• Activities and Offices: The Big Bets of Active Living

    How to respond to the evolution of a sector in constant renewal while being in agreement with the development challenges of the metropolises of our time? AZC Architects presents its vision of this topic.

    The globalization of national economies, which adopt the same principles of production, is reflected in an identical urban modeling of world cities. The territories of Paris, Montreal, Brussels, Sydney or Tokyo undergo the same phenomena of spreading, deconcentrations or urban polarizations.

    Dans la région parisienne, l’ensemble de l’organisation métropolitaine reflète l’organisation des marchés immobiliers de bureaux, tant les enjeux financiers qu’ils représentent, sont déterminants. Le phénomène est largement expliqué par l’économiste et sociologue Saskia Sassen, dans ‘Global City’.

    Today Paris is the French region in which the 'metropolitan condition' opens widely the field of possibilities in the architecture of activities. With renovations of anonymous or iconic buildings, new buildings on islands and wasteland, Paris reinforces its polarities in neighborhoods like La Défense and continues actively spreading to the peripheries, following the trend.

    The City also supports the construction of offices and business premises at favorable rates, designed to facilitate the creation of young businesses: business hotels, nurseries, workshops.

    Other, more traditional, public players are also starting to create new types of activity buildings: fablabs, innovation centers … University campuses and research centers with land, want today open their scientific and experimental activities to new, more dynamic and inclusive economies.

    An evolutionary architecture

    At the time of a vibrant culture, space must be designed for evolution and change.

    The evolution of buildings is for us a recurring concern. Subject to change of ownership, changing standards or simply a desire for renewal, each construction should, ideally, be able to play new roles whenever necessary.

    The structure as a guarantee of coherence

    Most often, the structure is a way of considering buildings in their evolution capacity. The precise analysis of the structures and the operating diagrams makes it possible to decide finely on the transformation of each one. The structure is a means of scheduling that can guarantee consistency throughout the life of a building.


    In urban areas, transformation is more than ever a fundamental subject that allows recycling and upgrading of existing heritage by bringing the building up to general standards. Paris has many buildings built during the growth cycles of the 1970s to 2000, which have the potential to be transformed into qualitative spaces and economically very profitable. The idea is not to make neutral shells ready to be "filled", but to design spaces that could free uses.

  • Designing an attractive city for residents
    by AZC Architectes

    With the stakes of our time AZC Architects tries to design a city that remains attractive to its inhabitants.

    The political project of Greater Paris has the effect, urban densification of municipalities in Ile de France.

    New housing, business premises, equipment and public transport, will reorganize the scattered territory that is now formed by individual houses, small industries and wastelands. The urban challenges are enormous, to propose a soft, pleasant, benevolent urbanism in which inhabitants and nature will share the territory of Greater Paris. We know that the house is a model that can no longer meet the need to densify, but should we already assert this break in density, without taking into account the context? Soft densification is a solution that aims to reinvent and mix, transition typologies, drawing their DNA in existing fabrics - pavilions, industries, large ensembles of the seventies. If densification is to make us agree to no longer live in single-family houses with private gardens, we can however claim to live in the big city by inviting nature to take an important place in the urban environment.

    This amounts to freeing space on the ground, creating gardens, meeting places, culture, breathing, so that the density becomes acceptable to all inhabitants. It is in this spirit that we intend to design projects whose quality begins with the city, the neighborhood.

    This amounts to freeing space on the ground, creating gardens, meeting places, culture, breathing, so that the density becomes acceptable to all inhabitants. It is in this spirit that we intend to design projects whose quality begins with the city, the neighborhood.

    A new look is needed to first design dwellings and not anonymous bars and towers. In the middle of the gardens, they will be given to read as coherent assemblages which make the cohabitation pleasant. Villages of large villas, in which the unit width of each dwelling is perceptible. This width, which is reminiscent of the historical dwelling of the pavilions, corresponds today to the constructive framework and can be revealed in the architecture of the buildings. At the same time by slight shifts in plan and by a variety in the épannelages which operate on this rhythm. The villas buildings can contain a wealth of units and express as many ways to live, in the form of housing that share common circulation or small individual duplexes, accessible directly from the gardens. Most new housing programs organize social mix on the same site, which is a good thing. For the cohabitation between seniors, students, social housing and those in accession, is likely to succeed, we must find the right measure between intimacy and sharing common spaces.

