SustainabilityThe modern city

The modern city: a mix of retail, offices and housing
Manuelle Gautrand, Philippe Chiambaretta and MVRDV

Marked by functionalist theory, the modern city leaves little room for diversity. Its contemporary version, however, requires a mixture of functions and uses that characterize European cities whose configuration is more a question of history than of zoning. The Vie en ville (Life in the city) concept developed by Unibail-Rodamco is an attempt to invent new ways of bringing housing, offices and shops closer together by integrating them into a coherent whole. Making life easier for people by bringing human flows closer together also means making urban development easier, because the profitability of certain aspects of a project makes it possible to finance the less profitable ones such as public spaces and social housing.

In order to step beyond the theory, the group consulted three architecture firms, ManuelleGautrand Architecture, Philippe ChiambarettaArchitecte and MVRDV, asking them to imagine a two-hectare plot in the centre of a city and to suggest a fairly dense urban programme for it. The brief was for a total of 70,000 sq. m. including 30,000 sq. m. of retail space (three typologies: department store, street-level shopping, and a shopping arcade on two to three levels); 25,000 to 30,000 sq. m. of different kinds of housing (flats for first-time buyers, rented flats, and social housing); and 10,000 to 15,000 sq. m. of offices and underground parking. The first thing we noticed was that, not surprisingly, the three responses showed how the interpretation of the same brief can give rise to a wide variety of designs and urban systems. ManuelleGautrand designed a single area within which she organised human flows; MVRDV proposed separate but interconnected buildings; and Philippe Chiambaretta stacked up the different functional components and arranged them round a single street. The second thing their work showed was that it’s possible to mesh everything together while still complying with regulatory constraints, which prevent neither the differentiated management of human flows (both office workers in a hurry and people out for a stroll), nor shared use, nor alternation between opened and closed retail spaces, nor the treatment of public spaces and facilities. All you need is some architectural chutzpah, the ability to perform some mental gymnastics with the brief and a little collective intelligence.

Manuelle Gautrand

Philippe Chiambaretta