Architecture Case Study by Christy Bryar
Passage 56 / Eco Interstice
Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée, Studio of Self Managed Architecture, St Blaise, 2006
Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA) is a collective which explores and researches opportunities for the mutation of interstitial urban sites into culturally, socially, ecologically and politically engaging space. Using what they term ‘urban tactics’, their practice encourages the participation of inhabitants to self-manage disused urban spaces for productive interaction.
Assisted by Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée, local residents in St Blaise have been working together since 2006 to turn a neglected passageway between two buildings in a densely populated outer suburb of Paris into an active public space devoted to sustainability, horticulture and gastronomy. The project challenges the notions of neighbourhood boundaries by transforming the walls into interactive devices, which rather than separate people bring them together.
Passage 56 was initiated by establishing a partnership between local authorities, local organisations, professionals and residents, with an open consultation process to create a collectively managed space. The project is based in the idea of spaces emerging from a participative process. AAA used temporary installations and exhibitions, mobile devices and public events as a means of consulting with residents and as a result the project has grown gradually and collaboratively.
AAA founders Constantin Petcou and Doina Petrescu say “The ‘self-managed architecture’ is an architecture of relationships, processes and agencies of persons, desires, skills and know-hows. Such an architecture does not correspond to a liberal practice but asks for new forms of association and collaboration, based on exchange and reciprocity and involving all those interested (individuals, organisations, institutions), whatever is their scale.” 1
AAA uses a bottom up approach to make space more ecological and democratic. They opportunistically look for interstitial space that is unlikely to be used for anything else. The development of such spaces occurs over time and is all removable. Passage 56 began with a few small temporary devices, such as a shade canopy (creating a space to meet), some potted plants (to exhibit the intent), some temporary information panels (to convey the concept) and an invitation to local residents to add their ideas to a “collection of desires” that were exhibited in the space. Over time young locals who participated in training sessions on green construction built the main structure. Similarly mobile units for storage, seating, planter boxes and hanging gardens, made from recycled pallets were added to the walls. The design, development and construction of this project has occurred as part of a collaborative learning process for locals who in turn now manage the site for broader use.
While the project physicality is micro-scaled for an urban gesture, it works the 200m2 of the site very hard, packing in a lot of program and activity. Additionally, the effects of this small suburban intervention are far wider reaching than its neighbouring walls. What began servicing the direct residents either side of the passage now plays host to many public activities and is open for all residents of St Blaise to use for their projects. It turn it has been noted that the ‘public square’ of St Blaise is now a very social place, as a result of people having had interaction with each other through the activities of Passage 56.
The site hosts 30 small vegetable garden plots, an office, green house, seed collecting station and a compost laboratory. The site is used for many community activities, such as exhibitions, debates, poetry readings, concerts, lectures in politics and philosophy, barbeques, tea parties, workshops, seminars and training sessions in green/eco construction. Each part of the site is used in a multiplicity of ways and represents itself as an exemplar of squeezing a lot of program into a small footprint.
The built aspect of the project is a lightweight timber construction that is suspended between the two buildings either side of the passageway and forms the threshold between the public space and the gardens. The structures and wall modules made of recycled materials are intended to be removable and relocatable should they need to. The project employs simple technologies of composting and water recycling to deal with waste and generates its own energy through solar and rainwater harvesting systems attached to the roof of the main structure. The site works on a complete closed loop system and it therefore self-sufficient.
Challenges and Opportunities
While Passage 56 was modelled as an impermanent intervention its popularity and success in providing the community with a productive, socially inclusive, environmental, political and communally active space will no doubt ensure its longevity in St Blaise. The challenge will be maintaining the democracy of the site and while fulfilling new desires, changes and expansion. There is certainly an opportunity for the concept to expand to other sites. The process of development can be replicated and applied to any place so as to tailor the site specific to its users with the potential to create slightly different spaces. A suburb could potentially use this process to set up a number of sites to accommodate various needs of the community, such as arts or educational spaces, markets and workshops.
1. Petcou, C. and Petrescu, D., Rhyzom - collaborative network for local cultural production and trans-local dissemination, viewed September 2011, http://www.rhyzom.net/contributors/aaa/
1. Aerial view of the site after. Source: Bustler, European Prize for Urban Public Space, 2010, http://www.bustler.net/index.php/article/european_prize_for_urban_public_space_-_winners_2010/
2. Catellani, C, 56 rue Saint Blaise, Abitare 508, issue 12, 2010, p.87
3. Source: Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée, Urban Tactics, Le 56 / Eco-interstice, http://www.urbantactics.org/projects/passage%2056/passage56html.html
4. Community garden. Source: Atelier d’ Architecture Autogérée via Spatial Agency website, viewed September 2011, http://www.spatialagency.net/database/aaa
5. Public Space, http://www.publicspace.org/en/works/f250-passage-56-espace-culturel-ecologique
6. The stages of the development over time, beginning with some shade to meet under and some information about the project. Source: Nicolao, F, 56 rue Saint Blaise, Abitare 508, issue 12, 2010, p.92
7. The various modules of wall furniture developed from recycled pallets. Source: Nicolao, F, 56 rue Saint Blaise, Abitare 508, issue 12, 2010, p.93
8. The entrace to the passage before. Source: Rhyzom: collaborative network for local cultural production and trans-local dissemination, http://www.rhyzom.net/contributors/aaa/
9. The entrance to the passage after: Source: Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée, Urban Tactics, Le 56 / Eco-interstice, http://www.urbantactics.org/projects/passage%2056/passage56html.html