Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chapter 2: Architecture or Revolution

In 1923, Le Corbusier predicted that mass-produced housing would stave off revolution: “it is a question of building which is at the root of the social unrest of to-day,” he wrote, “architecture or revolution.”[1] Today, the mass-produced house—which he claimed was “a machine for living in”—has become a machine for social unrest and revolution.[2] Architects have repeatedly introduced formulaic interventions in specific projects but have failed to curtail rising social dissent.[3] To understand the role of architecture in the systematic social exclusion of France’s immigrants, it is important to look beyond the various forms of architecture to understand the meaning that they have come to acquire. In order to do this, it is important to look at the social possibilities that certain architectural forms enable or restrict. Today, the banlieue building type has come to symbolize immigrants’ exclusion. It is the objective correlative of Paris’s fractured social fabric.[4] Loaded with meaning, and inscribed with graffiti, it has performed over several decades as an instigator of social strife.

In this chapter, I trace the idealism of the architects of early 20th century Paris, and their conviction that new building materials and processes such as prefabrication—products of the industrial era—could solve the housing problem. Using three housing projects as case studies, I explore different approaches to working-class housing in the early twentieth century. I situate these projects on a spectrum defined by three kinds of housing architecture: the “romantic,” the “plastic,” and the “mechanistic.” Le Corbusier laments the first of these, the “romantic” worker’s dwelling, which he believes is a traditional house that is expensive to build. It signifies permanence. He compares it to the worker’s will because it is earned after a lifetime of hard work, and he therefore declares it inefficient and unsuitable for the modern citizen: “the mind, once it can be freed from romantic associations, will be eager to find a satisfactory solution to the problem.”[5] He proposes the “plastic” as an alternative, the kind of dwelling that could embody a sense of belonging for the worker even though it is mass-produced. It would do this, he argued, because it would be designed for customization: “a collective enthusiasm animates men's gestures, ideas, decisions and their acts...expressed in plastic terms and involving both precision and the capacity to move us, that marks the style of an epoch.”[6]

Image 2

The shift from the romantic idea of a house to a more plastic idea was beneficial for the worker who had been forced into the banlieue as a result of Haussmann’s transformations of Paris, but a further move along this spectrum toward the “mechanistic” was detrimental to fulfilling the architects’ idealistic premise. As my first example shows, many architects simply sought to house the workers efficiently, without serious regard for any architectural aspect of their new homes. I define “mechanistic” housing as housing described in the language of construction and numbers by its architects, who seek to monumentalize modern modes of production by mass-producing generic spaces. The mechanistic house treats its inhabitants as objects or modes of production. It consequently controls movement and vision in its space. While the “plastic” dwelling assumes that architecture has the agency to mediate social conditions, the “mechanistic” fallaciously presumes that architecture can be used to subvert society.

Historical Context

It is important to put Paris’s social housing projects in the context of a political history because they are public projects influenced by the ebb and flow of political maneuvers. The 20th century history of Paris—historically a gated city—is characterized by a seemingly tangible end of exclusivity informed by monarchy and colonialism. A different kind of exclusivity was emerging, one based on class status and manifest in the reconfiguration of urban space. With increasing immigration in the 20th century, especially from former colonies in North Africa, and with the building of the Grands Ensembles in the banlieue to meet housing needs, the working-class was systematically expelled from central Paris.

As I argued in Chapter 1, and as Le Corbusier’s quote at the beginning of this chapter illustrates, the housing question and the question of social unrest have been tied together since as far back as the nineteenth century. In 1872, Friedrich Engels contributed an article to the German journal Volksstaat, entitled “The Housing Question.”[7] He argued that the inevitable process of class struggle resulting in a revolution could not be quelled by a policy of housing reforms. “It is not that the solution of the housing question simultaneously solves the social question,” he wrote, “but that only by the solution of the social question, that is, by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, is the solution of the housing question made possible.”[8] He classifies the housing problem as a “secondary evil” that is necessary for the narrative of Marxism to reach its predicted end: “will the troglodyte with his cave, the Australian aborigine with his clay hut, and the Indian with his hearth ever accomplish a June insurrection and a Paris Commune?”[9]

