Vaugirard Housing, Christ & Gantenbein’s first Paris project, raises the bar for social housing in the 15th arrondissement

Spectacular Vernacular

Vaugirard Housing, Christ & Gantenbein’s first Paris project, raises the bar for social housing in the 15th arrondissement

The facade is a composite of metal, steel, and wood products. (Walter Mair/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)

Vaugirard Housing by Swiss practice Christ & Gantenbein, a five-story social housing complex located in Paris’s 15th arrondissement, takes inspiration from the city’s historic rooftops. The building, located above a subway maintenance workshop, marks Christ & Gantenbein’s first Paris project.

The award-winning Swiss firm was first hired for the job in 2014. The project is part of a broader master plan for the 15th arrondissement that provides new services in the neighborhood and seeks to better connect it with the city at-large vis-a-vis urban design.

According to the architects, the project introduces “a new street in Paris that traverses a previously inaccessible part of the city.” Elaborating on this theme, Christ & Gantenbein call Vaugirard Housing a “unique combination of infrastructure and city life, potentially becoming a new model for subsidized housing.”

Vaugirard Housing is part of a master plan for Paris’s 15th arrondissement (Walter Mair/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)

As such, the project required coordination with multiple offices and stakeholders. Christ & Gantenbein designed the project alongside their local partner, Paris firm Margot-Duclot Architects. Dominique Lyon Architects, another Parisian office, redesigned the subway maintenance shop beneath Vaugirard Housing in coordination with Christ & Gantenbein. “The Vaugirard Social Housing in Paris is an example of how urban densification can support the ecology of the city by reconnecting it with large-scale infrastructure hubs,” Emanuel Christ, Christ & Gantenbein’s co-founder, stated in a project description.

Aside from being an active practitioner, Christ teaches at ETH Zurich. Research for Vaugirard Housing started at an in-depth housing typology studio Christ taught at ETH on Paris. Students catalogued examples of dense urban living throughout the city, specifically the buildings fronting its Haussmannian boulevards; studying how they optimize access to light and ventilation within deep volumes.

2nd Floor Plan (Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)

Drawing from the studio, Vaugirard Housing takes inspiration from Haussmannian “buildings lining the boulevards of Paris” the architect said. “The long facade is presented as a series of volumes characterized by setbacks and carved-out recessions – redents – resulting from typological rigor and richness, where limitations are acknowledged but simultaneously create a framework for invention in a sculpted volume with movement and rhythm,” the firm elaborated.

The facade is a nod to Haussmannian buildings that line Paris’s grand boulevards. (Walter Mair/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)
Elevation (Florent Michel/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)

In plan, Christ & Gantenbein said their goal was to create “overlapping functions.” This design intention determined the positioning of the entry hall, the staircases, apartments, and the resulting urban form that undulates in order to create varying view portals and layouts inside apartments.

The undulating facade is a total of 406 feet (124 meters) in length; it’s sheathed in a metal and steel wrap which is inspired by local context and historic rooftops. The facade also incorporates large, prefabricated wooden elements which allowed for lightened construction, reduced cost, and a smaller ecological footprint. A spring box is tied into the facade to absorb vibrations and provide calm, quiet interiors.

The units are washed in natual light (Walter Mair/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)
Interior unit (Walter Mair/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)
Interior unit (Walter Mair/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)

The interior layout according to the architects uses a logement à vie model, which translates in English to “housing for life.” Meaning the apartments are built to last, bucking the trend where governments often build public housing on the cheap. Vaugirard Housing offers a total of four housing types which range from studios to five-room apartments. The building’s thoughtfully composed interiors create column-free units that feature transversal and diagonal views, and at least one balcony or loggia per unit.

Terrace view (Florent Michel/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)
(Walter Mair/Courtesy Christ & Gantenbein)

“This is not an iconic new piece of architecture. Quite the contrary; we strove for compactness and rationality, dignity, and generosity,” Christ added. “We created an environmentally, socially, and communally responsible building designed to do two simple things: increase the quality of life of its tenants and repair the urban fabric in a simple, modest, yet robust and high-quality new building in Paris.”