One of the key things about the city breaks I impulsively book every three months is the requirement for interesting things for the boy. While he’ll happily come along with me on endless walks, coffee shop breaks and design store discoveries, it’s always lovely to see his little face light up at something he finds really fascinating (apart from that time he excitedly left me in a pitch black corridor in an abandoned swimming pool).
When the lovely Mary Middleton popped into my inbox with her Paris suggestions, Noisy-le-Grand wasn’t amongst them, yet a quick tweet later and she’d sold me and the boy for a trip to the Eastern outskirts of Paris to discover an architectural utopian dream.
We’d seen it featured in The Hunger Games and we’d researched Parisian photographer Laurent Kronental’s photo series, Souvenir d’un Futur (Memory of a Future), yet nothing could prepare us for the scale of what we were about to see in the flesh.
Upon arrival to the station (Gare de Noisy-le-Grand – Mont d’Est) we were greeted with a maze of a shopping centre, Centre commercial Arcades, and everything seemed, well, pretty normal and generally suburban if I’m honest. Upon exiting and after an amble, we could see the scale of buildings around us and presented with colourful mosaic sculptures and various unique architectural elements, it was apparent we were in for a treat.
We knew where we wanted to make our first pitstop and after a short walk we were greeted by the grand Les Espaces d’Abraxas – a building conceived by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill. The 591-unit complex is made up of three main parts: the Palacio, a 19-story high apartment building; the théatre, a curved section of apartments delineating a plaza in the center; and the arc in the center, modeled on a triumphal arch containing 20 apartments.
The sheer volume of this social housing can only really be compared to that of The Barbican in London. Rooftop gardens, seating areas and self-serving elements make it the ideal communal area with the central space acting as an open-air theatre (a sight you will certainly remember from The Hunger Games). The geometric and individual nature of every element will have you staring for hours and you can only share the monumental scale of the site by posing for an ant-like portrait with the curved facade.
Not far from Espaces d’Abraxas and next on our list was Les Arènes de Picasso, designed by Manuel Núñez Yanowsky. If you look carefully from the highest point outside the station you can clearly see the circular motifs (designed to represent the wheels of an overturned chariot) rising high above the rest of the suburb.
Each building has been organised in an octagonal layout with two 14-story tall circular units on two facing sides. A green park with a large figural sculpture runs through the centre and surrounds either side. The complex itself accommodates 540 dwellings, schools and a few convenience stores – again all very self-serving. The site is a mish-mash of Art Deco aesthetic with Aztec details again geometric elements remain at the forefront of the design. The grand archways cast interesting shadows throughout the day and certainly allow you to brush up on your photography skills. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.
What do you think of this kind or architecture? Love it or loathe it? While these two sites predominantly stole our attention, there was so much interesting design to see on a sunny day in the city. Granted, there wasn’t much else to do (this really is a suburban area), but I’d highly recommend it for an alternative half day in Paris – Pas de problème!