Urban density, functional diversity and what’s at stake for “Grand Paris”

Urban density, functional diversity and what’s at stake for “Grand Paris”

As land pressure grows and environmental regulations become increasingly stringent, optimizing use of space, especially the built-up spaces of our towns and cities, has become a top priority. However, we believe it is essential to show that this necessity is not a constraint of the kind that confines, reduces and tightens, on the contrary, rethinking construction design and the interior office layout reveals possible new uses of spaces based on better sharing, which generates savings but also improvements in quality of life, synergies and sustain abilities.

With these ideas in mind, we asked Jacques Ferrier – the man behind France’s pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, and currently a consulting architect for the “Grand Paris” (or Greater Paris area) train station networks – to intervene in our second Cahiers de la Chaire Immobilier et Développement Durable. This book, The city of tomorrow: new ways of using and sharing real estate, aims to show how the new distribution and usage of spaces can promote corporate sustainability and improved environmental sustainability and user performance while also controlling real estate costs for most industries.

Jacques Ferrier’s thoughts on this give us valuable insights into two issues at the heart of the Book: that of urban density and the diversity of space functionality in the city – two important issues within current public debate, issues that will come alive after the April 11th  World Urban Forum in Medellin (Colombia). 

The concept of mixed use should be natural to the city

Jacques Ferrier believes that mixed use spaces, which are historically natural to the city, was brought into question by what is now known as zoning: i.e. where certain areas were exclusively dedicated to housing and other to offices. The traditional model of a heterogeneous city, that is to say, a city where the space functions overlapped, was eventually abandoned in favor of the principles of the Modernist Movement.

Therefore, we’ve now come to a point where we need to go back to our roots to ensure that societies benefit from urban living. Cities must allow and create the favorable conditions for the overlapping of space functions and this is truly the goal for architects and planners in the 21st century.

We need to resuscitate the public square to make it more than just an urban crossroads and a place of mobility and to make it again a place of discussion and social exchange. Large buildings – and this also applies to university premises or very large housing operations – also have the responsibility to create a collective spaces. If this approach is associated with the idea of nature, which is now in high demand by residents of cities, it is possible to generate buildings that contribute to the urban landscape and increase their value for owners and investors, real successes in accordance with our time.

Our current lack of courage on the issue of diversity, because of our past urban choices

The relative backwardness of France with regard to the diversity comes from its history. We’ve traditionally been a city that embraced rationality, and this kind of urban thinking has been typical of the French. But the damaging aspect of an excessive rationalism is that zoning has seen here almost an excessive success. So France is lagging behind compared to neighboring European countries, particularly those countries in Northern Europe, where you see the hand of citizens in the design of urban spaces. There are also comparisons to be made with Asia, where urban expansion is still very much alive. These elements of comparison should give us a boost, especially as we realize the “Grand Paris”, where there is still so much to do, to invent and to imagine as we create a new urban atmosphere for our city.

“Grand Paris” must address the issue of diversity and mixed use spaces

As an architect on the “Grand Paris” Council in charge of train stations, Jacques Ferrier highlights the fact that the station is often the only public building through which all citizens journey daily as they commute to and from work. But this public building and its immediate surroundings could provide the greatest possible range of services and shops and be a more effective space, not just one where we take a break or pause only to meet a friend. It is also a building that could serve its public: surveys show that Parisians would like the station to be places that offer more than just mobility – they want to be able to do their groceries, get a prescription filled or go to the post office. Architects must design stations that can respond to these diverse needs. 

Around the station, in consultation with the mayors and communities, we must seize the opportunity presented by these stations, which are the first project of the “Grand Paris” and the future metropolis of Paris. This requires an ambitious program rejecting the mono and using more mixed use spaces to make room for offices, student housing, senior housing, social housing, etc. in order to create new metropolitan areas across the “Grand Paris”. This is a formidable challenge and needs to be realized in the short term, as the first stations will be delivered by 2020. 

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