The Critical Mass of French Mass Housing and Mass Culture

Francesca Romana Forlini: 

1. French family in front of the television, c. 1950s from the article “The French Hygiene Offensive of the 1950s: A Critical Moment in the History of Manners”, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 84, No. 4, (December 2012) 2. Salle de bain moderne (the modern bathroom, with a tub for washing bodies and laundry), photograph. Arts Menagers (March 1951): 70-71. Photographer, Emile Savitry. Permission courtesy of Sophie Malexis

In France, an F4 apartment is the general dwelling with 4 rooms: a kitchen
a living room, 3 rooms and an alcove. F stands for fonction (function), the number goes from 1 to 6 rooms and the dwelling dimension is from 66 to 73sqm. (Arrêté du 1er mars 1978 relatif aux normes de surfaces et d’habitabilité des logements nancés à l’aide de prêts conventionnés).

This type of accommodation was the most replicated in mass production of Grands Ensembles, the symbol of all modern architecture ambitions in a state-led modern-urbanism in the context of reconstruction of the country through a modernization which would be the promise for a limitless development after the trauma of World War II. The state was thus massively involved in a relentless process of rational organisation of French territory by the large and massive production of modern architectures, indeed the highest in terms of quantity throughout the Europe of post-war reconstruction.1 Moreover, F4 includes all aspects that have characterised the production of housing throughout the Tente Glorieuses2 and brought it to the re-definition of the French social fabric. The strong power that the state acquired during the reconstruction period affected not only the French territory to large scale urban planning (through the creation of an impressive amount of new and modern neighbourhoods), but also in the subtle social politics that take real substance in the definition of the family that lives inside the F4 dwelling.

Moreover, the realisation of Grands Ensembles through the instrument of the plan de masse3 is part and parcel of welfare state policies that favoured the growth of a middle class, influencing the ways of life of citizens, starting from the basic cell of the household. So F4 is the persistent repetitively of modern mass produced dwellings that normalised and trivialised domesticity. They hosted the new “model family”, founding element of social reform of the post-war nation in which became increasingly evident the State intervention in the social realm of everyday life. The latter has been the subject of study in the fields of culture, social sciences and architecture. Many architect’s main aspiration between 1940s and 1950s was to achieve a logement exacte (exact dwelling) that goes to improve the notion of “minimum dwelling” so “from the 1950s they (the architects) will not considerate the notion of minimum dwelling because it had a pejorative connotation, but they will adopt the idea of an average dwelling for the average family which is composed by the father, the mother and two or three children ( g.1). This was the ideal type of French family which was highly advertised in France from 1950s to 1970s (a period in which 95% of French new housing are realized)”.4 This ideal of the family unit was present not only in all contemporary architecture magazines, but also in the new television, in women’s magazines and national newspapers, which enthusiastically praised this new and modern way of living, fully equipped of most modern technologies. The interventions of pouvoirs publics (public powers) were accepted and defended by the media of that time, in a climate of general enthusiasm.

Competition “fairy of the dwelling (fée du logis), Salon des Arts ménagers, Paris Mars 5, 1955. Le Répubblicain Lorrain Magazine Archives. Advertisements from French journals, c. 1950s ( event/10703/200710152100/normal/le-refrigerateur-a-la-conquete-du-mondefrigidaire-.jpg)

F4 is the microcosm in which architecture (but also urban planning and the brand new design), combined with a political and economic program, was able to change enormously not only the society but individuals who compose it. The dynamics of Grands Ensembles, therefore, is not only the background of a process of social change on a national scale, but is a founding element
of such a change. For this reason the Grands Ensembles enclose all the complexities and contradictions of French society so any representation of the latter is intrinsically linked to the story of the former, as happens for instance in French films of that time. Hence, I will analyse the complex dynamics of this phenomenon through three famous French films documenting the moments of transition in the history of French dwelling and, in parallel, I will talk about some successful examples of architectures and architects that can inspire further reflections on the theme of middle-class housing.

So briefly, the enthusiasm of modernization would create the conditions for social uprising that put an end to the policies of the Grands Ensembles, but in the wave of that rebellion the feeling of exclusion of those emigrated in Grands Ensembles evokes the hidden side of this modern and wealthier society: that of its relationship with the colonial past. F4 remains unchanging element of an evolving process, core of all French contradictions. As a matter of fact, this typology of dwelling unit has simultaneously succeeded, because it has helped make the imaginary ideal family a real fact, and failed, because it was the main cause of a series of rebellions that have to do with the intimacy of the family unit. It therefore represents the static nature of a system that no longer suits today’s society, but despite legislative instruments is persisting in housing design.