Paris is a center stage for this discourse involving society and architecture. I have argued in Chapter 1 that, for all of Haussmann’s insistence on sanitation and beauty, his plan for Paris was also an attempt to tackle the social challenge posed by the poorly-housed working class. Paris had been the setting of revolutions in the past, and Haussmann’s urban scheme was meant as a deterrent to insurrection by a careful manipulation of space. Engels believes that that was its main aim:

The breeding places of disease, the infamous holes and cellars in which the capitalist mode of production confines our workers night after night, are not abolished [by Haussmann]; they are merely shifted elsewhere! The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place also.[10]

Another key contributor to the discourse regarding increasingly congested urban space is Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). As a solution to the housing crisis, Howard proposed the model of the Garden City in 1902.[11] He began with a specific problem: the town, he claimed, was like a magnet which had attracted too many people. His solution was to create a new kind of peripheral urbanism, a combination of both town and country, which he envisioned would embody the best of both worlds. He advocated for strong administrative control, evoking the kind of centralized legislation that allowed massive railway lines to be built over privately owned farms in England.[12]

Howard’s scheme was one of compromise; it avoided the debate between Engels and Haussmann and focused on the environmental aspects of urbanism and housing. But while he made no mention of the working class, his project too had undertones of an urbanism aimed to subdue or “civilize” the less-privileged. Like Haussmann, he wanted to cure the city of a “tumour.”[13] His evocation of the colonies[14] and of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace[15]—an exhibition space for Britain’s industrial products and products from its colonies—contributes to these patronizing undertones. His audience is for the ruling class of England: “If they want a permanent remedy of the evil they must remove the cause; they must back the tide, and stop the migration of the people into the towns.”[16]

Not surprisingly, the Garden City scheme was eagerly adopted by the French in the 20th century. Jean Pierre Gaudin analyses how Howard’s vision for British cities like Welwyn was adapted for the Paris banlieue. The French focused entirely on the social engineering aspect: “French reformers seemed to be less concerned with the ways and means of garden city planning than with the ideal of a new polity model, of a cité understood as a community pattern and citizen matrix.”[17] Howard’s otherwise specific diagrams were wrought with an ambiguity about the social question. This ambiguity allowed a compromise between opposing social groups in Paris: “the garden city offered an ordered and organic model of the cité, attractive both to the bourgeois and social democratic reformers”[18]

Thus the cité was born. The rapid and wide-spread production of Grands Ensembles in the mid-twentieth century created about 200 new cités in the Paris suburbs, mostly along the Seine. Gaudin writes that “the word cité appeared over and over as a leitmotiv in the first French exhibitions, handbooks and readers on urban planning.”[19] The process was accelerated in the mid-20th century as decolonization, immigration and a rapid modernization occurred in France. The colonial project and the project for the working class housing were linked: both were inspired by a sense of entitlement espoused by the colonizers and planners in the modern states, an idealism that a more perfect space would produce a more perfect society. Kristin Ross’s book Fast Cars, Clean Bodies contextualizes France’s progress in the 1950s-60s within the historic framework of the end of colonialism. During this period, Ross argues, French colonial impulses shifted inward and manifested themselves through the marginalization of immigrants. It seemed that industrialization could provide low-cost housing and gadgets for all, and the problem of space was solved by the speed of the automobile. More distant cités and Grands Ensembles were now conceivable because rapid transit seemed to have shrunk space itself. Modernist idealism coupled with “American capitalism” and the demand for objects such as the washing machine and the automobile forced Paris’s poor and immigrant residents out of the city and into the suburbs, where large housing projects awaited them.[20]

In the construction of the Grands Ensembles, forms and ideas of Modern architecture were adopted and mass-produced. The slab housing projects became quite literally “machines” to house workers. The speed with which this housing was produced and the relentless push toward an economic efficiency—the reduction of cost by using the greatest number of repetitive units—resulted in uniform and anonymous architecture. Over time, this anonymity was internalized by residents, especially when more and more immigrants moved into the Grand Enselmbles. As evidenced by the riots of 2005, the spatial reorganization had ghettoized the poor and immigrant population of Paris and had produced complex consequences for the social fabric of the greater Paris region.

