«Maybe for the first time in the modern era we had men inhabit a monument. Those men, the poorest ones of poor Algeria, understood that: it was them who named the large square ‘The Two Hundred Columns’»
The production of French architect Fernand Pouillon in Algiers is extensive and renowned (he was chief architect of the city for several years) but among the many housing projects he built in the Algerian capital, one stands out as the most remarkable, the “Climat de France” complex, called “Oued Koriche”, after the end of the French colonization.
This dense neighborhood concentrates about 6,000 housing units on an area of 30 hectares and is conceived as an island surrounded by three major roads, an autonomous development which includes in itself all the features of a city in the monumentality of a fortress.
High white walls perimeter the roof and are built to such a height that celebrated parisian monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are forced to poke up as comical characters. On the roof: vegetation sculpted in the Mediterranean Topiary style and a mechanism of hedges on hydraulics that could rise or sink at the touch of a button, to alter the view at Charles’s whim. Carpeted with grass, the sun deck featured a false rococo fireplace and was photographed as furnished with a mirror, garden seating and a parrot on a stand. The irrational living room, featuring indoor furniture in an outdoor settings without ceiling, may summon one of Magritte’s juxtapositions or rather an uncanny scene from Alice in Wonderland.
In 1919 Louis Renault, a talented engineer and head of the « Société des Automobiles Renault» began to aquire the “Île Seguin“, an island in the river Seine in the southwest area of Paris. At first, this land was supposed to become a recreational area for the workers of the nearby Renault factories of the “Trapeze”, a site on the right side of the Seine in Boulogne-Billancourt as well as for those employed in the plants on the south side in Meudon. Apparently, it was after his visit to the Ford Plants in Detroit, that Louis Renault made the different choice to transform the island into a ultra-modern plant where he could apply the same new logistic methods and techniques Henry Ford was experimenting in the US.
Between 1923 and 1935 almost the whole surface of the island was bought by Renault and transformed into a multi-leveled factory, composed at first by several detached buildings. The soil was upraised and fondations were laid 10m down on the earth. Two metallic bridges connected the île Seguin to the Boulogne Billancourt factory on the North and to the Meudon factory on the South side to assure the continuity of the production.
The Renault plant was developed over time and began to slowly coincide with the whole island, occupying its entire surface and adopting its shape with its exterior walls directly plunging into the river. The island/factory was energetically autonomous thanks to an electric power plant that was contained in a building designed and constructed by architect Albert Laprade between 1929 and 1931. The island hosted several testing sites, including an underground racetrack and a bording bridge that was included to ship the vehicules by the river.
The history of the Île Seguin Plant crosses that of its country: in 1936, the Renault plant became a symbol of working class struggles with the largest concentration of strikers in France. During World War II the plant produced trucks for the occupying enemy and Louis Renault was thus accused of collaborating with the Germans. The plant was severely bombed by the allied forces and Renault died in prison shortly before his process started in 1944.
In 1945 the plant was nationalized and during the 1950s the production increased dramatically. This success was largely granted by the great popularity the 4CV, (produced in series in the plant), acquired nation-wide and in Europe. Ten thousand workers were employed on the island at that time.
From 1947 to 1949 the new façades for the island/factory on the Boulogne side were built following Albert Laprade design, the new elevations were supposed to envelope the old and the new buildings on site and give the whole complex a monumental look.
During the 1968 the island became a major centre of revendications by the workers, hosting multiple strikes.
In 1989 the shutting of the factory was announced, its machineries and spaces not anymore suited for the contemporary production processes, and the last car was built in 1992. Since that time the demolition of the building started and the depollution process and asbestos removal is still going on. Several different projects have been proposed and dismissed until today: the further evolutions of the island are still so complex, that maybe the future of this history-rich place will be the subject of another post. In the meantine you can check the research work by our friend and video maker artist Jerome Wurtz about the factory, its workers and its legacy.
A film by Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoine
The surrealist theorem of the Cadavre Exquis was studied and applied by Rem Koolhaas since the beginning of his architectural practice. In a later variation it allowed different members of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture to work separately on different parts of a project and assemble them only later through group sessions.
This working method suited particolarly well the demands of the 1978 competition for the Dutch Parliament Extension in the Binnenhof complex (at the heart of The Hague), allowing the team (at the time composed by Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis and a fresh degreed Zaha Hadid) to interpret and stress the caothic historical development of the area.
The Binnenhof complex went through an uninterrupted process of architectural and programmatic trasformations, leading to a final condition in which incoherent stratifications and abrupt solutions cohexisted.
The competition’s brief asked for an extension to the Parliament and also offered the participants the opportunity to revise the symbolic meaning of the complex: a symbolic and physical separation was demanded between the chamber of the government and the chamber of the representatives, the politicians who are charged to supervise the governmental’s deliberations. Although it was supposed to simplify that urban sector, the competition actually implied a new layer of complexity to the site.