“The speed with which French society was transformed after the Warfrom a rural, empire-oriented, Catholic country into a fully industrialized, decolonized and urban one meant that the things that modernization needed – educated middle managers, for instance, or affordable automobiles and other ‘mature’ consumer durables, or a set of social sciences that followed scientific, functionalist models, or a work force of ex- colonial labourers – burst onto a society that still cherished pre-war outlooks with all the force, excitement, disruption, and horror of the genuinely new.” Ross Kristin, Decolonization and the reordering of French culture, MIT Press, 1996

In the decades prior to 1945 the French State had a very limited engagement in the construction industry, it is only from that moment that it took charge
of national reconstruction through both “National economic plans” and “Reconstruction plans”. The accommodation, together with all aspects of daily life, becomes (especially with the Second Economic Plan by Minister Monnet and the financial help of the Marshall Plan)5 a key element of the process of economic development, of which the national political powers will handle all aspects of production: economic, social and technical. France then shifted to a total “planning state” in which “the user — whether as an abstract universal, a statistical entity identified with the nuclear family, a normative figure subject to modernization, an active participant of neighbourhood life, a free consumer, or a protesting militant — was at once a policy and design category of policy and an agent of the built environment”.6

Comfort is definitely the keyword of this social and urban renewal because it was absolutely absent in the tradition of previous French dwellings. A large part of Parisian homes had not and still do not have a private bathroom, most often shared. Many French apartments in the post-war period had no hot water or even running water and electricity or gas; the aim of public powers was therefore to ensure – in an initial condition of urgency – minimum standards of comfort. So in 1953, only 9% of the population had running water and central heating, the 8.5% of the population had a washing machine and, although it had been imported from the United States since 1910 with the brand “Frigidaire”, only 7.5% of housing had a refrigerator, due also to its high cost. It later became a goal of the public authorities to ensure living standards more suitable to modern lifestyles ( g.5,6).

The transition from a situation of urgency and necessity (for essential biological needs and hygiene) and the identification of the dwelling as
the main domain of consumption (i.e. “domestic consumption”) is very
short. Alongside the search for highest standards of comfort they lay all the vicissitudes related to the French dwelling unit, so “in the consumer societyis no longer sufficient to have hot water and modern equipment to be happy. It is no longer sufficient to have light and air in order to have a beautifullife … but the comfort was other things…“. 7 The France of wellness saw its unlimited growth through consumption, referring to the American capitalist model. The French citizen, entranced by the new modern way of life, bought consumer goods for the home: washing machines, cookers, refrigerators ( g.4). The woman, wife, mother and worker reads in magazines like Marie- Claire how to use these machines and every year, in the Salon des arts ménagers in Paris8 it is taught to average citizens how and what to consume ( g.3). In this regard, the big advertising campaign in favour of personal hygiene care is highly illustrative because it is linked to the presence of a bathroom with running water in all new housing units of cités modernes ( g.2). A massive production of soap for personal hygiene is related, inter alia, to
the use of soap for the new domestic machines. The “civilizing mission” of the state, which in the strength of his powers recalls the colonial heritage,
is to clean: clean the past (consisting of filthy and pestilent ilots insalubres) and cleaning the bodies of new French citizens. This new, clean and civilized society is increasingly distant from the dirt and the incivility of the colonial populations.9

The increase of wealth and the passage into mass culture and consumption led to the acceptance of an uneven development and therefore the inevitable differences of class, which are woefully behind todays problems with the Parisian banlieue. During the same period, as a matter of fact, France is fighting against the Algerian nationalist revolutionary movements (the culmination of the war is in 1956), phenomena of torture and exhausting struggles are censored by the French press. The attitude of “erasure of
the colonial past” has, thus, historical roots and is the basis of today’s misunderstandings and resentments against the immigrant population.10 The first migratory waves of citizens from the colonies (but also from Portugal, Italy etc.) dates back to the period of production of Grands Ensembles, in which the construction industry had an enormous need for labour. The immigrant workers were therefore accepted in large numbers on French soil and began crowding near the new, modern neighbourhoods, populating bidonvilles like that of Nanterre, famous for having contributed to the birth of May 1968 revolts.

This process demonstrates, once again, the French “bipolarity” which fostered through modernist architecture the peaceful coexistence of different social classes, to accommodate a man indiscriminately in need of some comfort related to his state of nature (the concept of “mixité” is often recalled in French housing projects) and then, a sad setback in accepting class differences, reminiscent of 19th-century housing interventions.11 The problem is that with immigrations, the social differences would identify with ethnic differences and – subsequent to the abandonment of the middle class of the Grands Ensembles – will create a clear spatial division within the most exemplary French city, that of Paris: the Boulevard Péripherique will be the blurred borderline between the endless progress (and fascination of technology, which is related to a first phase of Grands Ensembles), the acceptance of the policies of everyday life (related to the subsequent social revolts, second phase), the mental cleaning of the past and the distinction from the stranger (which are both the premise of Grands Ensembles and the third final phase, which establish their end and failure).

