The Social Project

The Social Project: Housing Postwar France

KENNY CUPERS
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 424
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt7zw6b7
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  • Book Info
    The Social Project
    Book Description:

    In the three decades following World War II, the French government engaged in one of the twentieth century's greatest social and architectural experiments: transforming a mostly rural country into a modernized urban nation. Through the state-sanctioned construction of mass housing and development of towns on the outskirts of existing cities, a new world materialized where sixty years ago little more than cabbage and cottages existed.

    Known as thebanlieue, the suburban landscapes that make up much of contemporary France are near-opposites of the historic cities they surround. Although these postwar environments of towers, slabs, and megastructures are often seen as a single utopian blueprint gone awry, Kenny Cupers demonstrates that their construction was instead driven by the intense aspirations and anxieties of a broad range of people. Narrating the complex interactions between architects, planners, policy makers, inhabitants, and social scientists, he shows how postwar dwelling was caught between the purview of the welfare state and the rise of mass consumerism.

    The Social Projectunearths three decades of architectural and social experiments centered on the dwelling environment as it became an object of modernization, an everyday site of citizen participation, and a domain of social scientific expertise. Beyond state intervention, it was this new regime of knowledge production that made postwar modernism mainstream. The first comprehensive history of these wide-ranging urban projects, this book reveals how housing in postwar France shaped both contemporary urbanity and modern architecture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4105-9
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: BUILDING THE BANLIEUE
    (pp. xi-xxx)

    Even its public transport has a different name. To visit the other Paris, you take not the metro but a different network of regional express trains. You cross underneath thepéripherique,the circular highway that has replaced Paris’s nineteenth-century city wall but has the same effect of demarcating the center from the rest. After this threshold, still the official city limit of Paris, the familiar city quickly peters out through the window. Then suddenly, the other Paris—perhaps the truly modern one—appears. Housing slabs and tower blocks in bright white, daring pink, and drab gray. Palaces for the people,...

  6. 1950s:: PROJECTS IN THE MAKING
    • 1 STREAMLINING PRODUCTION
      (pp. 3-56)

      This was the startling conclusion of a 1947 survey published by the recently established Institut national d’études démographiques (INED, or National Institute of Demographic Studies). Using polling techniques imported from the United States, the public opinion survey was pioneering in its kind for a country still paralyzed by the trauma of war. Its organizers had sent extensive questionnaires to more than two thousand families in an attempt to reveal the general preferences of French men and women with regard to housing. The results might not be surprising today, but they bewildered observers of the construction boom that would come to...

    • 2 A BUREAUCRATIC EPISTEMOLOGY
      (pp. 57-92)

      Bold assertions of a new beginning at times help ensure ambiguous continuities. In January 1959, Charles de Gaulle became president of the newly established Fifth Republic of which he had helped draft the constitution the year before. France had entered into seemingly irreversible political crisis over decolonization in general and Algeria in particular. For many, the return to power of this charismatic leader of the French Resistance would restore the country’s power and grandeur, deemed lost ever since the invasion of 1940. Pierre Sudreau, appointed by de Gaulle to head the renamed Ministry of Construction (no longer Reconstruction), commissioned an...

  7. 1960s:: ARCHITECTURE MEETS SOCIAL SCIENCE
    • 3 ANIMATION TO THE RESCUE
      (pp. 95-136)

      Appearing to dismiss an urbanism of numbers and norms, this statement served to introduce a highly consequential study that did in fact focus on detailed quantitative and technical guidelines. Its aim was to modulate the provision of what were calledéquipements collectifsin mass housing estates. A mix of basic public services, community and welfare institutions, and private amenities, these “collective facilities” were meant to transform housing estates into thriving new neighborhoods. A result of intensive research by a state-led commission of experts—including architects, sociologists, and leaders of civil society organizations—the study was published in the influential journal...

    • 4 THE EXPERTISE OF PARTICIPATION
      (pp. 137-182)

      A few years after the first inhabitants had moved into the gleamingly new apartments of Sarcelles, their newly established local inhabitant association, the Association Sarcelloise, wrote that “the city of stone (or concrete) is built, now it is up to us to make it viable, to animate it to the best of our abilities.”¹ The construction of manygrands ensembleswas not only accompanied by theories ofanimationthat transformed—at least conceptually—inhabitants into active participants. Also, “on the ground” they engendered a particular kind of activism and associational life that would influence the course of French urbanization and...

    • 5 PROGRAMMING THE VILLES NOUVELLES
      (pp. 183-220)

      When the political scientist Pierre Viot sketched this evolution in 1969, he had Charles de Gaulle’s officialvilles nouvellesor New Towns project in mind. Launched in 1965, two decades after the first British New Towns, the project was closely tied to a new master plan for the capital called the Schéma directeur d’aménagement et d’urbanisme de la région de Paris. This plan resolutely abandoned what was called the “Malthusianism” of earlier plans—the acceptance of a relatively fixed footprint limiting urban development (Plate 8).² Instead of decongesting the center and densifying the suburbs, planners felt they needed above all...

  8. 1970s:: CONSUMING CONTRADICTIONS
    • 6 MEGASTRUCTURES IN DENIAL
      (pp. 223-268)

      In a country shocked by economic crisis, the inauguration in March 1975 of the urban center of Évry was the antidote to any call for austerity. Yet, more even than by the exuberant opening events, reporters were taken by the peculiar nature of the New Town itself. Without irony, newspapers announced that “in a utopian landscape of plowed land spiked with pink and pistachio-colored pyramids, just opened the commercial center and the agora, the stomach and brains of the New Town. For ten days, there will only be games and spectacle in the enormous fifty-five-thousand-square-meter souk—half-open and halfcovered, partly...

    • 7 THE ULTIMATE PROJECTS
      (pp. 269-316)

      The spectacular opening of the Agora of Évry in 1975 left its adjacent housing project somewhat in the shadows. Yet the recently completed neighborhood, simply coined “Évry I” because it was the New Town’s first housing area to be completed, would turn out to be of at least equal significance to the final incarnation of the production regime that had shaped France over the previous decades. Its makers cast it as the prototype of a new kind of urbanism that would fundamentally transform France’s suburban condition. Policy makers enthusiastically agreed. Pierre Hervio, a director in the Ministère de l’équipement, wrote...

  9. CONCLUSION: WHERE IS THE SOCIAL PROJECT?
    (pp. 317-326)

    On October 27, 2005, two French youths of Tunisian and Malian descent were electrocuted as they tried to escape from the police in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Over the following three weeks, riots broke out in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country and abroad. Journalists and observers related the widespread violence directly to the drab concrete housing estates, which often formed the backdrop in images of burning cars and youths throwing Molotov cocktails. While the sheer amount of media attention was unprecedented, the suburban riots themselves were not. Violent incidents and rioting had taken place in modern housing areas...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 327-370)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 371-394)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 395-396)
  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)