Noisy-le-Grand is a small suburbian commune located ca. 15 km east of central Paris. Situated somewhere halfway between heart of French capital and Disneyland it has never been a popular tourist destination. What made Noisy recognizable is Laurent Kronental’s ongoing photographic project ‘Souvenir d’un Futur’ documenting lives of senior citizens of parisian suburbs which vent viral few months ago. When I saw his picutres for the first time, I knew that this will be my next travel destination. Finally I did it by the beginning of March. To get there it took me ca. 20 minutes by line A of RER train directed to Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy (station inside Disney Village). When I got off at Noisy-le-Grand – Mont d’Est station located under ‘Les Arcades’ department store (station opened in 1977) I could immediately feel Noisy’s specific atmosphere of a midcentury futurist movie set.
Although the surrounding of the station was quite impressive my real destination were two ‘grand ensembles’ – huge housing estates built in Noisy in 1980s: ‘Les arènes de Picasso’ by Manuel Núñez Yanowsky and ‘Les espaces d’Abraxas’ by Ricardo Bofill. For the top first I’ve chosen Yanowsky’s gigantic realization. The project design was entrusted to the Spanish-French architect Manuel Nunez Yanowsky* in 1981. The set was inaugurated in 1985.
The huge complex is organized around octogonal Pablo Picasso’s place housing sculpture by Miguel Berrocal, fountains and sports grounds. The real dominant of the estate are two cylindrical residential buildings situated at the East-West axis of the entire complex (nicknamed the ‘the Pie’ or ‘camemberts’ by the locals). Buildings include 540 social housing units, shops, a nursery, a secondary school and other educational facilities. The unsual shape of the building was meant to be an abstract representation of an overturned truck on one hand and a bullring on the other. Besides the huge scale of the complex and its ideal symmetry, what really stuck me, was the richness of sculptural detail executed in precast concrete.
According to Yanowsky:
‘The shapes and forms of the building remind the vocabulary of the Parisian architecture – the arched butress, the windows with ‘ogival’ shapes, and dominating two giant camemberts 50m (17 floors) high. The facades in this project were competely prefabricated from about 50 pieces and some variants. The Pablo Picasso Place is one of the first important projects to be completely prefabricated architectonically. The realisation of this project proves that it is possible to precast concrete into complicated geometrical shapes, and construct buildings of high quality.’
Vast housing estates of Noisy-kind were originally built in the suburbs of Paris between the 1950s and 1980s to house a migrant population and refugees.** It was a part of the bigger programme of decentralization of the largest French metropolies, Paris, Marseilles, Lille, Rouen etc., which were under high demographic pressure, by creating new cities in their outskirts. In 1965 a five ‘villes nouvelles’ were created in Île-de-France region to decongest Paris – Marne-la-Vallée was one of them.*** The city was officially born August 17, 1972. It consists of 26 communes and covers 15 000 hectares. Noisy-le-Grand is the only city in this department. Although Noisy’s urban planning is a teamwork, the two ‘megalomaniac’ realizations by Bofill and Yanowsky are standing out.
More on conception and construction of the ensemble in this French documentary realized shortly after the inauguration of the complex in 1985 (including an invterview with architect and archival shots of the estate in its ‘under construction’ phase):
‘Les arènes de Picasso’ give the overall impression of postmodernist variation on an utopian contept of ‘the ideal city’ developped in Renaissance (eg. Filarete’s Sforzinda described in Trattato di Architettura, c. 1465).
Creation of the ‘villes nouvelles’ made utopian dreams real for certain extend.
*Manuel Núñez Yanowsky – Spanish-French architect born in 1942 in Samarkande (Uzbekistan); attended School of Dramatic Art ‘Adria Gual’ in Barcelona where he studied scenography and directing. From 1970 to 1973 enrolled at the Central University of Barcelona, Faculty of Archaeology and History, specialization ‘Ancient Egypt’. Licensed in architecture by the French government; member the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of St. George in Spain. Together with Ricardo Bofill Founder and between 1961-1978 Partner of ‘Taller de Arquitectura’ in Barcelona. In 1978 – 1980 Architect and Partner of ‘Les Ateliers de Grand Hornu’, Belgium (bureau designed projects and managed realizations of the city ensembles, public and residential buildings in Belgium, France, Liberia). Between 1980 – 1991 ran his own architectural bureau in Paris desigining projects of the city ensembles, public buildings and residences in France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, USSR (Les arènes de Picasso in Noisy-le-Grand was one of them). Since 1991 Director of SADE SARL (Society of Architects and Developers) in Paris. Author of ca. 50 projects in more than 10 countries all over the world. As he underlines, since he graduated from theather school he’s more a stage producer than architect. His architectural practice is therefore a development of his theatrical career. www.nunez-yanowsky.com
**The In the 1950s and 1960s Noisy-le-Grand, so as Nanterre, Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis, housed one of the biggest communities of immigrants in Île-de-France. Here in 1957, ATD Fourth World Movement whose aim was to fight against chronic poverty was founded by a priest, Fr. Joseph Wresinski. The process of migrant settlement in Noisy continued later on. The 1980s were marked by strong arrival of newcomers from Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast, as well as Morocco and Algeria. The town also has a large Asian community, and the recent years are characterized by a major influx of Eastern European refugees.
*** The other four ‘villes nouvelles’ were: Cergy-Pontoise, Evry, Melun-Senart (now Senart) and Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.