Mon Oncle (1966) J. Tati, screenshots from the movie: Villa Arpel and Oncle’s house



The intricate framework within which politics, economics and society intersect from the 1950s to the 1970s was lucidly documented by French intellectuals and filmmakers. Some cinema masterpieces summarise effectively the complex dynamic between state policies, families and architecture and the changes that occurred in French middle-class-social housing.

Villa Arpel, for instance, is the creative product of director Jacques Tati
and artistic director Jacques Lagrange ( g.7). It is the pretext for the tale
of the silent revolution of French society of the 1950s. The Villa of the lm Mon Oncle (1958), was born as a representation of the new era in which
the comfort appeared as a new bonheur (happiness). The lm recounts the moment of transition from traditional to modern society, and how men were still unprepared to accept the disruptive technological progress. In the movie, the Villa becomes the subject of ridicule of contemporary fever of household machineries, automobiles and television.

Arpel family (wife, husband and son) live a life punctuated by the noise of machinery, the movements are channelled into pre-established spaces (g.10) and technology becomes the showcase of social success. Enclosed within its walls, the Villa is inside a Grands Ensembles, whose slabs are visible behind a wall in ruins of the old historical city core to which the ville nouvelle binds (g.9). Uncle (Oncle) apartment’s access in the historical town is tortuous, he must go through several corridors, and this movement encourages sociability that characterizes the existing households (g.8). On the other hand, the access to Villa Arpel follows a path in an entirely designed garden and the automatic gate separates it from any form of past, cutting out the old world and incorporating the new one.

The role of objects in the lm is as ridiculous as that of the characters who
try to “tame” them, there are a series of gags which revolve around the
cult of the object, whose mother and wife becomes “vestal”. The modern woman is the one who manages to maneuver the new appliances, bound
to the world of the kitchen, but she also starts to be a worker ( g.10). In
fact the introduction of machinery in the domestic realm allowed women to spend less time in home chores and thus have the opportunity to work and become consumers. The role of medias and magazines in the retention of the role of women was of central importance. Switching from a traditional definition of the role of the mother13 to a much more modern definition: “The home that the magazine (Marie-Claire) imagined for its readers was bright and clean. The Marie-Claire woman was a domestic engineer, and Marie- Claire was her manual… it had no monopoly on this matter, and advice for mounting comforts in cramped apartments was standard fare in the period’s magazines”.14 The modernization of the role of women within the family unit is one aspect of the “politics of everyday life” that were enacted in the 1950s-1960s. The culture of “technocrats” or “experts” (the one that allowed the state-led policies of modernization of the country through, rst and foremost, urban planning) had the objective to perfect life, labour and leisure through the optimal organization of the familial and social environment. Sociologists and French critics (including Henri Lefebvre, in his text Critique of everyday life)15 begin to speak for the administration of the existence (of human domain of inhabiting spaces) of both collective and individual in a “technology of spaces and relations.”16 Citizens or usagers (users) become calculable (let us say, for instance, the Marxist definition of “labour”) in order to be administered by the democratic capitalist societies, the “engineers of the human soul”.17

This techne of the soul is joined by a fascination towards technology, a runaway optimism and faith in progress. This positivist momentum leads
to fantastic imaginaries such as Villa Arpel or those of famous utopians architects of the Groupe International d’Architecture Prospective (GIAP) like Yona Friedman. In 1960s the GIAP (fascinated by the international trend of megastructures) designed the “Space cities” (theirs was called “spatial urbanism”), redefining the relationships between city, technology and nature to both contemporary and future city. The French utopians although included in a broader international context are simply a symptom of the widespread crisis of Modern interventions of that time, linked to the state-led urban planning policies (Grands Ensembles). In 1965 they designed the “Paris sur Paris” (g.11), a response of Gaullist Schéma Directeur d’Aménagement et d’Urbanisme de la Région de Paris (Director scheme of the development
and urbanism of Paris Region). The new technological city was no longer bound to the outskirts of Paris but was right above it, respectful of the principle of population growth, the need for mobility of society, for housing and at the same time respectful of the historic fabric of the French capital. “Rejecting both American capitalism and Soviet socialism, spatial urbanists in France sought a convergence of art and industry and championed the mass consumption of large-scale art rather than the commodification of art objects. In their critique of a widespread culture of consumption and their interest in the possibilities of ambient space, spatial urbanists shared limited common ground with other intellectual and cultural movements in France, including the Situationists. Ultimately, however, their embrace of technology and administrative rationality rendered their politics reformist, even conservative, rather than revolutionary.”18 The group was thus accused to be composed by mere neo-avant-garde technocrats.19

Techne, which can be both “technocracy” or “technology”, thus characterizes the enthusiasm and the definition of average-exact dwelling for the average family of the 1950s. The delicate transition from the old to the new world is accompanied by a caricature of the world that itself represents that can be both an hi-tech dwelling where it is necessary to learn how to furnish and to live in, or a peripheral suburb suspended on Paris’ birth of contradictions.

Yona Friedman, Photomontages of a Ville Spatiale (Paris sur Paris), 1959-1979 (http://www.