Jean-Louis Cohen, a leading French architectural historian, traces a political history of the cité in his article, “Burning Issues in the Banlieues.” He explains the “deliberate political measures taken…by successive right-wing governments” that “sought to dismantle reform programs put in place previously.”[21] Cohen begins with Haussmann’s transformation of Paris in the 19th century and cites it as the beginning of the “movement to drive the poorer classes out toward the periphery.”[22] Haussmann cut through old medieval neighborhoods to “ventilate” and “socially elevate” the city.[23] The spatial divide occurred first within the center itself, as the working class was pushed out toward the eastern and northeastern arrondisements. In 1918, housing projects sprang up in the immediate suburbs of Paris, accommodating a new wave of immigrants who were mostly Italian. Even before this, as early as the end of the 19th century, Paris had begun “exporting its sick (with the building of hospitals), its dead (with the building of cemeteries), and finally its factories and its poor residents” to the suburbs. These developments caused the first “ring” of banlieues to become more populated.[24]

While cities like Berlin, London and New York had democratic metropolitan authorities in charge of the larger metropolitan area surrounding the cities, Paris had no such structure in place. Such a political establishment formed between the two world wars would have been dominated by the left wing, and this was something the “bourgeois coalition rejected at any price.”[25] The refusal by policy-makers to consider Paris's connection to the banlieue divorced the banlieues from the center: they did not just look completely different from Paris, they also felt like a very different place. The architecture and urbanism of the banlieues was nothing like that of Paris and they were separated from the city center on the level of political domain.

This lack of metropolitan solidarity is exemplified in the regional plan adopted in 1934 which reformed transportation policy and introduced the first initiative to limit industrialization of the metropolitan area. This plan, however, separated planning for the banlieues from the city planning for Paris, leaving “at its center a sort of void, this is, the city of Paris itself.”[26] The divide between the center and the periphery was deepened after the Second World War. Both rural-to-urban migration and the immigration from North Africa of Muslims, Jews, and European pied noirs (black feet, or immigrants born in Algeria) were accommodated by housing the new French in the Grands Ensembles while the old center continued to be gentrified by the rich and the middle classes. At the same time the government promoted a policy accelerating the construction of single family homes. This meant that middle class workers—particularly households with two incomes—could began to move out of the Grands Ensembles, leaving behind immigrant families impoverished by unemployment. The most destitute and marginalized found themselves trapped within the architecture of the Grands Ensembles. The space of the Grands Ensembles became even more oppressive when compared to the single family homes, which were owned by the rich and which began to emerge in some of the same suburbs.

In 1960, the Plan d’Aménagement d’Organisation Générale (PADOG) was ratified. It allowed the government of Charles de Gaulle to “skip over” the first ring of Paris’ suburbs and build new towns much further away from the center.[27] According to Cohen, the idea was to invest government resources into new satellite towns that could be better controlled, so that the power of the Communist party in the immediate suburbs could be stemmed.[28]

In 1973, the Minister of Housing, Olivier Guichard, recognized the role played by the Grands Ensembles in the deteriorating social fabric of the metropolitan area. The quick fix he introduced was a limiting of the length of slabs in each project to 60 meters.[29] Cohen describes the back and forth between left- and right-wing governments and their opposing policies for housing and social reform in the banlieues. Francois Mitterand’s left-wing government introduced the Zones d’Education Prioritaire (ZEPs) in 1982 to revive schools in the suburbs. Mitterand also launched the Banlieues 89 program to bring elected representatives and professionals together to improve public spaces within the housing projects in order to introduce architectural and urban innovations such as creating gardens and public spaces, reintroducing nature into the bare industrial construction, and giving the projects “an architectural identity that would be legible to the inhabitants.”[30] Mitterand’s recognition of the need for identity is commendable; he seemed to have grasped the importance of an architectural intervention not just on the formal level, but also on a symbolic level.

