The housing project ‘co-generation’ aims to unite two generations by allowing for an exchange of ‘assistance’. High rental prices in Paris have meant that numerous people cannot afford to live in the city in acceptable conditions, as a result the project explores the potential of a space where young members of the community are allocated a home in exchange of assistance to the elderly.
The project is articulated through a series of private houses and shared common spaces developed both within the interior and exteriors of these homes with the aim of enhancing interaction amongst residents. On the interior these communal spaces take the form of kitchens, the joining element between two rooms whilst on the exterior these exist as a series of balconies and staircases as well as exploiting the corridor a place where people unknowingly encounter. These communal areas are pivotal to the community as they are occasions where residents can meet, talk and which are at times also articulated as multimedia spaces, gym, study area/reading, outdoor areas, laundry and storage. With the aim of opening up the architecture to the city, the building can be completely crossed for its entire length on the ground floor, allowing for the street and its cross walker to access and interact with the inhabitants of the complex.
What prompted the project?
The starting point for this co-housing project was a proper study of the site and its history, supported by the writing work Species of Spaces of the french sociologist Georges Perec, whose subject is the description of different spaces, in and out of a building, and how these are lived by people. The question that came after was much related to the complexity and the definition of public and private boundaries whitin the housing typology.
What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?
The project raise from the need to create a new way of living within the district of La Villette in Paris. The new way of living is interpreted starting from the concept of cohousing, with new users: two generations distant in time, the young and the elderly, compared within a single space, the cell. This new type of cohousing answers the problem that the young, given the high prices of rents in Paris, receives a room in exchange for assistance to the elderly. The two different users at the base of the Co-generation, live together both in internal and external spaces of the cell, promoting interaction and decreasing the distance that over time is being created between the different generations thanks to sharing.
How do you define common space in todays' society?
In contemporary society, the common space is a space that must be grafted into the individuals who use it by interactions that are sometimes forced to go against the individualistic and alienating instinct that is perhaps growing more and more in contemporary society. For contemporary collective space, therefore, we think of a space in which people meet involuntarily, a place of transit and confrontation where each person is united to the others by a single surface, could also mean a space for sharing and interaction and therefore not be limited only to the common square but can also become theater, music, stairs, closed spaces.
How does the project address the notion and power of public space?
The project focuses on the overturning of collective space in contemporary co-housing buildings, obtaining it from all the transit spaces between the living cells and the underground square. In general, sociality is deepened on three different scales: inside the single cell, outside, at the level of the community and in the spaces between the private interior and the surfaces of collective space arranged above the cells. This construction of the collective space originated from the reasoning regarding the role of the stairs: spaces of encounter, clash and transition, even if without the intention of the individuals. For this reason, the stairs, conceived as real collective spaces, have become the fulcrum of the power of public space thanks to their ability to originate connections and interactions that are almost forced and involuntary.
What is the potential in integrating this within the space of the building at ground level?
The public space located on the ground floor allows the road where the project is located, to continue without interruption within the building, creating an underground space where the inhabitants of the cohousing can meet the rest of the inhabitants of La Villette who decide to cross the ground floor both as an axis of connection between different roads, both to get in touch with the activities that develop vertically from the underground space up to the top of the building, creating a vertical public plaza, in which part of the spaces are shared and equipped for external users. The aim is to bring the inhabitants of the cells into contact with external users to make the environment as dynamic and heterogeneous as possible.
How does the project sit within the wider community?
The building aims to become a focal point of the community, thanks to its full integration into the urban fabric and thanks to its underground public square located on the ground floor, conceived as an extension of the road. This street, parallel to the function of stairs and balconies within the building, is configured as a place of confrontation and meeting, encouraging interaction between tenants and residents of the neighborhood and creating a meeting point. The residents of the Villette can thus experience first-hand the reality of the complex and the relationships between the two generations living inside the building.
What informed the choice of the kitchen as shareable program within the two private domains?
Inside the cell type the common space consists of the kitchen. The kitchen is an obligatory passage in which each individual, at least once a day, is led to stay to satisfy his or her physical needs. In the project, this environment is not only represented as a necessity of the individual, but it is also proposed as a place of interaction between the young and the elderly, protagonists of the typical cell. The kitchen favours the conditions for a dialogue between the two inhabitants and, sometimes, for a relationship of mutual assistance. The kitchen environment takes on the typical character of any non shared dwelling, despite the fact that there are two people living inside the dwelling who do not share any family ties. At the same time, to allow the due privacy of individuals, the kitchen has two entrances, one for the young and the other for the elderly, and a central folding door that can be closed when necessary, keeping the two tables separate.
How do you envision the project developing through time? is their space for alterations and adaptation?
Due to the regular structure of beams and pillars, and prefabricated cells with an independent structure, over time the distribution may follow changes, the cells and common spaces may increase or decrease as required. The structure can increase in height according to new urban regulations in the future, giving the possibility to new cells to fit into the voids that will be created. Throw time the project will adapt in many ways, an utopian skyscraper of cogeneration in 2100, or become a large cage without cells, which will function exclusively as a vertical square when there is no more space on the ground.
What is for you the architect's most important tool?
Observation and comprehension of the social and urban context. These are the basis that shape imagination into material effects.
Michela Pilotti is a recent graduate of Bachelor of Architecture at Politecnico di Torino, currently attending a Master’s Degree of Architectural Design and History at Politecnico di Milano. She completed a semester abroad at the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura del Valles in Barcelona. Her conception of architecture is closely linked to the surrounding environment, and the people who live there, and is always preceded by careful historical research.
Alessia Rapetti is a recent graduate of bachelor in architecture at Politecnico di Torino 2019 and it is currently enrolled on master degree in architecture in Architecture Academy of Mendrisio (AAM). Her thought is focused on architecture as a place of experience, perception and interaction based on the theories of phenomenological experience in architecture.
Federica Pessotto is a recent graduate of Bachelor in Architecture and currently taking her Master’s Degree in Architecture Construction City at Politecnico di Torino.
Her main interests are urban space, in relation to cultural and social backgrounds, and the power of architects to communicate and provide new scenarios.