To the enthusiasm of the 1950s, it followed the criticism: Grands Ensembles began to be fiercely attacked by the French press and architectural magazines. Critics revealed all the problems linked to the mediocrity of architectures (that did not represent nor a new reinterpretation of traditional French architecture, nor they were tied to the highest canons of modern architecture), the limits of functionalist organization of living
and the subsequent lack of attractiveness of modern neighbourhoods. This encouraged the 1970s policies of selective mobility to individual housing and homeownership. Moreover, the spreading discontent was nothing but the base of the 1968 rebellions in which the ideal of the perfect family is challenged, together with the architectural organization of the average family dwelling.

The malaise of Grands Ensembles – which was essentially a profound sense of boredom – affected mainly women who rarely worked and were then forced to spend their days in the indistinct architectures that surrounded them ( g.12).20 The villes nouvelles becomes then “cages à lapins” (rabbit cages) and the press spoke of “enfermement” (imprisonment) of its inhabitants. The “modern subject” becomes a main domain of studies, as well as the subject of journalistic investigations that uncovered facts that shocked public opinion. The most famous case is that of Nouvel Observateur on “Les étoiles lantes” released on 23 March 1966 that documented how most women who lived Grands Ensembles were prostitutes because of boredom. Starting from this investigation the director Jean-Luc Godard (1930, -) wrote and directed the movie Deux trois choses que je sais d’elle (two three things I know about her) in 1966. The director claimed to want to document the changes that were taking place in French society and, for the first time, he shot a lm inside a Grand Ensemble, showing its inner spaces and life stories.

Véronique and the Grand Ensemble, Deux trois choses que je sais d’elle (1966) J. Godard, screenshot of the movie

“Her” for Godard is a number of things listed in this order: “– The cruelty of neo-capitalism– Prostitution– Parisian Region

– Bathrooms that 70% of French people doesn’t have – The terrible law of Grands Ensembles– Today’s life– Vietnam’s war

– The modern call-girl– The death of human beauty

– Circulation of ideas– Gestapo of structures” 21

The protagonist, Véronique, is in her 30s and lives with her husband and son. Hers is a middle-class family but the family unit is further distorted compared to Mon Oncle ( g.13 and g.14 compared to g.10). Véronique, in fact, uses her dwelling for prostituting and she does it generally with American tourists (which explains Godard’s denounce: he sees his Paris prostitute to American capitalism). Both dwelling and family unit had lost their previous meaning. The woman is detached, she acts incomprehensibly and her liabilities show the masked freedom offered by the consumer society. According to the director, she will sell her body as workers who built new neighbourhoods were selling their own workforce.22 It all happens in the Grand Ensemble of Courneve in the intervention of “4000 logements” (dwellings) in the Région Parisienne.

Once again, the world of cinema lucidly summarized the status of French society. Godard himself will lately declare, about the same Schema directueur de l’aménagement Urbain de la Région Parisienne used by the GIAP, that “the development of the Parisian region will allow the government to continue its easier class policy … and the big monopoly to steer the economy, with little recognition of the needs and aspiration to a better life of its eight million inhabitants”.23 In his films, the director – active intellectual of the revolution – criticizes the structuralism as an idea of advanced capitalism and adopts the existential Marxism that lays behind the French social rebellion.24
It is known that he believed in the movement of social change of the human subject as an agent of history, opposite of the capitalistic one, immersed in an endless present.25 He then addressed the issue of the politics of everyday life, as they were crucial in changing French society. It can be said therefore that with Godard the rebellion of the French May and the malaise des Grands Ensembles binds to impatience towards the policies of liberation through consumption and the management of domestic life and spaces of sociability through urban planning policies.

The dynamics of this failure are complex but a crucial aspect is linked to the inhabitants who, over the decades, settled in Grands Ensembles. These projects, as can be seen in the lm, were designed for the nascent middle class; in the first phase (1940s) there was a coexistence of different social classes, from the workers of the same Ensembles or nearby industries to more wealthy professionals or entrepreneurs. After a period of relative heterogeneity (1950s) the situation switched over to a gradual breakdown
of the class dynamics of consumer society (1960s). Meanwhile it began to manifest the malaise and the state’s first response was to encourage the individual housing market and this new policy meant that the richer citizens began to abandon the big suburban neighbourhoods that were left inhabited by those who had no other choice. It was immediately favoured access to social housing for immigrants who lived in the surrounding bidonvilles. The Grand Ensembles, designed to accommodate the diverse middle class, gradually begin to be populated by the misère du monde (the misery of the world).

