residential towers and disappearing platforms

Le Mirail is most famous for its towers. Rising above the rest, branching out at 120 degree angles, they are the trademark of the district. Of course, the area has many other types of housing: from four story midrise complexes to clustered townhouses there actually is great diversity. The townhouses are especially exciting; intricately arranged to support a number of sizes of private and semiprivate courtyards, alleys, pathways and even car parks. Now delightfully overgrown, you can see that these places were designed with some sort of plant takeover in mind: on the ledge of every roof sit cast concrete plant boxes whose flowers and vines cascade over their brim and fall along the wall.

But let me get back to the star residences: the towers. The townhouses function (beautifully) as residences, but are semi-autonomously conceived as residential villages in proximity to a commercial center. The towers, on the other hand, were designed to function seamlessly with commerce centers below.

source: Stéfanie Gruet, Rémi Papillault, Le Mirail : mémoire d’une ville : histoire vécue du Mirail de sa conception à nos jours, (Toulouse, France: Éd. Poïésis-AERA, DL, 2008), 107.

source: Stéfanie Gruet, Rémi Papillault, Le Mirail : mémoire d’une ville : histoire vécue du Mirail de sa conception à nos jours, (Toulouse, France: Éd. Poïésis-AERA, DL, 2008).

A basic tower block consists of a vertical access core flanked by two apartments; one on either side. Every four to six floors, a piece of the apartment floor area is sacrificed for a public corridor that runs the length of the façade. This corridor sometimes is evident on the backside of the building by the presence of balconies. The smaller space made opportunity for the design of duplex apartments. In other cases, (higher up in these non-elevator-equipped high rises) smaller apartments or studios were designed. This vertically accessed apartment block can be attached, stacked, mirrored or rotated, so long as the public corridor remains continuous. When the block is rotated, it leaves a space for an elevator, another more public stairwell, or even the meeting of two corridors. These corridors were intended to be streets in the air, while other function horizontal access was eliminated by placing apartment entries inside the stair wells. These stair wells in buildings designed by Candilis are actually quite pleasant, due to the skylight that allows daylight down almost to the full depth of the section, the silver lining in the funding shortage that prevented the installation of elevators in that shaft.

source: Stéfanie Gruet, Rémi Papillault, Le Mirail : mémoire d’une ville : histoire vécue du Mirail de sa conception à nos jours, (Toulouse, France: Éd. Poïésis-AERA, DL, 2008), 200.

source: Stéfanie Gruet, Rémi Papillault, Le Mirail : mémoire d’une ville : histoire vécue du Mirail de sa conception à nos jours, (Toulouse, France: Éd. Poïésis-AERA, DL, 2008), 126.

On the expansive facades of these structures you see only minor changes. Balconies are peppered with satellite dishes, a few enclosed by safety railings, and aging paint peels at will. The greater moves have happened where the towers meet the ground. Originally surrounded by an elevated deck, these pedestrian walkways kept residents away from streets below and the high speed traffic that accompanied them. The problem was that the people also needed to get to cars, and the point of transfer—the parking lot underneath the deck—became extremely dangerous. It was not just the fault of the architecture; a lack of security played into it, but the dark unlocked space away from public eyes didn’t help. After increased crime, the city tore down these decks. Although a quick improvement in safety, with the deck destruction, a big piece of the logic of the place fell apart.

Now, a few isolated platforms cling to their towers and lay empty. Occasional walkers come out to sit, but mostly it is just grasses that actively use the space, digging through and slowly tearing apart the aging concrete slabs.

**Addendum**

I have added an urban section that describes the original building platforms and pedestrian connections they accommodated, along with the current situation of the structures.

Stéfanie Gruet, Rémi Papillault, Le Mirail : mémoire d’une ville : histoire vécue du Mirail de sa conception à nos jours, (Toulouse, France: Éd. Poïésis-AERA, DL, 2008), 159.

8 thoughts on “residential towers and disappearing platforms

    1. Yes–i don’t believe i can post it in the comment field so i will add it to the end of the last post. I will also try to dig more deeply into the tower/ground relationship in the following entries!

      1. Thanks Melissa, Your last post (August) was also very helpful. Confirms that you can’t forsake the ground. RC

      2. yes….and i actually had an interesting conversation with an urban planner in rotterdam about that very issue. since most of the city was rebuilt postwar, much of it was done under modernist principles, which opened the ground plane for flowing free space. now, rotterdam is full of projects in which designers and planners are trying to rethink the point where the building meets the ground as a way to reactivate the public spaces of the city, which have, at least in the postwar areas, floundered.

  1. Missy – while the towers have some intriguing features like the “public street” every 4 to 6 floors, you indicated that the high rises lack elevators, but the flexible design could accommodate an elevator. I assume these towers were built in an era that had no access requirements in the building permit approval.

    1. You are correct, there were no elevator requirements then, and since there were staircases every other apartment, and walkways every 4th floor, this fulfilled the code. However, it still would definitely be a safety problem if one stair were completely blocked by fire, or broken.

  2. thoughts on the failures, relative to your thesis? density of pedestrians, disassociation from future or existing fabrics, closed nature of the form? how do the critiques inform the solutions?

    1. thanks for the push…the next post tries to answer some of these questions. One important aspect of Le Mirail, similar to other satellite cities, is that it was originally designed in a field, and now the city has grown to meet it, which means that the unique and theoretically open (though in practice closed) urban structure needs to evolve most urgently at its edges. But of course that implies a change that is coherent all the way to the center.

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