Béton Brut and Beyond

At a time when it is more essential than ever to conserve resources and prevent carbon pollution—which critically includes limiting the demolition of existing buildings and new construction—we find that concrete architecture from the 1960s and 1970s is nevertheless frequently discarded. A host of justifications is given for its destruction: it cannot be easily adapted for today’s needs, its land value exceeds its architectural value, its cost of reuse is too high. Challenging these and other assumptions, this studio examines the design potential of working with existing concrete buildings—often referred to as Brutalist—that are defined by heroic forms, expressive structures, and raw use of material.

Our project is set in the Courbevoie suburb of Paris, located within La Défense, the main financial hub of France. The mixed-use social housing complex Les Damiers (1976), designed by Jacques Binoux and Michel Folliasson, was slated to be torn down in 2013, but with its replacement indefinitely on hold, the structure now sits vacant. This studio reconsiders the fate of Les Damiers, exploring how it might be adapted to improve its functionality and environmental performance as well as reconsidering its form and image.

Bringing contemporary technologies, materials, forms, and programs to bear on this challenge, students will work to recast this specific architecture toward a viable, extended future. The brief will call for a significant increase in program area in response to the contemporary cultural and economic demands of France’s most important financial district. Studio projects will address both the building and its larger urban and ecological context, including its relationship to the River Seine, as well as the artificial ground, or pedestrian deck (la dalle), characteristic of La Défense.

The studio will travel to Paris and visit the site. Through research, analysis, and critique of the existing architecture and surrounding site, students will identify physical and aesthetic opportunities for intervention. Projects will be developed collaboratively in small groups with the opportunity to individually design specific parts of the project.

This studio has an irregular schedule. Please consult with the instructors.