So social inequalities (such as the striking situation of Nanterre University and the close bidoville) were one of the most important aspects of the 1968 rebellion.26

First Auchan supermarket in Cité Hauts Champs, Roubaix (1961,1964,1968), (

At the same time, while in French cities arouse shopping malls and Carrefour (1966) and Auchan (1967) supermarkets were invented ( g.15), the architect Jean Renaudie (1925-1981) affirmed with his architecture all his dissent against the logic of Grands Ensembles. He produced the opposite of what Godard and intellectuals of the time harshly criticized. As an architect, he made his own revolution through his social housing projects. Thus, in Jean Hachette complex in Ivry-sur-Seine (Paris Region) built between 1970-75 ( g.17,18), he stated that there were no equal families and therefore it didn’t make sense to build identical accommodations. In addition, the comfort was, according to him, distinct thing from technology products offered by the market. His projects, like the one in Ivry, condemn the inefficiency of zoning by bringing together in a single building many functions such as offices and commercial facilities, as well as a series of all different dwellings, with huge planted balconies. The architecture seeks to join together all the complexities of the city and Renaudie was the first to make this idea successful. Nature, in his social housing project, really becomes the “physical extension of dwelling” (the one claimed by the Athens Charter) by taking atypical forms, as his architectural claim. In fact, the living room invades all dwelling spaces that have no hierarchy nor a fixed distribution diagram. The accommodation is sometimes a duplex and in all typologies the living space continues in the large terrace, pointed and projected towards the surrounding space ( g.16).

F.Jean Hachette housing, Ivry-sur-Seine (Paris)

The “way of living” approaches to the concept of “quality of life” and his architecture is a small revolution in itself, also sensitive to the subject of man’s contact with nature (probably related to contemporary ecologists strands) and a general unconventionality. The spaces of sociability live within architecture, in the corridors and balconies, as in the tortuous path of Tati’s Oncle apartment. It is recognised that Renaudie realised an architecture sensitive to life, able to raise extremely contemporary reflections on the act of living.27

F.Jean Hachette housing, Ivry-sur-Seine (Paris), plan


The work of the French architect Fernand Pouillon (1912-1986) was equally successful. He produced several Grands Ensembles that are characterized by their monumental aspect and the use of stone instead of concrete (many of his buildings evoke the Italian Rationalism).28 The architect rejected mediocrity and challenging the authorities, he made 200 accommodation in Aix-en-Provece in 200 days with 200 million of Francs (1951-53), this experiment made him famous. In fact, he was perfectly able to manage the process of realization of his architectures so, precisely because of this skills, he worked for many years in Algiers and made several interventions of social housing for “the greatest numbers”.29

Climat de France housing estate, Algier (1955-57) Masterplan, photo, and plan.

The most famous among his projects is Climat de France housing estate (France’s Climate) (1955-57). The intervention was one of the largest in North Africa (it hosted 30000 people in 4500 dwellings) and is part of French policies designed to quell outbreaks of rebellion of Algerians.30 The quality of Pouillon’s masterplan lies in the complex organization of the paths that connect squares of different sizes ( g.19) (it also seems to evoke Villa Adriana’s planimetric organization). In addition, the use of local stone with rational construction processes that involved local labour, gave birth to a monumental architecture of great aesthetic quality. The housing typologies “are composed of three types of apartment units: ‘double-exposure type’, ‘single-exposure type’ and ‘particular solutions’ that included the so-called ‘buildings with patios’. Pouillon dwelling typologies take into account the cultural determinants of dwelling practices: in this case the Muslim dwelling. Almost all dwelling types possessed a balcony that was protected from the public realm by a perforated wall. This provided privacy and shade, but also made formal reference to the traditional interlaced wooden screen work or mashrabiyya. Other examples are the specific disposition of the toilet-shower closer in the different apartments and the absence of direct views from the entrance into the living spaces. ( g.22)31 The Pièce de Résistance is the main building of the complex, an enormous rectangular block with shops at the ground level (g.20,21).

The willing to host human beings in a monumental architecture is not only an attempt to elevate the condition of indigenous people that had to be proud of their homes, but evokes the Corbusieran intentions behind interventions such as the Unité d’Habitation (1947-52). Despite the popular success of the architect, the Algerian population actually lived in a different, but still huge Grand Ensemble that, despite the cultural features and the clear architectural quality, is not so different from housing projects that, soon, they will find themselves forced to inhabit in most of French cities. The passage in the “motherland” did nothing but make them strangers in the eyes of an increasingly rich and modern French population.

In Algeria, instead, the French population that lived in the colonies was
seen in the same way. Frenchmen as Albert Camus (1913-1960) clearly perceived their condition of “strangers” in a period in which the revolutionary nationalists ended the colonial experience. However, the situation described by Camus in his book The stranger (1942) narrates a malaise that goes beyond racial differences. Existentialism and the passivity of his protagonist reflects
a problem similar to that of the inhabitants of Grands Ensembles, similar to Véronique. Camus’s stranger kills an Arab and, in the most absolute passivity, he chooses death. A slight bond unites the existential condition of Camus
to that of Godard,32 death and hatred are what greets the murder and the stranger. The same stranger that is killed by a policeman in the lm La Haine (1995) by Mathieu Kaossovitz, the hatred that the protagonists of the lm (the desperate youth of the Parisian banlieue) feel toward their same condition
of marginality and their immobility, a hatred that is resignation and desire for redemption in a time emptied by the senselessness of their speeches and salvation that is – as for Camus’ stranger – only in death.
The three movies mentioned have one thing (among others) in common: poor speeches, powerless of characters and the mute, massive strength of the architecture of Grands Ensembles.

