:

Arts Council for England
 
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These pictures were all taken in a large residential area in Paris, called le Front de Seine ("By the Seine"). Most of the buildings were erected in the 1970's but the ensemble harks back to ideas formulated by LeCorbusier, most noticibly the stark separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. A raised platform connects all the towers and provides the best vantage points.

The photographs for the project “Building Communities” were taken in early 2009, in Paris, in a district of high-rise buildings called le Front de Seine. I have lived in France for most of my life and indeed was born in Paris. I have known these buildings for many years: they have a magical, other-wordly feel to them. They are unnatural – the product of our industrial revolution which has given us synthetic materials and new ways of building our homes. I am drawn to the variety of colours and textures these enable, from smooth sheet metal to dull plastic to undressed concrete, from dirty greys and buffs to lurid yellows and reds.

The architecture in these buildings stems from ideas which have their root in the 1920’s, a time when designers were looking to break with over-fussy traditions. They were grappling with novel phenomena, such as how to house so many people – in England we have terraces and post war, we started stacking two-ups, two-downs on top of each other to create tower blocks, many of which are clearly defined by the ‘need’ to have two storeys per apartment. Why so? The buildings in this project are full of life thanks to the riot of patterns on their exteriors.

They were also wondering what to do with the car: the sensible but ground-breaking solution was to separate vehicular traffic from pedestrian traffic – there would now be two types of road: those that lead to your community and those that lead to your house. The photographs in this project are all taken from a vast concrete plinth built above street level, which connects all the towers in the quiet and safety of a world without cars. This is a world made for humans, decorated and pleasant. To give an idea of scale, the esplanade runs for the best part of a mile by half-a-mile.

The net result of this approach is to create a secluded garden populated by giants. For he or she who lives in the community, they are benevolent creatures. For outsiders, myself included, they are fearsome beasts. Comfort and claustrophobia are two sides of the same coin. Undaunted by the scale of the developments, the locals have heartily taken to making this place, their place: the potted plants, the curtains, the graffiti – these are all ways of stamping their individual identities on a communal home.

I would consider this project a success if it conveys to the viewer my love for the graphical nature of the Front de Seine, for its architecture, and the attachment the residents feel for the buildings which represent their community.

 

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