PARIS – A modern interpretation of the classical urban villa is the starting point for desirable social housing in the district of Montmartre, northern Paris. There is a somewhat negative stereotype surrounding low-budget rentable property and this is what architecture studio Atelier Kempe Thill have endeavoured to address. In collaboration with local Paris firm Fres Architectes, the theme of the ‘winter garden’ – a typology which dates back to the 17th century, when European aristocrats began constructing domestic glass houses to extend their living space – started to evolve. This would be something that would give the residents some enjoyment all year round; something beyond ‘the minimum’ expectation for such accommodation.
The new housing complex features two compact urban villas, connected by a small garden, and is separated from the public street by a 4-m high fence – comparable to the iron fences of ancient Paris mansions. The two buildings behave more as sisters than twins. Architect André Kempe describes the reasoning behind the a-symmetric approach: ‘With the way that the accommodation programme was split between the two volumes, it was impossible to find a symmetric distribution. One building had to be smaller by definition. At the same time, we wanted to make the two main elevations appear equal towards the street because it looks stronger.’
Slicing the northern elevation also creates a dialogue with the neighbouring building by freeing up the space and creating a more generous courtyard. The depth of this existing building provides the origin for the diagonal. ‘In the end, the diagonal façade was developed from a mixture of programmatic necessities and an adaptation of the site context.’
Internally, the circulation spaces create a central access core surrounded by residential apartments, each of which is stretched is offered unobstructed views over the neighbouring park and other surroundings. To this end, all structural columns are specifically inset from the corners in order to keep an impression of a floating structure with maximum exposure to natural daylight. The corrugated cladding is painted in a champagne colour to match the aluminium window frames. This soft colouring is a strategy to provide a more ‘noble image’ for the housing complex to counterbalance the cliché of cheap accommodation. In keeping with the initial concept, each apartment has access to a private winter garden; an extension of the interior to the outside.
Acting as a continuous conservatory around the perimeter of the villa, the additional space varies in depth depending on its expected use. A curtain wall of moveable glass panels forms the final barrier to the outside and can be left open or closed, depending on individual preference. The double façade created by this secondary layer also acts as a noise buffer and offers additional privacy to residents, while providing aesthetic interest which goes against the norm associated with low-budget social housing.