Climat de France housing estate, dwelling typologies, Algier (1955-57) (http://socks-studio. com/2014/01/22/climat-de-france-1954-1957-in-algiers-by-fernand-pouillon/)

Todays “strangers” and poorest citizens (the misère du monde), is bounded in the inadequacy of Grands Ensembles of banlieues, missing their so-called “right to the city.”33 The clean cut that separates them from the centre also stands in the differentiation of the transport company RATP for the Metrò in the city centre against the SNCF company and RER (trains) of the suburbs. Article number 1 of the Law of orientation for the city of Paris (13 July 1991) says that the right to the city “manifests itself as a higher form of rights: the right to freedom, towards individualization of socialization, habitat and living … the right to work (to participate) and the right to appropriation (other than the property) which imply the right to the city … (the intent is to) assure all city dwellers living conditions and habitats that favour the social status to avoid or make disappear the phenomena of segregation”. As France needed its own colonial empire to survive the devastation of wars, the immobile centre of Paris today, more than ever, needs the dynamism of its balieue to aspire to become a world Metropolis. When he was Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy publicly criticized La Haine but he was also the French President who proclaimed the ambitious project of Grand Paris in 2008. The pacification of France with its French-foreign citizens is therefore a continuous developing process, and once again housing plays a crucial role in it. The debate on the balieue is still open as well as the provision of social housing for poorest citizens, that is today realm of French municipalities.

La Haine, 1995, M. Kaossokitz, screenshot of the movie


The monument to housing, housing the stranger who lacks the “the rightto the city – to freedom towards individualization of socialization” has thus clearly failed together with Grands Ensemble whose history ends officially in 1973 with the Circulaire Guichard, which prevents the creation of new mass housing estates by stating “ni tours ni barres” (no more towers nor slabs).
In 1971 the pouvoirs publics within the 6th five-year economic program
(the same as the Monnet plan, which was the second) launches PAN the Programme de l’architecture nouvelle (program of new architecture). Its motto is “stimulating innovation and coordinate research in all phases andall aspects of housing construction: design, implementation, costs, quality, environment and, more generally, life environment”.34 The agencies involved are PCH Plan de construction de l’habitat (construction plan of the habitat) and PCA Plan de construction de l’Architecture (of architecture), reunites under PUCA (U states for urbanism) whose general purpose was to foster innovation in the construction industry. PAN is promoted through a huge number of competitions addressed to architects that from 1972 to 2009 (it
was the year in which a report summarized the 40 years of PUCA’s experience) have developed various types of housing projects. All the best-known French architects have participated to this project and designed housing projects according to the principles of economics of energy. PAN has taken on a European dimension through the EUROPAN competition involving young architects. In addition, as in the rest of Europe, the French architecture embraced sustainability principles through the VUD Villa urbaine durable (sustainable urban villa) and the LQCM Loyers à cout et qualité maitrisés (rented housing at mastered cost and quality) in a general context of technical experimentation and let us say, a persistent formalism.35

F4 changed name in T4 (according to the decree 2002-210 of January 2002) but is still used by architects and engineers to describe the typical four room apartment. Dwellings are now bigger and more comfortable, the social rebellion changed the conception of family and the role of woman but no changes are involved in the internal organization of the family dwelling unit. F4 remains the symbol of an outdated concept of family which on the one hand still remains the backbone of French society, but on the other hand underlines the incapacity to imagine a much more suitable space for an increasingly complex and multicultural society, which is the one that inhabit Metropolises worldwide.

Today just two issues, in addition to the discourse of technological experimentation, have some relevance in the French housing discourse. The first, and maybe the most important one, concerns the evolutionary aspect
of the accommodation linked to the French building tradition. Although architects such as Candilis, Josic and Woods have theorized the habitat evolutif (evolutive habitat) concept after their experience in the colonies with the ATBAT Afrique, their achievements of the 1960s-1970s with Operation Million are still strongly linked to French tradition because they use the logic of réports transversaux (load barring walls).36 The turning point, which really gives the evolutionary aspect to a dwelling is the pillar structure in todays smaller projects, which allows for a certain freedom of composition and modifications. French architects and academics, as for example Lionel Engrand, claims that more flexibility should be given to the apartments so they still expect that this simple technical device will be assimilated as an essential element of the architectural composition of French housing projects.