In 1991, Prime Minister Michel Rocard established a fund to redistribute revenues to the poorer quarters of the Paris metropolitan. It was the first measure taken in decades that looked at the metropolitan region and its disintegrating social fabric as a whole. Meanwhile, as Figure 1 illustrates, the simultaneous building of faceless public housing and quaint single-family homes continued to mark a stark contrast in architectural form in the suburbs. While Jacques Chirac’s right-wing government denounced the fracture sociale between the rich and the poor, he reversed all of Mitterand’s policies soon after taking office. This was followed in the return of the Left in 2000 with Lionel Jospin’s government and then by the right-wing government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin: the former provided extensive subsidized employment opportunities to the young and reformed the police structure to make it “preventative” rather than “aggressive”; the latter reversed or cancelled these policies.[31]

Cohen’s narrative suggests that a lack of government initiatives led to the worsening of conditions for the suburban housing projects. While Cohen believes the government is not doing enough to alleviate the discord in the peripheries of Paris, however, Steven Wassenaar blames the French government’s excessive involvement in architecture and housing, calling it the “annihilation” of architecture at the hands of the state.[32] He places the housing projects in the context of French art and architecture, which he claims are stagnant because of the government’s excessive influence and stake in the entire industry: “bound as it is to the inefficient state machinery, it is also incapable of meeting present-day demands of the multicultural metropolis and the citizen’s expectations….”[33] The reason the housing is incapable of meeting the social demands of its residents, he explains, is that a cookie-cutter solution is being applied across the board despite an increasingly diverse and ethnic modern France: “the influence of strict hierarchy within the Republic explains the aversion to true democracy and participation, in architecture as well.”[34]

Wassenaar’s analysis of French architecture in the context of a multicultural society brings to the forefront two seemingly contradictory values in French society: on the one hand we find a guarantee in the constitution of equal human rights for all, summed up in the slogan of liberté, égalité, fraternité; on the other hand there is a strong “urge for national identity” which means that every outsider “must be integrated [using a] well-oiled ‘machine to manufacture Frenchmen.’”[35] Ross would consider this latter urge a remnant of France’s colonial and imperial tendencies. They act through a rigid state structure to create physical spaces that exclude immigrants who are not deemed worthy of a city like Paris. A historic legacy of class and ethnic segregation gains intensity in the late 20th century and is reinstated through the articulation of lived spaces.

Marcel Lods and Eugène Beaudouin’s Cité de la Muette, Drancy (1930-1934)

The Cité de la Muette was the first Grand Ensemble to be constructed in France, ten kilometers north of Paris in the banlieue of Drancy. It represented the spirit of French industrialization and was the epitome of a rapid and enthusiastic embrace of new technology in the field of architecture. In Figure 3, a postcard proudly sports the Cité de la Muette as a great architectural feat. It was built between 1930 and 1934 and was originally designed to be a garden city inspired by Modernist ideals of hygiene and good living:

By the time the promise of the late twenties was translated into the real projects of the early thirties, one construction site in the Paris suburbs was increasingly singled out as most emblematic of the intensified alliance between technology and housing… with its apartment towers emerging from the featureless landscape, its systematized assembly of steel skeletons and prefabricated concrete panels, and the promised convenience of its automated trash disposal and central heating systems, it was presented as a powerful demonstration of the presumed links between technological innovation, efficiency, and social reform.[36]

Image 3

The quality of space in the Cité de la Muette was ultimately scaled down to increase the number of units it could accommodate. Sixteen-story point-access towers were connected by four-story point-access slabs called peignes (or combs). These basic elements defined long narrow courtyards extending from the towers towards the south. A repetitive courtyard of stepping two-story elements defined the north side of the site. A very large courtyard building (the grande cour) was located at the west end of the complex. The repetitive nature of units allowed for the provision of low-cost housing to many but lacked identity; it was monotonous and bland. Residents would have commuted to work every day, living in a space devoid of culture or history and disconnected from the life of the city. Robert Weddle writes that the innovation and idealism present in the Drancy project was hard to replicate in the countless other Grands Ensembles that were built immediately thereafter. He considers the Drancy project “the fruit of a brief period in which the ideals of modernized production were intensely promoted in France.”[37]

