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Villagexpo in Nantes, inhabit an experimentation


In the late sixties the French government had undertaken multiple researches and experimentations in the field of dwelling, within that tendency that Lukasz Stanek called “institutionalization of critic”. The debate present in those years, in particular the alternative between pavillon and grand ensemble, not exempted from harsh judgments moved to the one as to the other solution, will be background of the reflections of the greatest scholars of those years (Lefebvre in first place) and the best experimentations.

The pavillon phenomenon was judged by intellectuals and scholars as a social separation, as a surrender to market forces, and as a selfish disinterest towards the aesthetic value of the French landscapes. The empirical studies made by the ISU (Institut de Sociologie urbaine) faced the pavillon phenomenon with detachment and helped to found the basis for one particular direction undertaken by the State, concretized in experimentations such as the Villagexpo in Saint-Herblain, Nantes. In a context where the dichotomy family house / grand ensemble appeared irresoluble, and where these seemed the only possible ways, Villagexpo was an effort to overcome the one and the other flaws. In this case the solution was based not through a negation of the starting points but on their dialectical synthesis, acquiring values and eliminating flaws. On the one hand, was a critic of the grandes ensembles that remained nevertheless within a collective dimension; on the other hand, tried to look, without prejudice, to the single family houses in the suburbs, but subverting some principles.

Today Villagexpo appears as a normal suburban compound with some “formal oddities” visible only to a sharp eye. Through the years its collective potentiality has been surpassed by individualistic choices discernible as closed open spaces, amplified private spaces, colonized common areas and differentiated parts which were once similar.

The research, during the interpretational part, explores the factors that have originated this neighborhood: the “step back” performed by public authorities in observing single-family villas, and the necessity felt to domesticate this model and to bend it according to the desires of collectivity. This part also regards the transition from the intentions to the space. How was expected to achieve the objectives, through which spatial strategies? But the main subject of this part focuses in the gap between the planner’s intentions and the current situation: what exactly are the differences and what are the causes? A study of the appropriations, the significations, and the care of the spaces shows how social relations have changed. An observation of the signs in the space, of what is exposed, what is hidden, what is considered external, what is considered internal, which place is considered protected, and which place is considered dangerous, shows how have changed the sense of belonging and where are positioned the limits between public and private.

This study claim, after a meticulous analysis of the rhythms of life of the inhabitants and of the facilities present in the surroundings, that the gap between the intentions pursued by the developers and the present situation could be result of the rigid separation of human activities as isolated functions in the project phase, with the subsequent development of some and the neglect of others. The symbolic closeness of some intimate open areas surrounded by private houses, the sophisticated composition and placement of the common natural areas, and the appropriate positioning of openings in the facades, result powerless in building bonds between inhabitants that share simply some spatial proximity few hours a day. Even if the project is embedded with a particular attention to the dwelling practices making use of the ISU’s researches, had concentrated all efforts in the improvement of the reside activity overlooking the sphere of labor, the commercial activities, leisure, and so on. The thesis, in the project part, aims to propose a redevelopment of Villagexpo without continuing a reductionist and functionalist direction.


Eloy Llevat Soy

Tesi di Laurea Magistrale in Architettura Costruzione Città, Politecnico di Torino, Tutor: Cristina Bianchetti, Co-tutor: Alessia De Biase, Università Paris La Villette



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