This, the first major project by the Taller de Arquitectura to be built in France, forms part of the Villes Nouvelles policy which the French government adopted for the outskirts of Paris: whole towns created from scratch in order to ease the congestion in the city centre and promote orderly growth, while avoiding as far as possible the creation of mere suburbs. As well as being the first of Bofill’s constructions in France, this scheme constitutes a significant landmark in the history of the Taller de Arquitectura. In the texts of the time which served to introduce the project, the point of departure was established as being the relationship between technology and architectural history, thus defining and seeking to combine avant la lettre the two different tendencies which were subsequently taken up by the movement known as postmodernism.
A product of the darkest moment of the crisis of the 70s, this is a project which seeks to resolve the acute housing problem speedily and economically. The form and distribution of the blocks of apartments is based on the elements of a French Garden, introducing a considerable change of scale and transforming the hedges into buildings. This layout made it possible to generate the public spaces, basic to the formation of the town: the street and the square; the street as the place of circulation, and the square, as the place for meetings and get-togethers. Thanks to the large underground car park which links all the blocks together, all of the streets are exclusively pedestrian, some of them flanked by porticoes.
The orthogonal layout of the blocks, streets and squares also evokes a solution adopted on a number of historic occasions, from the Hippodamus of Miletus to New York, by way of La Valette and Ildefons Cerdà’s Barcelona. The simplicity of the orthogonal organization is amply justified by the functional efficiency, all the more so in times of crisis such as the period from which the scheme dates. The compositional analysis of the French Garden was not restricted to a reproduction of its forms, but was a genuine attempt at creating a Garden City, in which the vegetation and the lake play a fundamental part. The notable presence of the lake prompted the construction of aqueduct and the form adopted for new blocks of housing built out over the water in a return to the famous French tradition of building castles on bridges, especially in the Loire region.
The Taller de Arquitectura’s final concern, at the moment of the project’s starting on site, focused on the danger arising from the ease with which the urban model they had evolved could be picked up and copied without a similar recreation of the rigorous analysis which necessarily preceded their scheme. In time, their misgivings were in part confirmed, and the postmodern movement that was then beginning to emerge was discredited by an unthinking vulgarization comparable to that suffered in its time by the Modern Movement.
As far as the practical realization of the project was concerned, there were all the many limitations of standards, codes and prices to be faced, a certain number of terms had to be redefined, in particular the utilization of existing technology such as prefabrication, by improving certain of its characteristics, the structural system by means of tunnel casting and façades by panels of prefabricated concrete or terracotta facing.
We worked on the ensemble of the project, the design of the molds for the façades, their simple “ornamentation” in apparent concrete and the material of this concrete, in order to discover the system of proportions and texture that correspond to the aesthetic needs of the “classical” project that we had envisaged.
We sought to convert the rationalist block into a thin, elegant unit, 8-10 meters deep, so as to obtain a double exposure for all the housing units. The sanitary rationalist myth become obsolete, since double exposure of East-West and North-South exist everywhere. Based on this postulate, rationalist constructions, which in the past were situated in order to have a southern exposure, would now dispose of greater freedom as far as façades were concerned. Now it was possible to have a design that would combine with the pattern of the exterior space of street and square, and thus participate in the design of the public space, as was done in the grand tradition of Architecture.
Vertical Garden City, built for the inhabitants, with nature, without automobiles, but with underground parking facilities in order to preserve the individual means of transport.
“Le Viaduct” a complex of 74 apartments, was actually built out over the artificial lake. Access to the apartments is at ground level, by way of a pedestrian street composed of the little bridges which communicate the ground floors of each of the six blocks. The vertical circulation nuclei occupy the central part of the north façade, and all of the rooms are exterior.
“Les Arcades du Lac” contains 389 subsidized apartments grouped in four square blocks with a spacious interior courtyard, accessible from the street. The buildings consist of ground floor and three upper floors. All apartments have dual orientation. The stairs are located in pavilions which project out from the façade, serving two doors to a landing and giving direct access to the car park. The program includes public spaces with plazas and gardens on the shores of the artificial lake.
Thus we have simply accomplished this exercise as the first model of a complex series of projects to be developed further on. We know that like every primary model, it is easily reproduced, and we know by inheritance, the danger of the divulgation of simple models. This is the reason why the project contains some totally subjective elements, and that, based on this first example, we have developed a series of complex exercises where the technological and cultural requirements have become more complicated.