The ambitious goals for this landmark housing project were never realized because the beginning of its construction coincided with the international economic crisis of the 1930s. Increasing unemployment reduced the demand for cité housing among workers and, owing to cuts in government funding only 1,033 out of the proposed 1,234 apartments were completed. All of these remained unrented.[38]

The Cité de la Muette was the site of an internment camp from 1941 to 1944, the main transit spot for convoys of deported French Jews being taken away to Auschwitz. After 1944, it would have mattered very little what the architecture at Drancy looked like—far more important was what it had come to symbolize. A place of human torture, poverty, and crime, and occupied only by the poorest immigrant population, it was partially demolished in 1976.

[Drancy Images]

A booklet published by the French Comité National du Mémorial du Camp de Drancy hastily collages images of the Cité de la Muette during World War II, when it was being used as a prison.[39] In the images, people are living what seems to be a quiet and orderly life but they are surrounded by barbed wire fences. On the surface these seem like ordinary-looking images: a child photographed walking alone in the vast courtyard; women washing clothes; crowds quietly lining up to board the buses at the Drancy-Bourget station, just as I did in December 2010 when I visited the cité. Underneath this façade, there must have been an uneasy feeling of dread and panic. These buses would lead them to the death camps at Auschwitz.

In a brief description of the Cité de la Muette, Marc Emery's book, Un Siècle d’Architecture Moderne en France 1850-1950, leaves out any mention of the events that occurred there:

The architects [Marcel Lods and Eugène Beaudouin] further develop the same processes of prefabrication tested two years earlier in Bagneux [on a smaller-scale pre-fabrication housing project]: metal frames on which are hung sliding members in concrete. The general plan of the complex is more systematic: long, parallel, two-storey buildings forming five courses which are closed off by fifteen-storey towers that punctuate the landscape. Today, the appearance of the architecture is sad and dull. Or poorly maintained buildings are deteriorating and “green zones” without trees accentuate their depressing character. [40]

The plan of the housing around the grand courtyard in Figure 11 reflects the process of “systematic” production evident in the language used to describe the project. The aerial view in Figure 12 and the construction image in Figure 13 (one of many) also reassert this concept of an architecture of production—both in the way it is produced and in the way it allows efficient housing for labor, a factor of production. It does not facilitate individuation within its grand and singular scheme and is therefore “mechanized” rather than “plastic.”

Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, Marseilles (1947-1952)

Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (also known as the Cité Radieuse) at Marseilles, a housing project built in 1947-52, is a highly individualized housing project. Within its grand scheme of prefabricated units, there is a great deal of variation. Robert Slutzky's article “Aqueous Humor” compares this kind of architecture with the description of water in James Joyce’s Ulysses: it transcends the “universal” or rational, its proposed starting point, to tread on the “idiosyncratic” or “aqueous.”[41] This juxtaposition of two seemingly opposite forces, a rigid grid on the one hand and the possibility of customization on the other, creates a harmonious balance and gives the architecture both “form” and “meaning.”[42]

Image 14. An axonometric drawing of the Unité d’Habitation

The Unité d'Habitation lies between the “romantic” and the “mechanized” housing types. It is “plastic:” varied and complex despite being prefabricated. Figure 15 shows how different kinds of prefabricated units lock together to create a work of architecture. It also incorporates a range of programs—housing, recreation and commerce—in one building. The Unité’s aqueous dimensions—deviations from a type—set it apart from other large housing projects like the Cité de la Muette which resulted from the mechanical production of repetitive units.

