Tag Archives: streets

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 7/7

50 years after the first Unité, this model seems already belonging to another era. The strong separation between the building and its surroundings, the sensation of living in an all-artificial environment, and an almost complete identification of the Unité d’Habitation with social housing have made this model quite undesirable. The destiny of the millions of Unités scattered around the world will be one of the major problems for XXI century urbanists.

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Rome, Theatre of Marcellus, probably a model for the evolution of the Unités (image: wikimedia commons). Originally a Roman Theater, in the Middle Ages it was reused as a mixed residential-commercial building.

Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982. Just like in the Theatre of Marcellus, spaces have been reused over time: the abandoned commercial spaces have been squatted and turned into dwellings.

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Rome, Laurentino 38, 1973 (image: flickr). When it was conceived, the district followed the rules of the Urbanisme sur dalle: the road network at the lower level was supposed to be dedicated to cars, while, on the upper level, 11 elevated roads (the so-called “bridges”) were supposed to be dedicated to pedestrians and filled with shops. At the moment, shops have moved to street level (note the kiosk at the extreme left) while the upper level has been squatted and turned into dwellings. In 2006, 3 over 11 elevated roads have been demolished.

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Paris, Beaugrenelle, another case of Urbanisme sur dalle (image: flickr). Shops and activities have deserted the pedestrian level and moved at street level.

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Paris, Beaugrenelle. the street level (image: flickr).

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Paris, Beaugrenelle, shopping center (image: flickr). All the complex is undergoing a major renovation: the slabs covering the roads at the grounds have been removed, and the shopping centers have been rebuilt, with new entrances at street level. All the details about this project can be found here.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 6/7

Promoted as a standard, easy-to-build product, The Unité d’Habitation concept spread all over the world after WWII. The first 5 units (Marseille, Firminy, Rezé, Briey and Berlin) built by Le Corbusier himself became the standard for almost all public housing project between 1950 and 1990.

The more the model was spread along the world, the more it changed from the original concept. Most examples use a simplified version, colloquially known as Panelák or Plattenbau.

Another transformation of the Unité d’Habitation was the so-called Urbanisme sur dalle (urbanisme on slabs). Instead of being raised on pillars one by one, buildings were raised in groups, with an elevated ground floor between them.

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Paris, Les Olympiades, 1969-1974. The elevated ground floor, dedicated to pedestrians (image: wikipedia).

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Paris, les Olympiades, 1969-1974 (image: wikipedia). The whole district is raised on pillars. Roads pass under the district and lead to garages.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 5/7

Promoted as a standard, easy-to-build product, The Unité d’Habitation concept spread all over the world after WWII. The first 5 units (Marseille, Firminy, Rezé, Briey and Berlin) built by Le Corbusier himself became the standard for almost all public housing project between 1950 and 1990.

The more the model was spread along the world, the more it changed from the original concept. Most examples use a simplified version, colloquially known as Panelák or Plattenbau. From the original Unité, the Panelák kept:

  • The concept of building as indipendent, serial units floating over a green landscape
  • the absence of decorations
  • flat roof (even though they were no longer used as public spaces)
  • large windows and balconies.

On the other side, some features were discarded:

  • buildings suspended over pillars
  • multi-functional buildings (commerces and services were put aside, in small, low-rise buildings)

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Gdańsk, Falowiek, 1970. 11 storey, 850 m long, 6000 inhabitants (image: wikimedia commons).

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An example of Panelák in Prague (image: wikimedia commons).

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tower-shaped Panelák in Prague (image: wikipedia).

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Gdańsk, typical windows pattern on a Panelák (image: wikipedia).

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 4/7

Promoted as a standard, easy-to-build product, The Unité d’Habitation concept spread all over the world after WWII. The first 5 units (Marseille, Firminy, Rezé, Briey and Berlin) built by Le Corbusier himself became the standard for almost all public housing project between 1950 and 1990.

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Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982 (image: flickr). Strict translation of the Unité d’Habitation principles in a 980 m, 11 storey building. 1200 apartments, about 6000 inhabitants. Probably the biggest Unité in the world.

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Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982. The building, seen from the countryside (image: flickr).

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Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982. the internal staircase and corridors (image: flickr).

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Geneva, le Lignon, 1963-1971. The complex, 1060 m long, hosts 5581 people (image: wikimedia commons).

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Geneva, le Lignon, 1963-1971. One of the ends of the 1060 m long building (image: Flickr).

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Geneva, le Lignon, 1963-1971. the two towers, 26 storey and 30 storey high (image: flickr). The highest of the two towers hosts two swimming pools on its roof.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 3/7

In the beginning of the XX century, steamships were crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Each one of them could carry 2000 passengers for a 15-days trip between Europe and America, and in these days it became for them a sort of new house.

The image of all these people living, loving, fighting, making business, all in this big floating superstructure entered the social imagery of the time and little by little, more and more nautical elements were integrated into architecture.

In the first building, this integration was limited to decorative elements, then it became more substantial: all steamships’ characteristical elements were analyzed and transposed into architectural elements. The result of this work was the Unité d’Habitation.

