Residing in the Belleville district of Paris since 2006, Gemaile Rechak, a qualified architect, deliv-ered his first project in 2010: the preschool Le Chat Perché in Breteuil. He was consequently nomi-nated for the Prix de la Première Œuvre (First Work Prize) 2010 and won the Major Jury Prize of the Trophées Batiactu (Batiactu Trophies) in 2011.
The project is an example of how to bring out the qualities of a site. It is based on the notion of meeting and perception: meeting with a place, its history, its topology, its hydrometry and its uses. Sensitive perception is an approach that allows us to perceive what is not obvious at first glance.
Gemaile Rechak strives for the construction of an urban existence which, through the act of build-ing on and transforming sites and landscapes, demonstrates an awareness of its territory.
For this project of sixteen social housing units, the Atelier Gemaile RECHAK offers intuitive thresholds which address all levels of perception, as well as the urban, intimate and landscape levels of the site, as an exploration.
The first threshold is the confrontation between a violent and noisy main road and a project which fulfils its urban function. The establishment of the construction and dimensions of the two façades visible from the road maintains the link between a network of small houses and (closer to the town centre) buildings of up to five storeys. The variations of full and empty are thus reminiscent of the universe of a house and garden, all the while connecting the different urban scales of the site, from an individual to a collective dwelling. Assembling this construction is part of the transformation of this urban network. As such, contrary to the current austerity of the street, the wooden façade invites you warmly to come home, with the woven effect of the faille material evoking an interior space just for the residents. This is an affirmation of both the urbanity and the contemporaneity of the project, while also suggesting a sheltered space for the residents, away from the street.
Transition: 16 housing units, 4 buildings, 1 entrance, 3 stairs.
The gradual increase in level is expressed by a semi-private and communal area for free movement, which continues the route between street and home. It is only when you have stepped through the doorway (the only entrance to the building) that this bright open path – neither a passageway nor a corridor –suddenly opens up several possible routes and just as many destinations.In fact, this is not a building of sixteen housing units, but rather sixteen units nestled in four small groups, each different, and each with its own identity and amenities. Unlike a regimented and over-powering building, these units look less like a block of flats and more like a project which is in between social housing and private residence. The wide passageways and the communal areas invite movement, reinforcing the private notion of arriving home. It is also significant that all the passageways have natural light, further emphasising the aspect of perception on the route between the street and the apartment.
At the centre of the block of buildings there is a further example of how space is handled. The pro-ject block plan reveals an urban profile of surprising diversity, ranging from five storeys to ground level, from the street up to the back of the plot, and conversely. The units are all organised around a garden with a uniform layout, while an awning located close to the vines of the adjoining plot opens towards a wide landscape horizon. The residents, with the urban hubbub at their back, enjoy a close-up view of a calm and serene garden and a distant view of the wide landscape of the Montmorency valley.
Although the density was of course imposed by the usage requirements, the project composition lines allowed for the conception of a great variety of housing units. There are, for example, two duplexes, some apartments with terraces at garden level, etc. Although this was not a regulatory requirement, all the units can be accessed by mobility-impaired persons, and the wide passageways provide easy access to these homes. These homes are all south-west-facing with a view of the garden and, for most of them, of the wide landscape.
These specific interior conditions help the residents to feel that the place belongs to them. In effect, if the passageways invite one to “go somewhere”, this sense of home offers the feeling of “being somewhere”. This is possibly the best example of the architect’s intention.
The wood cladding illustrates perfectly both the multiplicity of the diverse elements of the project and its overall uniqueness. It appears as a continuous crease, its horizontality leading to the horizontality of the garden and of the terrace, before elegantly covering the car-park ramp. It then becomes vertical on the façade and finally turns around on the roof and reappears on the street-facing façade.
This feature is therefore an element that defines a space that reinforces the privacy of the unit, whilst also opening it up to the exterior. Its very path from the far landscape to the garden, to the public space of the street, symbolises the reassuring attention and specialist expertise applied to all the aspects of this site and of this subtle project.