Image 15. Prefabricated housing units fit neatly into the section of the Unité

The assembly of the Unité is more complex: its eighteen-storey framework is comprised of 337 apartments; the building locks together 23 variants of the basic apartment type into its grid. They are “stowed ‘neck-to-neck’ above each other.”[43] Each apartment type is standardized but when combined they produce a visual richness and rhythm. Each unit has three basic elements: a kitchen/living room, the master bedroom and bathroom, and the children’s bedrooms and bathroom. The manipulation, addition or subtraction of these basic elements creates a variety of dwelling types. Le Corbusier’s project is not just about the production of housing but also about the creation of a space to live in. This is evident in the conception of the “hearth” which results from a double height living room that is integrated with the kitchen on its lower level.[44] Each unit is assembled separately with the help of large-scale prefabrication.

Hugo Häring criticizes this kind of mechanical, or “functional,” architectural process in his essay “Approaches to Form” in 1926: he laments that during the “reign of the geometric culture, formal expression was derived from laws which were contrary to life.”[45] He is referring to Le Corbusier’s rigid doctrines such as “the five points” when he says he is “against the principles of Corbusier (but not against Corbusier);” he advocates for forms that are created “organically and not geometrically.”[46] While Häring is preoccupied merely with organic form, he makes an interesting distinction: “to mechanize things is to give them a mechanical life, a dead life, but to mechanize the process by which they are made is to win life.”[47] This distinction between an architecture that claims to be mechanical (in the way an organism may be considered mechanical), as opposed to an architecture that is mechanistic, is important. In this sense the Unité mechanizes the process of its construction while maintaining an organic dimension, or what Le Corbusier would call “plastic” architecture. Le Corbusier exercises specific innovations, or deviations from his mechanistic models to allow his architecture to transcend the “mechanistic.”

What makes the Unité “organic” is its conception as a “vertical garden city.”[48] Le Corbusier combines two main urban models in Europe to design a housing estate whose community is allowed to be “socially self-supportive;” he calls the housing units “logements prolongés” or extended dwellings: private life in the unit flows organically into public life by the support of “mechanical services and social amenities, such as the nursery school, day-care center, gymnasium and shops,” all of which are accommodated within the same building.[49] The communal facilities arranged on three levels: on the ground, in the shopping “street” half-way up the block, and on the roof deck. High-speed elevators transport the residents to artificially-lit rues-intérieur (interior streets) with a hotel, a restaurant, a bar, shops and other facilities including a laundry, bakery, butcher, hairdressing salon, sauna, estate office and commercial offices. The roof resembles the deck of an ocean-liner and comprises a nursery school, pool, sundeck, gymnasium and a 300-meter long running track.

A sense of harmony is felt most strongly in the use of concrete—or béton brut—in Le Corbusier’s Unité. He embraces the material for what it is: “a messy soup of suspended dust, grits and slumpy aggregate, mixed and poured under conditions subject to the weather and human fallibility.”[50] The piloti have a sculptural quality that results from a “sensuous bone-like cross-section hinting at anthropomorphism.”[51] This expressionistic gesture gives the building identity without making it overly monumental. The béton brut also lends the architecture symbolic value; Vincent Scully compares it to a Greek temple as it “stands upon its muscular legs as an image of human uprightness.”[52] The expression in the concrete sets it apart from the hundreds of anonymous housing estates scattered around France. It is no longer considered assembly-line housing for the poor; instead, the very same concrete becomes a “proudly natural material, analogous to stone and constituted literally from elements as old as the earth itself.”[53]

Le Corbusier dismantles and reintegrates his principles by revisiting the horizontal window and choosing, instead, the brise-soliel for the Unité and other post-war projects. Like the béton brut, the brise-soleil panels have a sculptural quality and lend rhythm and visual complexity to the façade. They are also functional: they screen direct sunlight from the apartment glazing in the summer months, while admitting the winter sun for a longer period of time. The environmental considerations in Le Corbusier project are always linked with a consideration of human activity and social interactions, as illustrated by the diagram in Figure 16.

