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We’ve visited the Parisian Brutalist Suburban Utopia

Tijana Radeska

Usually, when I travel abroad, all I tend to do is visit the touristic attractions, admire them, get a photo in front, and then find someone to point me the cheapest local beer.

With so many people posting pictures of the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, and Montmartre in Paris, I had a feeling like I’ve been there already.

I feel as if I’ve been there so often that I didn’t even bother to visit Arc de Triomphe and the famous street. The one with the song. I love cliches, but what is too much is too much.

Paris

Paris 2016

Since no magic or romance appeared on the front, I went to visit some of the “forgotten housing estates” of Paris. Previously, I saw an article about French photographer Laurent Kronental’s exhibition that he named “Souvenir d’un Futur”.

He photographed the concrete structures and vast open spaces of the futuristic complexes, which were mainly built during the 1970s and 1980s. I managed to visit only three.

Arcades du Lac is an ensemble of apartment buildings in the outer Paris ville nouvelle of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, near Versailles. Built in 1981, the complex was designed by architect Ricardo Bofill as the centerpiece of an urban composition, with the central portion "Le Viaduc" jutting into an artificial lake from the shore.

Arcades du Lac is an ensemble of apartment buildings in the outer Paris ville nouvelle of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, near Versailles. Built in 1981, the complex was designed by architect Ricardo Bofill as the centerpiece of an urban composition, with the central portion “Le Viaduc” jutting into an artificial lake from the shore.

Kronental also photographed the old people living in these buildings, and in his photos, they seem like they don’t have any grandchildren; like they still eat cans of food produced in the 1970s, waiting for their “creator” to take them.

The wellcoming entrace at Arcades du Lac ensebmle

The welcoming entrance at Arcades du Lac ensemble

Finding these buildings was the hardest. I expected them to show up in front of me as I exit the metro, just as the Eiffel Tower, but to my disappointment, I had to dive deep between houses and housing estates. So quiet and so far from Paris, I felt like I was harassing the whole area just with passing by.

And then, when I least expected, a lake showed up with a building like an Austrian opera house, and then a “space ship” in the middle of the water.

Arcades du Lac, the building is geometrically opposite of "the ship" building

Arcades du Lac, the building is geometrically opposite of “the ship” building

 

"The space ship" - Arcades du Lac

“The space ship” – Arcades du Lac

It did look abandoned, but I actually learned that it has been  entirely inhabited ever since 1981, when it was built. That’s what I learned, not what I saw.

All I saw to convince me that the apocalypse hadn’t come yet were crows, ducks, and swans, and a French flag flying in on one of the windows.

The building was marvelous, it gave me hope that is sealed in the concrete. Like, if the end of the world ever comes, the building would just launch and fly into space where it would breed the human hope.

Oh, and fishing is forbidden in the "lake" at Arcades du Lac

Oh, and fishing is forbidden in the “lake” at Arcades du Lac

Now, the next one was pretty much the same, except for the fact that I saw people. The circle buildings looked like they were not only outside of Paris, but outside of life. Like people lived exclusively in these buildings.

Not that I asked them and they told me so. It’s just how it looked to me. And in a second, I wondered if they have ever but ever bothered to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower.

 Postmodern Les Espaces d'Abraxas atNoisy-le-Grand, built in 1982 by the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill

Postmodern Les Espaces d’Abraxas atNoisy-le-Grand, built in 1982 by the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill

 

Ricardo Bofill's Postmodern Les Espaces d'Abraxas

Ricardo Bofill’s Postmodern Les Espaces d’Abraxas

 

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What for? They were mainly black people who certainly belong to a low working-class. And the amazing “Les Espaces d’Abraxis” is what Paris had to offer them. Futuristic building to remind them of the future.

Les Espaces d'Abraxas

Les Espaces d’Abraxas

 

Apartments in Les Espaces d'Abraxas

Apartments in Les Espaces d’Abraxas

Well, the third one was something completely different. As I entered the world of Les arènes de Picasso I was joined by three 12-year-old boys.

Considering that my French vocabulary contains five words not counting the cursing ones, and their English even less, we had a great time together. They seemed like great boys with a good potential of becoming bad guys.

The housing complex is organized around the place-Pablo Picasso, octagonal. Two axes, north-south and east-west traverse. The perimeter of the square is fully built, except for its south side. The two characteristic elements of the set are two cylindrical buildings (nicknamed the "pie" by the locals), placed above the west and east sides of the square. It was built by the French architect Émile Aillaud in 1985

The housing complex is organized around the place-Pablo Picasso, octagonal. Two axes, north-south and east-west traverse. The perimeter of the square is fully built, except for its south side.
The two characteristic elements of the set are two cylindrical buildings (nicknamed the “pie” by the locals), placed above the west and east sides of the square.
It was built by the French architect Émile Aillaud in 1985

 

One of the buildings at Les arènes de Picasso at Noisy-le-Grand

One of the “pies” at Les arènes de Picasso at Noisy-le-Grand

 

The apartments in Les arènes de Picasso

The apartments in Les arènes de Picasso

I left them right there, where I knew they will be tomorrow and probably after 10 years. They would become the new old people of Kronental.

Cool Kids

Cool Kids

Cool Kids posing in front of the octagonal buildings Les arènes de Picasso

Cool Kids posing in front of the octagonal buildings Les arènes de Picasso

 

Paris is great. Paris is awesome. Except the fact that at midnight you don’t go back to Hemingway and Picasso. Even in Paris, the 21st century has arrived long time ago and beyond its romantic image in the center, there is a brutalist housing where those “who deserve” live in.

Here is another Paris story from us: The eclectic and colorful Parisian shopfronts tell the story of the beautiful city

And yes, the city itself is already tired of tourists and selfie sticks. If you dive deeper in the city you might find it even more impressive than Van Gogh or Fitzgerald ever did.