The La Défense-Nanterre building is the first residential development in La Défense in 30 years. It is 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) that 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 to the north, it borders Neuilly cemetery. To the east, it borders a new arena. 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 designed to be inseparable from its radical approach to a mixed-tenure residential building. Defying the idea that affordable housing must look simple and inexpensive, its massing, circulation system, structure and materials offer its residents a building which is both unique and highly crafted, whilst providing them with an empowering living experience regardless of their affluence.
Massing: Social and Environmental Sustainability
The residential units are arranged within a 12m-deep linear slab growing to a deeper 3-storey plinth between the level of the new public space (the promenade) and the Neuilly cemetery. Commercial spaces and student housings are located in the lower levels to animate the esplanade of the Jardins de l’Arche. The levels above provide 91 double-aspect apartments on levels 1-9 (72 of which are affordable, and 9 of which are ‘social housing’ apartments reserved for the 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, with each two accessed by an elevator and stair core. In the absence of a long access corridor, the building is imbued with social sustainability as residents with different habits and desires can cohabit a single building without disturbing one another. Moreover, the lateral arrangement provides the building with environmental sustainability 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. This also generates a stepped section for the building, and as a result of this, the private outdoor spaces on alternate floors become differentiated into either protruding or recessed. The protruding open spaces are clad with aluminium sliding shutters for privacy and shade to function as loggias, and 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 the residential units 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, and range in size, shape and orientation from one end of the building to the other, owing to the tapered shape of the floors - thus giving prospective residents more options to choose from.
The building takes an equally inclusive approach to the cladding of this mixed-tenure residential building. All apartments and student rooms are clad with full height glazing and sliding aluminium shutters. Consequently, a student room is given the same exact ‘interface’ with the exterior urban realm as one of the simplex apartments or penthouses, making the recognition of different categories of affordability impossible from the urban realm they share in common.
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. The apartment interiors are already different, as their first owners have decided to subdivide them differently.
To avoid burdening residents with maintenance costs, 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.