Image 16. Diagram of the rhythm of light and the rhythms of human activity

Lesley Hussel attributes the consistent success of the Unité as a home for its residents to the “old-fashioned community spirit and the joie de vivre” inherent in it.[54] The flats are so popular that they “change hands within days at prices which are above average for Marseilles…. The irony would not be lost on the critics who derided the project during construction as a ‘slum.’”[55] This is not true for most of France’s public housing projects. In the 2007 Architectural Record, Sam Lubell denounced the formal elements of these slab-like apartment buildings, calling them “tinderboxes for trouble,” and a major factor in the 2005 riots in France.[56] While ten days of riots and thousands of burned cars shook all of France in 2005, Marseilles remained relatively peaceful. Jean-Louis Cohen notes the peculiar lack of riots in Marseilles and cites a “feeling of belonging,” “soccer team loyalty,” and an absence of “social exclusion” to explain strikingly different sentiments in apparently the same kind of housing projects.[57] While modernist housing projects symbolized oppression and poverty in the Paris banlieue, they were viewed as innovative in the city of Marseilles. The introduction of Hussel’s article in the Architectural Review of 1997 recognizes the Unité as “surprisingly still successful.”[58] It is the distinctive aqueous quality of the Unité which marks the transcendent difference between the plastic/organic of Le Corbusier’s Unité and the mechanistic mass-produced “modern” of France’s failed suburban projects.

Sadrach Woods’s 500 Logements Individuels, Aulnay-sous-Bois (1959)

Finally, I will briefly analyze some drawings from a project by Sadrach Woods in the low-income Paris banlieue of Aulnay-sous-Bois.[59] Woods was a New York architect who worked in Le Corbusier’s office during the design and construction of the Unité d’Habitation. Like the Unité, Woods’s project for 500 housing units in the Paris banlieue reflects a “plastic” architecture that result from a detailed study of ways in which its inhabitants’ would occupy and move within its spaces. Figure 17 shows a plan of the entire project: it is a study of pedestrian and vehicular circulation through the space of the cité. The drawing reflects an appreciation of the diagonal and circular movements of people within a space of right-angled grids. The plan facilitates access through and around the cité and, by doing so, gives choice and agency to the inhabitant. The diagrams in Figure 18 reveal a preparatory study of the flow of people’s movement through this space and the resulting plan creates varied spaces and alternating moments of privacy abd social interaction. Figure 19 shows a detailed plan of one of the neighborhoods in the cité: mass-produced building elements are staggered to create visual complexity and rhythm, and facilitate movement in a manner similar to the larger scheme. Figure 20 illustrates how the architect has enabled individuation within a type by altering variables within a system of organization: it is this ability to customize and choose that transforms the inhabitant from an object to be housed to a subject who interacts with his or her environment on his or her own terms. Figure 21 shows the plan of the cité within the otherwise rigid grid of Aulnay-sous-Bois. A single housing project has transformed the character of an entire town by mediating movement in and around its designed space.

Image 17. The plan of the cité with small neighborhoods and a town center
(Sadrach Woods Collection at the Avery Library, Columbia University)

Image 18. Process diagrams for the organization of vehicle and pedestrian circulation
(Sadrach Woods Collection at the Avery Library, Columbia University)

Image 19. Plan for one of nine neighborhoods in the cité
(Sadrach Woods Collection at the Avery Library, Columbia University)

Image 20. Plans of individual units of mass-produced but varied housing
(Sadrach Woods Collection at the Avery Library, Columbia University)

Image 21. Variation within a rigid grid, view of Aulnay-sous-Bois
(Sadrach Woods Collection at the Avery Library, Columbia University)


Haussmann did not have any concern for the worker’s dwelling. His approach to the house within the space of new Paris was one of reestablishing it as a romantic entity for the bourgeois, at the expense of the working class. The Cité de la Muette at Drancy was a polar opposite of this: it rejected all romanticism and provided mass-produced housing units in the banlieue, far removed from the urban space of the city. In doing so, it too reestablished and secured the romantic home of the bourgeois in the center of Paris. The Unite d’Habitation was somewhere in between these two polar opposites. It rejected the notion of house as romantic and reconceived it as plastic, while allowing for the personal expression and reconfiguration that Drancy stifled. It was centrally located within the city of Marseilles and did not carry negative associations of condescension. It therefore fits the category of the “plastic” dwelling. The 2005 riots are evidence that the increasing polarity between the mechanized and the romantic house is producing spaces of segregation and exclusion. Considered architectural responses can provide housing that bridges the two extremes.

