Arches Boulogne, a social housing project by the young Paris-based office Antonini Darmon, acts as the centrepiece in a mini-cluster of seven buildings in white concrete, designed by seven different architects within a large urban garden. Together, these buildings make the latest addition to Le Trapèze, a new district in Boulogne-Billancourt, the suburb of Paris that, until 1992, hosted the factories of the car manufacturer Renault.
The 74 hectares of the historic industrial site had been stretched along the bank of the Seine – right in the middle of the river’s spectacular loop – including the Seguin island, a future cultural cluster masterplanned by Jean Nouvel.
A scheme highlighted like this, right in the middle of an urban composition 'like a fountain in the middle of a cloister,' has its challenges. Laetitia Antonini and Tom Darmon’s solution is a second skin that envelops the building in a series of arcades. Borrowed from the architectural vocabulary of the former Renault factories and reinterpreted in a contemporary manner, the arcades enable a mix of functions, including privacy and sun protection.
The slightly irregular airy, white arcade rows are graphic and sculptural; and all of the building’s facades are equally important. Long balconies running the length of the facade and concealed behind the arches provide generous semi-outdoor spaces for the residents.
The width of the arches varies according to the facades’ orientation; on the north, they aim to maximise daylight indoors, while on the other three sides they help to provide shade and protect the interior from overheating in summer. With many of the flats having double exposure, this flexible design allows them to benefit from natural light and solar energy throughout the day.