DAY 5 – STRASBOURG
I travelled to Strasbourg over the weekend in time for the heritage open doors weekend. Now, stuffed with tarte flambée and culture (including an impressive light show at the cathedral), I’m ready to continue with the tour of building groups.
I started the morning with Greenobyl, a neat single urban building near to where I was staying. With its weathered timber façade and non-regular fenestration, it sticks out amongst the more traditional French square setting despite being nestled into a row. There was no access or views to the rear so I have no idea whether they have balconies but it did look like they have a rooftop garden.
Cycling to the edge of Strasbourg urban area I found Eco-logis, the city’s first exemplar project and the one they have mostly widely publicised. Eco-logis looked very similar to the Freiburg plots, as one deep-plan block with external self-supporting staircases to the northern façade and green balconies to the south. On the next street I spotted a big sign advertising a nine unit 694m2 ‘habitat participatif’ under construction called ‘Habitat de L’Ill’ but it was hard to differentiate it from the wider development around.
From there I cycled to a huge new developer-led mixed-use scheme on the River L’Ill of which, amongst the rubble of a building site erupting some pretty nasty commercial buildings, sat two community build projects. Ecoterra, already a finished block at the end of a dusty road, had a closed east-facing timber frontage with some inset balconies facing south and a large tarmac car park which merged into planting beds up to the riverside path. The west-facing rear had the trademark metal balconies but also included a huge timber screen, which I imagine is to give the residents some privacy from the neighbouring tower block. Collectif E-Zéro, a very small addition to the southern end which is currently under construction with a slightly different aesthetic. Outside each building site you can find a board which has all the professionals involved – this one being financed by Credit Mutuel with technical assistance from SERS (vivre l’espace ensemble). It seems the big developers are marketing the wider area as a ready-built community with banners of urban growing and large amounts of green space so it will be interesting to see whether these owner-led projects will stick out or blend in.
Heading further south from the city I found Ecolkhoze on Rue de la Ziegelau, an active construction site on a tight urban corner. Four stories high and 333m2 in total (184m2 plot) with a timber roofscape, scaffolding still covered most of the structure but there was a clear area for cars on the south-eastern corner. No obvious garden space at ground floor level so I imagine that it will be put on top.
My final project of the day was Melting Potes on Rue du Grand Couronné. The community builders will move in this weekend and Guillame showed me around with his two little girls explaining that it was made up of three families plus a retired single person on the top floor. They were already friends and he seemed very relieved that the whole project was finally completed and they could get on with living there. They had included a space for parking due to planning regulations (one car for every two units) but they were planning to use it for bicycles. On the ground floor they have a rear-accessed common room with shower and toilet in case people stay, a plant room for the mechanical ventilation and a tiled laundry room.
Interestingly the reason given for their rear external staircases/balconies was that they save money, as the costs for planning applications only taking account of internal floorspace (not primarily fire-compliance or for not piercing the thermal envelope as the Freiburg examples said). The building had a flat north-facing façade in the middle of an urban streetfront and plenty of garden space to the rear. The apartments have open-plan living spaces which faced onto the private gardens and bedrooms and bathrooms onto the road. Each were custom finished so there was still painting to be done but other than that they shared tradesmen and purchases such as windows and doors.
The French schemes seemed very different to the ones I had seen in Freiburg, not whole self-build quarters in this case but small individual plots in existing streets or, in the case of Collectif E-Zéro, incorporated as a niche part of larger new developments. The ones I saw certainly felt more like the creations of wealthier citizens and do not yet address their neighbourhoods as much as the Freiburg schemes. There are certainly small sites in Oxford which could emulate this kind of development but it would require help from the local authority to stave off profit-led developers.
For a map of all the housing schemes I visited on this trip click [this link]