Le Corbusier, Towards A New Architecture (London: J. Rodker, 1931), 269.
Le Corbusier, Towards A New Architecture (London: J. Rodker, 1931), 4.
This treatment of social housing as an isolated architectural typology is explored in Chapter 4.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines objective correlative as “the physical equivalent or manifestation of an immaterial thing or abstract idea; spec. (and usually, following T. S. Eliot) the technique in art of representing or evoking a particular emotion by means of symbols, which become associated with and indicative of that emotion.”
Le Corbusier, The City of To-morrow and its Planning (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1987), 206.
Le Corbusier, The City of To-morrow and its Planning (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1987), 243.
Friedrich Engels, “The Housing Question,” Published as a pamphlet, reprinted by the Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers (Zodiac, June 1995),, accessed Feb. 15th 2010.
Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow (London: Faber and Faber, 1946).
Howard, 138.
Howard, 42.
Howard, 42.
Howard, 54.
Sir John Gorst in Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow (London: Faber and Faber, 1946), 42.
Jean Pierre Gaudin, “The French Garden City,” The Garden City: Past, Present and Future, Ed. Stephen V. Ward (Cambridge, UK: E&FN SPON, 1992), 63.
Gaudin, 67.
Gaudin, 63.
Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1995), 12.
Jean-Louis Cohen, “Burning Issues in the Banlieues,” Log 7 (2006), 91.
Cohen, 92.
Cohen, 92.
Cohen, 92.
Cohen, 92.
Cohen, 92.
Cohen, 93.
Cohen, 93.
Cohen, 93.
Cohen, 93.
Cohen, 95.
Steven Wassenaar, “The Power to Annihilate: State and Architecture in France,” Volume 5 (2005), 6.
Wassenaar, 6.
Wassenaar, 6.
Pieter Uittenhove, “Brief uit Parijs = Letter from Paris,” Archis 5 (1997), 50.
Robert Weddle, “Housing and Technological Reform in Interwar France: The Case of the Cité de la Muette,” Journal of Architectural Education, Feb. 2001, 167.
Weddle, 173.
Weddle, 168.
Drancy: Le Camp d’internement pour la deportation des juifs, Comité National du Mémorial du Camp de Drancy, Ed. Société Drancéenne d’Histoire et d’Archéologie and Service Culturel Municipal
Marc Emery, Un Siècle d’Architecture Moderne en France 1850-1950 (Paris: Horizons de France, 1971), 99.
Robert Slutzky, “Aqueous Humor,” Oppositions: A Journal for Ideas and Criticism in Architecture 19/20 (1980), 29.
Robert Slutzky, “Aqueous Humor,” Oppositions: A Journal for Ideas and Criticism in Architecture 19/20 (1980), 29.
David Jenkins, “Le Corbusier: Unité d’Habitation Marseilles 1945-52,” Twentieth-Century Classics (London: Phaidon, 1999), 14.
Jenkins, 13.
Hugo Häring, “Approaches to Form.” Form and Function : A Source Book for the History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939 (London, New York: Granada, 1980), 103.
Häring, 104.
Häring, 105.
Jenkins, 15.
Jenkins, 15.
Jenkins, 10.
Jenkins, 10.
Jenkins, 11.
Jenkins, 11.
Lesley Hussel, “Le Corbu: Life in the Unité d’Habitation, Cité Radieuse, in Marseilles,” The Architectural Review CC1.1204.6 (1997), 76.
Hussel, 76.
Sam Lubell, “In Wake of Paris Riots, Public Housing Authority Builds More, and Better Projects to Stem Dissaffection,” Architectural Record 195 (2007), 14.
Cohen, 99.
Hussel, 3.
Images from the Sadrach Woods Collection at Avery Library, Columbia University, New York, NY.

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