Just like a steamship, the Unité d’Habitation floats over the landscape, suspended over a series of pillars. Apartments, hotels, shops, schools and hospitals lie in rows just like cabins, while the roof (the building’s deck) hosts public spaces, sport facilities and swimming pools. Inhabitants of the Unité have whatever they need within the building, and could spend all their life without going out of it.

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MS Kungsholm, section showing the superposed decks (image: wikimedia commons).

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Berlin Unité d’Habitation, floating over a park, 1957 (image: flickr).

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Marseille Unité d’Habitation’ s hull, suspended on pillars, 1947-1952 (image by Emma Mykytyn on flickr ).

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Apartments and shops on the sides of Marseille Unité , 1947-1952 (image by Emma Mykytyn on flickr).

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Marseille Unité‘s deck, with view over the city, 1947-1952 (image: flickr).

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 2/7

In the beginning of the XX century, steamships were crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Each one of them could carry 2000 passengers for a 15-days trip between Europe and America, and in these days it became for them a sort of new house.

The image of all these people living, loving, fighting, making business, all in this big floating superstructure entered the social imagery of the time and little by little, more and more nautical elements were integrated into architecture.

In the first buildings, this integration was limited to decorative elements, as we can see in the examples here below.

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A tipycal steamship’s deck (image: wikipedia).

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Mies van der Rohe, house in Weissenhof, Stuttgart, 1927 (image: wikipedia). Note the stairway parapets, directly inspired from the Steamship’s deck.

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Giuseppe Terragni, Casa del Fascio, Como, 1936 (image: wikipedia). while the image of the buildings recalls steamships’ multiple decks, its plan still recalls renaissance palaces.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 1/7

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SS Empress of britain, pre-1924 (image: wikimedia commons).

In the beginning of the XX century, steamships were crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Each one of them could carry 2000 passengers for a 15-days trip between Europe and America, and in these days it became for them a sort of new house.

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MS Kungsholm, entrance to 1st class room, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).

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MS Kungsholm, 1st class room, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).

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MS Kungsholm, 1st class smoke room, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).
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MS Kungsholm, swimming pool, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).

The image of all these people living, loving, fighting, making business, all in this big floating superstructure entered the social imagery of the time and little by little, more and more nautical elements were integrated into architecture.

The future of automobile infrastructure: Antonio Segni Bridge, Rome

Usually, a highway is a mono-functional road, designed to carry cars from one place to another at a maximum speed.  But, sometimes highways don’t carry so many cars as expected,  and other uses start to appear.

An example of the re-use of highways was the Antonio Segni Bridge in Northern Rome, the east-west road in the photo here below.

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(image: microsoft virtual earth)

Designed to be part of the Milan-Naples highway, the Antonio Segni Bridge has survived as an isolated stretch when the motorway was re-routed on a more external path. Closed to traffic for almost ten years, it has become the favorite place for pedestrians and cyclists’ sunday strolls. When it was opened to motorized traffic, few cars passed on the Bridge, and pedestrian and cyclists still continued to use its sidewalks as a shortcut to reach otherwise far neighborhoods.

Some improvement could be made in order to make the bridge a more interesting place:

  • wider sidewalks and zebra crossings.
  • more pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhood.
  • a landscaped median.

Here is a similar example, from Minneapolis:

video: streetsblog.org

Tysons Corner turns into a downtown

“From ancient times, what made a city a city was how it functioned, not how it looked. And this is especially true today, for we have not built a single old-style downtown from raw dirt in seventy-five years.”

(Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, Chapter 2)

This is how Joel Garreau described in 1991 the trend in urban planning in USA and in most developped countries. Downtowns were a thing of the past, office parks, shopping centers, single-family houses and motorways were the future. One of the symbols of this “Life on the New Frontier” was Tysons Corner, an area capable to attract offices and retail, but lacking public space. (the description of Tysons Corner by Joel Garreau, is here).

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A typical Tysons Corner road (image: Microsoft Virtual Earth)

18 ans later, Tysons Corner has become one of the symbol of post-war urbanism’s excesses: the lack of public spaces forces dwellers and workers to go everywhere by car, and traffic jams occur every day.

In order to solve the problem, Fairfax county approved a master plan which will thansform Tysons Corner in an “old-style downtown”:

  • A new metro line to Washington,
  • a new series of pedestrian spaces,
  • smaller blocks and more through roads.

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(image: Tysons Tomorrow)

After Brasilia, another 20th century city reinvents itself.

further readings:

How to create a private space without using fences

This image (Geneva, square Pradier, via Microsoft Virtual Earth) shows how to create a calm square and give privacy to a block without using fences or corner buildings. The four external building act as a screen and separate the square from the through traffic of the surrounding roads. Access to the backside of the external buildings is still possible by two straight alleys that run behind the external buildings. The two internal buildings separate these alleys from the central square: to reach the square from the exterior of the block, two turn are always necessary, one from the surrounding roads to the alleys, and a second one from the alley to the square.