Secondly, the very interesting 1970s reflections on the habitat intermediaire (intermediate habitats), the so-called “third way” between the policies of individual habitats as a reaction to the disaster of Grands Ensembles, and collective habitat that the latter represent. The experiment of intermediate habitat is intended to stem the urban sprawl and responds to density and sustainability criteria, preferring outdoor spaces as terraces, gardens and entrances. In addition, today there is the “rule of 3/3” in French masterplans, which was introduced by the 2003 law on the SRU Solidarité et renouvellement urbain (solidarity and urban renewal) in which all municipalities with a certain number of inhabitants are required to have a number of social housing. Accordingly 1/3 of the new housing masterplan must be social housing, 1/3 free rental housing (private) and 1/3 of rent-accession of the property
(a midway between the first two). This rule not only fosters mixité in new housing complexes, but also summarizes the peculiar French situation, halfway between a certain social state guaranties and the logic of the market economy. The problem is that many municipalities prefer to pay fines rather than investing in 1/3 of social housing, virtuous masterplan, such as that of Cergy-Pontoise (2005) can be an example for future projects.37 

  1. During the 1950s and 1960s around 60% of French population lived in Grands Ensembles while today about 10 millions people still live
in there, which represents almost 1/6 of the entire French population.
  2. “Tente Glorieuses” (Glorious thirties) (1945-1973), period of great economic growth of France.
  3. “Plan de masse” is de ned as “The point of contact between the planner and architect, the point where the planner stops and the architect begins – always in full coordination of ideas and discipline – is the plan de masse. The plan de masse is an architectural complex integrated organically into the urban plan. Whatever be its importance and scale, it is the work of an architect whom expresses the solution adopted in the place and time. The Master Plan is linked the notion of permanence and achievements over several stages. The plan de masse is an immediate realization stage, it must meet the data and possibilities,
as well as the reality of the period it is conceived.”
Esprit du plan de masse
de l’habitat, G. Candilis, Architecture d’aujourd’hui 57, 1954
  1. Lionel Engrand in a interview with the author, April 13, 2015
  2. Plan Monnet (1952-57), Marshall Plan (1948)
  3. Kenny Cupers, “The Social Project,” Places Journal, April 2014. Accessed 10 Apr 2015. < article/the-social-project/>
  4. Lionel Engrand in a interview with the author, April 13, 2015
  5. “Salon des arts ménagres” took place in the Grand Palais in Paris from 1923 to 1983, with a boom of af uences in the 1950s.
  6. Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge: MIT press, 1995) Ilots insalubres (unhealty blocks) were portion of the existing fabric of Paris in which, due to the overcrowding conditions, there was a high death rate because of the tragic hygienic conditions.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Mixité is the coexistence of people from different socio-professional categories whitin the same environment (or neighborhood). In France, within the “law of July 13, 1991, of orientation for the city”, the mixié is envisaged as a means of reducing exclusions and the social divide. For several decades, mixité became the master word of urban policies. The ‘law solidarity and urban renewal’ (SRU) (13 December 2000) thus emphasises the need to adapt the current housing supply to total revenues. The realization of HLM (Habitation à loyer modéré) and a consistent rental offer, will be then, according to the public authorities, a response to a good social mix. For more informations about Franch housing in the 19th- century interventions see: J.Lucan, Eau et gaz a tous les étages, 100 ans de logement, Paris, 1992
  1. Quote from the french movie “Deux trois choses que je sais d’elle” by Jean- Luc Godard, 1966
  2. “Owing to her position as mother, nurse, and protectress, the womanis prescribed duties thatare unknown to men, and consequently she has a more positive right to obedience (from her child). The best reason for asserting that the mother has a more genuine right to the submission of her children is that she has greater need of it” Jacques Donzelot, The Policing of Families: Welfare v the State (Hutchinson: 1980) quote of Jacques Peuchet, “Enfant, Police et Municipalite” Encyclopedia Methodique 1792
  3. Steven Zdatny, “The French Hygiene Offensive of the 1950s: A Critical Moment in the History of Manners”, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 84, No. 4, Decembre 2012, 897-932
  4. Henri Lefebvre, Critique of everyday life, (Paris: L’arche editeur, 1961)
  5. Ibid.
  6. Gorky, Radek, Bukharin, Zhdanov and others, Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934, (Lawrence & Wishart, 1977) 15-26
  7. Roxanne Panchasi, “Topologies: The Urban Utopia in France, 1960-1970 review”, H-France Review Vol. 9 (May 2009), n° 64, 251-253
  8. Larry Busbea, Topologies: The Urban Utopia in France, 1960-1970, (Cambridge, Mass. and London: M.I.T. Press, 2007) 82
  9. The term “Sarcellitis”
- related to the Grand Ensemble of Sarcelles, in Paris – was invented by the French press to describe the strange malaise that plagued women of Grands Ensembles. For further information see Francesca Romana Forlini, Studio report Term 2, April 2015.
  10. Quote from the French movie “Deux trois choses que je sais d’elle” by Jean- Luc Godard, 1966
  11. Jean-Luc Godard, Jean- Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, tome I 1950-1984, (Paris: Editions des Cahiers du cinéma, 1988) 296-297
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
