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Architecture as Narration

Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia

Architecture as Narration
By Valerio Paolo Mosco -

A sketch of Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia’s project for the residential complex “Urbagreen” in the Île de France region in Romainville (Paris) captures the spirit and character of the new development. In this cross-sectional view, two stepped volumes on either side of a stepped slope seem to rise up out of the green parkland below.

In the stepped gap between the buildings, a swarm of colored butterflies flutter up from the park towards the sky. Apart from the fact that the butterflies are man-made, the sketch sums up the thinking behind the new complex: to build a new piece of the city and create a seamless continuity from the park to the south into the surrounding urban fabric. The empty space of the inner court seems to have it dictated the shape of the two buildings around it (rather than the other way around). The larger volume to the west, stretches almost the full length of the plot. Set at a skewed angle to the plan, it presents a series of openings and impenetrable walls.

The other, much smaller building to the east leaves the court open towards the park that stretches from the south up the east side. Importantly, the location is that swathe of urban fabric immediately outside central Paris, where new-build developments have often failed to fit into their context, a feature that is widely considered the cause of the social segregation so well described in films and literature.

The basic concept behind Femia’s project is summed up the way the buildings relate to the ground they stand on. The natural gradient rising to the north has been maintained in the courtyard. This gives rise to a lower south side that towers over the park, broken, however, by the wide staircase leading up into the complex. This design choice seems to underline that even if the built structure continues into the natural landscape, the intention is not to obliterate the difference between the two, falling into the trap of kitsch...

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