    The distribution of housing units in built-up complexes is an act that requires equity and balance. Everyone aspires to a good orientation, a qualitative view towards the outsides, even in the conditions of a denser dwelling. The fine job is to preserve the privacy of each home. For cohabitation to be well lived, it is important to let everyone have the opportunity if they wish to be at home and not to mix. All of the above makes sense when every unit, every dwelling, without exception, has been designed to ensure the simplest operation and to guarantee the highest quality of the spaces that compose it. From Q3, all dwellings are traversing or double oriented, which implies a larger number of staircases. For the common areas, the halls, the stairs and the spaces in front of the elevators are all lit naturally.

    The day and night spaces are clearly defined and each has its private outdoor space with dimensions allowing real use. Inside, the rooms all have dimensions that can be furnished, simple shapes, a generous amount of natural light, a kitchen with window, without imposing the facade fully glazed for all. Architecture and the choice of materials are closely linked to uses and wear. Thus, durable and easy-care assemblies are placed where they are directly accessible by the inhabitant, where there is wear: the common areas, the interior of the balconies, the glazed frames, the blinds, the guard -body, the ground floor of facades. Elsewhere, in inaccessible places, the focus is on aging quality, a beautiful patina.

    Reconciling inhabitants with nature by creating strong links between housing and the landscape around it, contributes to the attractiveness of the dense city. The organization of the site is essential for the preservation of good sunshine, the fight against heat islands, the storage and recovery of water, the protection of biodiversity. The distances between buildings, the percentage of space in the ground due to parking, the development of mineral passages, have an impact on the quality of life in the dense city. The massive presence of nature, encourages interactions between neighbors. Some outdoor spaces will receive more specific functions. Large clearings are areas of biodiversity, private gardens are outdoor extensions of housing, the passages allow everyone to walk through the island and to go to his home. Finally, the spaces designated for sharing, are equipped with playgrounds, the meal places petanque.

  • From development, to fixing up, to driving forwards
    by Jean-Pierre Charbonneau

    Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, urban planner, consultant in urban and cultural policies, presents here a broad look at the evolution of our cities and the place of the human in urban policies.

    If economics can have alternative policies, why not urbanism?

    We have spent the last few decades fixing up parts of our towns – never actually finishing them of course, for a city can never be completed – and sometimes without much success, as our large housing projects demonstrate. Faced with deindustrialisation, out-dated housing, the pre-eminence of the car and ecological disaster, we have patched up, undoubtedly causing new problems in doing so.

    However, a growing movement is mobilising brainpower to generate new ideas and practices: change of use without redevelopment; consideration of the complex needs of a community rather than applying a set of pre-fabricated, technocratic solutions; preservation wherever possible, rather than starting from scratch … Moving away from traditional considerations, this new movement deals with a new set of criteria, which includes reduced budgets, community needs, the possibility of future evolution. Rather than being a handicap, economic constraints have helped by forcing us to get straight to the basic essentials. Today’s situation promotes innovation, supports creativity and enriches projects, calling on our intelligence. We are forced to take a new look at practices and uses, to consider different ways of doing things, to think about the humanity of a place; and all this when we still find it so hard to understand community needs, and even more so to keep up with changing society.

    And so following this period of ‘patching up’, will we now come to a period of harnessing our experiences to active service?

    The proposed changes in practice have the benefit of mobilising local communities and projects, often bringing a real dynamic to an area. Instead of technique, materials and money, they put individuals and urban communities at the heart of the thought process. They open up possibilities through innovation, with imaginative consideration of the relationship between the project and its users, bringing about an urban environment that is more alive, more active, on the move and more reactive, a reflection of urban society.

    And this is the position taken by AZC architects. Faced with a changing world, they propose solutions that are novel in their shape, use, cost and temporality. Take for example their idea for a bridge over the Seine in Paris, the Bouncing Bridge. Inflatable, easily moved, it provides not only a means of crossing the river, but also an extraordinary urban experience. It shows Paris in a whole new light, creating this most unexpected trampoline in the heart of the capital. This project, ostensibly utopian, is in fact both realistic and realisable. The architects put their intelligence and skill not into regurgitating conventional solutions, which are often unsuitable and unsatisfactory, but into inventing new ones. They have left behind the stagnant reproduction of the city and shapes of the 19th century, repetition of a past time, and moved on to building in response to our times. Is this modernity? Does this project mark a new era, as did Paris Plage in 2002, or the subsequent shifting developments along the Left Bank of the Seine?

