le mirail

J-L Marfaing; Bernard Catllar; et al, Toulouse 45-75, la ville mise à jour : architecture et urbanisme,
(Portet-sur-Garonne : Loubatières ; Toulouse: CAUE 31, 2009), 38.

CONTEXT:

A progressive experiment in response to housing shortages in France, Le Mirail, designed by architect team Candilis, Josic and Woods, was meant to create a new type of mass living; one that reacted against and would supplant CIAM’s functional city plans. Though it operated at the same large scale and high density as many of the CIAM cities, the articulation of the structures and their relationships with each other and the ground intended to create a completely different experience of the city, more akin to the links between building and city in vernacular (organic) developments.

This city sits in a very different situation than that of my previous cases. Because of national policies of grouping low income families in these satellite cities outside town, there is a relatively thin diversity of economic groups. Furthermore, a fairly robust regulatory system keeps illegal alterations in check.

site

source: Stéphane 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), 95.

BEFORE:

In the 1960s, Le Mirail was built on the outskirts of Toulouse. Previously the land was rural, and some consideration was made for the topography of the land, which was relatively flat.

projected versus built

source: Stéphane 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), 89.

AT INTERVENTION:

Only 3 phases of the projected plan were finished: Le Mirail, Reynerie, and Bellefontaine. Each neighborhood contained housing, schools, and a community and commercial center, which were connected by paths designated for either pedestrians or vehicles. One of the principle concerns in the plan was to separate pedestrians from vehicular movement, thereby maintaining a more pleasant and safer pedestrian environment. This was achieved through the creation of elevated decks for walking, on which much of the commercial properties were placed. In conjunction with the decks, residential towers were designed with a collecting corridor every 4 floors and an access pattern of vertical circulation only. These stair towers led to the decks at the base of each building.

Formally, the plan organization was based on the logic of a fractal: subsequent pieces of the urban block repeated from large to small scales, laying out the spaces, buildings, corridors and apartments in a branching system of elements.

site model

source: Stéphane 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), 63.

architect’s sketch

source: Stéphane 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), 146.

urban section

source: Stéphane 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),

urban experience

Le Mirail was never built in its entirety, and major changes even at construction altered the ways in which movement was conceived in the plan. After its occupation, a policy of placing only migrants and low income families into the area created a scenario of little investment, and segregation from the city of Toulouse. The 3 neighborhoods sat decaying while crime surged and gave the area a dangerous reputation, further ostracizing it from the metropolitan area. Major security problems led the city to tear down many of the elevated commercial areas: parking lots underneath were perfect for criminal activity. In their place, in Bellefontaine, a new commercial center comprised of traditional French looking buildings with bump out sidewalks and parking spaces amidst trees was implemented. Perhaps it is because of this and other isolated developments that the relationship between the towers and the ground, so carefully designed, is lost.

But now the area is looking at a potential for revitalization, if the stereotypes held by other residents of the Toulouse region can be broken (a major task in and of itself).  A few years ago the metro system connected the three neighborhood centers to the rest of Toulouse, which has broken down the area’s isolation, and caused some commercial activity to grow. Some buildings have been and are being destroyed, but many have been renovated and maybe this will inspire more work.

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