Basic Elements In The Mass City

By Caroline Smith
Jean Nouvel’s Nemausus Social Housing in Nimes, France is one of the most simple and effective low-costing structures to board a large amount of people comfortably and affordably. Up until this point in 1985, the size of low-income apartments had been decreasing since the 1920’s. Nouvel wanted to find a way to design larger spaces for the same price. The most rational way to do this was to simplify almost every aspect of the apartment and design with basic materials using a simple parallel pipe head block scheme.
The structure of these buildings is broken down into the most essential elements. Parallel load-bearing walls run across the entire building at 5-meter intervals. The walls extend from the ground to the roof, serving as a barrier between each apartment. This composes a vertical arrangement of each apartment. An apartment that is vertically arranged can seem much bigger with higher vaulted ceilings in places and also eliminates the need for hallways and doors becasue program is distributed among different floor levels. Each apartment has it’s own stair for private circulation within, which reduces the amount of public circulation required. In these ways vertical arrangement is the simplest and most rational solution to increase space at the same price.
Furthermore, the public circulation is pushed outside of the structure so that it does not interfere with the existing wall pattern. Circulation does not take up space inside of the building, so the apartments can be bigger, and cost of construction and materials is much lower. Walkways and verandas are also a part of the “outer structure” attached to the façade of the building. When the building is separated into two structures- apartments and circulation, the layout can be much less complicated and there is less to manage.

My current project located in Genova also deals with large numbers of people. Instead of housing, multiple programs like libraries and theaters and lecture space are required, but the ideas of Jean Nouvel can influence a central tower that houses these functions as well as circulation and regulation for surrounding theaters.  If we start with 4 load bearing walls each program of the building can be arranged vertically acting as its own “apartment”. In this case the main circulation can be pulled in instead of out so a central staircase is the main connection to everything within the building. Now an outer circulation ramp can be used publically for the theaters. All three structures on the campus are tied together in a very basic way so there is no complexity with the form, which can crowd a space that is already complex in program.
Simplicity is a way of enhancing architecture’s meaning and value but it is also the most sensible way to control space and structure. It is easy to add to a project but taking away must be learned from architects like Jean Nouvel and applied in our own projects. His process of starting from the inner structure and working outwards produces an effective way to separate programs and decrease what is inside of a building.

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