The La Défense-Nanterre building is the first residential development in La Défense in 30 years. It is a part of Jardins de l’Arche - an urban project initiated by EPADESA to invigorate the space immediately west of La Grande Arche. To its south, it fronts the Axe historique (historical axis) which cuts through Paris and defines a grand open space through the city between the Louvre Museum and La Défense. Beyond the Promenade de l’Arche, it overlooks Puteaux cemetery, and borders Neuilly cemetery in the north, and a new arena in the east. Standing on the Axe Historique and looking west from the steps La Grande Arche, it captures the eye with its exceptional location, and provides open views of the city from three sides. Its exceptional location makes it the very first to be seen when standing on the Axe Historique on the steps of La Grande Arche looking west, and provides it with open views of the city from three of its sides.
Architecture: Unique and affordable
The architecture of the Îlot 19 residential building is radical in its approach to mixed-tenure residential building design. Defying the idea that affordable housing must look simple and inexpensive, its massing, circulation system, structure and materials offer its residents a unique and highly crafted building that provides them with an empowering living experience regardless of affluence.
Massing: Social and Environmental Sustainability
The residential units are arranged within a 12m-deep linear slab that growsto a deeper 3-storey plinth between the level of new public space (the promenade) and the Neuilly cemetery. Commercial spaces and student housing are located in the lower levels to animate the esplanade of the Jardins de l’Arche. Upper levels 1-9 provide 91 double-aspect apartments (72 of which are affordable, 9 of which are ‘social housing’ apartments reserved for inhabitants of Nanterre), and 1 level of maisonette penthouses. The building therefore embraces the social cohesion of the pre-Hausmannian building typology that combined the bourgeoisie, civil servants, low-wage employees and students in one single building.
Within the shallow slab, the apartments - irrespective of their tenure type - are arranged laterally accessed in pairs by an elevator and stair core. The lack of an access corridor imbues the building with social sustainability, as residents with different habits and desires can cohabit a single building without disturbing one another. Moreover, the lateral arrangement is more environmentally sustainable, as the resulting double-aspect apartments benefit from plenty of natural light and views of the exterior urban context at both ends, as well as natural cross ventilation.
On the southern exposure, the floors are tapered by 2-degrees in alternate directions to bring an oblique view of the Axe Historique into the exterior spaces, which also generates a stepped section for the building. As a result, the private outdoor spaces on alternate floors become differentiated into either protruding or recessed forms. The protruding open spaces are clad with aluminium sliding shutters for privacy and shade to function as loggias, while the recessed open spaces, which are shaded by the floor above, are left open to function as balconies. The stepped section of the building therefore reduces the amount of material needed for shading and makes the building more environmentally sustainable.
Private Exterior Spaces and Cladding: Inclusivity
Private outdoor spaces at each end of the apartments are provided throughout the building, irrespective of the tenure type. Owing to the tapered floor shapes, they also range in size, shape and orientation from one end of the building to the other - thus giving prospective residents more options to choose from. An equally inclusive approach is taken to the cladding of this mixed-tenure residential building. All apartments and student rooms are clad with full height glazing and sliding aluminum shutters. Consequently, a student room is given the same exact ‘interface’ with the exterior urban context as one of the simplex apartments or penthouses, removing the visual cues of affordability from the urban realm they share.
Structure and Building Materiality: User Empowerment
In order to empower residents to reconfigure their interiors at their own pace as and when their requirements change, the structure of the building is located along the party wall between neighbours, the vertical cores and the façade: leaving the apartment interiors free of any load bearing structure. These interiors are already different, as their initial owners have decided to subdivide them differently. To avoid burden of maintenance costs on residents, the building exterior is assembled with anodized aluminium, glass, concrete and hardwood flooring - all of which are materials that require very little maintenance over time.