Canopia Park - Winner 2014 of the Palmarès Grand Public Architecture Contemporaine in France, the residential development designed by Babin+Renaud architects is located in Nantes' nearly completed eco-district, La Bottière-Chênaie. Surrounded by an open, arborescent landscape open to the public, it is akin to a welcoming island and is a good place to live. It is accessed from a brand-new plant-filled mall by climbing a few steps up to a raised interior courtyard. From this shared public space there are numerous choice views, in particular to the south towards a preserved natural setting and beyond, the metropolitan skyline. The courtyard is surrounded by four buildings. On the south-east side a series of wide walkways on two levels give access to the housing units, which enjoy large terraces or balconies. On the north-west
side there are twenty flats on four levels that look out to the more urban part of the new neighborhood which can be seen through five openwork stairwells. Two more vertical buildings on the north-east and south-west corners each contain some dozen smaller units. The first runs along the planted mall which, in the lower part, contains an entrance lobby shared by all the residents and connects the raised courtyard to the shared space and a partially submerged parking garage. The internal layout and size of the 51 dwelling units vary according to their urban location. In the two longer buildings facing north-west and south-east the day-time living spaces are walk-through so that occupants are literally living between the open landscape and the common space of the elevated inner courtyard. There is a mix of apartment types, i.e. three bedroom flat
s suitable for the disabled, four- and five-bedroom, single-floor flats and three-bedroom duplex flats. Smaller units occupy the two taller buildings where people live in more direct contact with one another. Despite the project's compactness, individual privacy is ensured everywhere thanks to several distancing devices and the careful arrangement of different sized picture-windows. In this configuration the development is characterized by the generosity and quality of the common spaces, whether it's the different landings to the flats, the walkways that connect one building to another, the stairs that lead to the streets or the naturally-lit parking area. Shutters, balustrade and floors are as meticulously designed as the buildings' architecture. Sparkling white, the innumerable vertical picture-windows, framed in shiny metal, jut out from the buildings' minimalist surfaces. Opalescent glass, stainless-steel façades and sand-blasted concrete round out the project's visual and tactile pallet, the distinctiveness of which is as restrained as it is refined. Eric Babin and Jean-François Renaud are calmly following a singular pathway, delivering rigorous and engaged products freed from the tyranny of fashion. They founded their agency nearly twenty years ago after winning a European-wide competition, since then they have developed an architectural style that is as grounded in context as it is abstract and theoretical. Holding dear to the concept that a building should occupy a proper place in its setting and perfecting new architectural types derived from analyzing each program, Babin + Renaud carry out projects of scale with highly varied remits, e.g. housing, of course, in complex social fabrics on symbolically significant sites such as Paris’ Les Batignolles, Saint-Denis, Saint-Ouen. They also tackle mixed projects, office buildings or extensive public facilities like the cultural center Les Quinconces that the agency has just delivered in Le Mans. Éric Babin and Jean-François Renaud are also teaching in Paris' Belleville University.