    Urban planning is founded on a range of well-established ideas and creative thinking that have functioned for decades. But these notions remain anchored in the past and do not look towards the future. We continue to revere the ‘grand projet’, an ideology that brought about a conventional wisdom that the powers of the day took on as their own. The problem with these large-scale public projects, which might take up to 20 years from idea to completion, was that budgets inevitably needed topping up from the local pocket, while the economic, social and urban context of the original idea had changed utterly.

    Large-scale projects suck up finance, human resources and attention; it is common for excessive attention to be given to the public spaces and overall comfort in the immediate vicinity of a major project, whereas just a few steps away out-dated street lighting flickers over pavements riddled with pot holes. This kind of compartmentalised approach siphons off local authority funding and is more about development for development’s sake than any consideration for urban well-being.

    Alternative urban policies can exist. They should be based on experience, on what we already know, but freshly interpreted and not bogged down by the weight of convention that over time has paralysed evolution in line with our changing world. We need to open our minds and methods, freeing the way for new ways to emerge. A few examples follow.

    With regards to housing, the benefits of some of the ad hoc housing on the peripheries of South American cities are known. These dwellings meet the requirements of their creators, in terms of use and cost, and readily cater for changing family configurations. It is true that the streets thus made are initially unpleasant, but they can easily be upgraded. The local authority’s only tasks are linking in transport systems and services, intervening on education, social security, safety … In France, we have spent the last 50 years trying to rectify the mistakes made in the housing schemes of the 1960s. And yet we continue to build housing that is too costly, too dispersed, that kills the individual character of different places and fails to meet the needs of the inhabitants. And even then we aren’t building enough to cater for today’s growing population.

    Public space was long dismissed by town councils and government offices, left to abandon, unused and unloved. Today public space attracts a huge amount of attention, but often without much consideration of its role within its particular context – how it will be used and what functions it should cater for. And so, in a one-size-fits-all approach, luxurious new spaces are made, with a rich abundance of materials, furniture and planting. Sophistication and profusion plunder budgets, leaving nothing for essential sites or subjects. We are creating a surplus of over-designed spaces, which are often left empty.

    Some towns have experimented and created simpler, less costly projects that align with the needs and the desires of the inhabitants. They have redeveloped only where necessary, using development as a tool that is adapted for each project. The objective is to bring life to the site. This approach calls for intelligence, sensitivity and creativity in considering the life of a specific place, rather than applying a blanket solution with no thought to context and local considerations.

    Transport today is all about tramways! We have created whole new landscaped areas around them: would these sites otherwise have been left barren? But budgets are tight, so instead why not use wheel-based transport, improved bus services with dedicated lanes. Arguably they would be less efficient in a city of 7 million, the likes of Bogota, but surely they would suffice for our mid-sized towns? And why not invest in bicycles? In Copenhagen one in three journeys is by bicycle. And walking is free and efficient, then there is car-sharing … The different options are numerous, but fresh reflection is required to devise and implement an overall strategy for change, and change must come.

    Different lines of thought are already being explored. Some are clumsy and naïve, often based on the idea of ‘working with the community’ (allotments in the city, art in the street); good intentions that do not meet the demands of the reality and scale of a city in motion. Others genuinely reflect on a multitude of different approaches in an attempt to define appropriate, evolutionary solutions that work. These can be found in some student projects at architecture and urbanism schools, in schemes submitted for ideas competitions, or sometimes in change-of-use applications. They often demonstrate a real understanding of the way we live, sensitively recognising different situations, both economic and ecological.

    And yet the reality of urban action bears no relation to this, ideas get lost along the way, the way in which we develop cities has not evolved. The equation is simple, it is just maths: either we put money and energy into pursuing conventional processes, or we invest in reflecting on the future. Following this logic, instead of financing tangible development, shouldn’t we activate the vitality of local society and promote its creativity, openness and dynamic expression?