An extract of the movie, in which Godard reads whispering his personal opinion, which clarifies his existentialist approach:
Here is how Juliette 3:37 p.m. saw stir the pages of this object, as in languageor in linguistics, called magazine; and this is how, about 150 images later, another young woman, very similar to her, her sister, was folding the same object. Where is, then, the truth? In the front or in pro le, but first an object what is it? Maybe one object allowing to connect, to move from one topic to another, so to live in society, to be together. But then since social relationship is still ambiguous, since my thought divides as they unites, because my word close by that it expresses and isolated by what it was, since a huge gap between the objective certainty that I have of myself and the objective truth that I am to others, since I do not stop to find me guilty when I feel innocent, since each event turns my life, since I continually fails to communicate I mean to understand,to love, to make me love and that every failure makes me feel my loneliness, since… Since I can not tear myself away from the objectivity that crushes me or the subjectivity that has exiled me, since it is not permitted to me or bring me to the Being or fall into the nothing, I must listen, I have to look around more than ever, the world, my fellow, my brother … The only world where revolutions are impossible today, where bloody wars threaten me, where capitalism is no longer sure of these rights, and the working class down; where the lightning progress of science givethe world to come a haunting presence, where the future is more present thanthe present, where the galaxies are at my door, my neighbour, my brother …”
  1. Dominick DeJoy, Displacing the House of Being: The Politics of Parody in the Cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, 1960-1968, PhD thesis Wesleyan University, 2011
  1. Lionel Engrand in a interview with the author, April 13, 2015
  2. Leopold Lambert about the successful aspects of the
project:“In my opinion, Jean Renaudie is one of the verybest French architects of thelast fty years. His two housing complexes in Ivry sur Seine near Paris (…) and in Givors near Lyon are two very successful examples of architecture becoming urban in an era (50’s-60’s) that created what is now famous as the French suburbs catastrophe. In fact, those two housing complexes are extremely interesting in the fact that they embody a real urban density, mix several social levels, organize urban life on a multitude of storeys, blur the limits between private and public areas and supply a little piece
of garden to every apartment. This architecture is full of episodes, surprizing momentsof beauty in an urban artefact/ landscape full of hideaways.” (http://thefunambulist. net/2010/12/22/classic- architectures-housing- buildings-in-ivry-sur-seine-by- jean-renaudie/)
  1. Zeynep Çelik, Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers Under French Rule, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) 146-147
  2. The issue of housing
for the greatest numbers appears in the work done
by French Architects in the colonies, especially ATBAT Afrique, whose work is published as “Habitations collectives” a special number of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui 57, 1954 in which Candilis extensively describes the Habitat for the greates numbers.
  3. Zeynep Çelik, Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers Under French Rule. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) 252
  4. Tom Avermaete, “Climat de France. Fernand Pouillon’s re-invention of modern urbanism in colonial Algiers (1955-1957)”, OASE 74 Invention, December 2007, 117-134
  5. Godard, in the café scene of the movie: “Deux trois choses que je sais d’elle”, 1966: “Where it begins, but where does it? God createdthe heavens and the earth of course, but it’s a little loose and easy, one has to say better, that the limits of language are those of the world, the limits of my language are those of my world, and I limit in speaking world, I finish and death a logical and mysterious day will come one day that abolish the limit and there will be no questions or answer, everything will blur but if by chance things to go back net it can only be with the appearance of consciousness, then everything makes sense…”
    Camus’ stranger before
the execution reflects on
the murder (The stranger, 1942): “I shot him four times on a motionless body where the bullets entered without leaving a trace and they were like four raps that I knocked on the door of doom … As if that great anger I had purged from evil, free from hope in front of that night charged with signs and stars,I warmed up for the first time,to the sweet indifference of the world. In find it so similar to me, so finally fraternal, I felt that I had been happy, and that I was still. Because everything is consumed, because I am not alone, I just have to hope that there will be many spectators on the day of my execution and that they may accept me with cries of hate.”
  1. David Harvey, Rebel cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution, (London: Verso, 2012) 3-27
  2. “Rendre possible. Duplan Construction au PUCA: 40 ans de réalisations expérimentales”, Premier plan Dossier, n°26, June- October 2012, 1-16
  3. They are projects launched by the PUCA
in 2011 and linked to
the production of new, experimental “éco-quartiers”.
  4. For more information about ATBAT Afrique
and Operation Million,
see Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment (Paperback: December 1, 1995), Tom Avermaete, Another Modern: the Post-war Architecture and Urbanism of Candilis-Josic- Woods, (Nai010 publishers: January 3, 2006) or Francesca Romana Forlini, Studio report Term 2, April 2015
  5. Lionel Engrand, Olivier Milliot, Cergy-Pontoise, retour sur une ville nouvelle (Paris: Pavillon de l’arsenal, 2015)

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