It was cold and grey on the winter morning in Paris, when we were scheduled to meet at Ferme du Rail. We packed our things and were excited to visit this project we had only heard about in the northern part of central Paris. A dear friend had recommended this project to us, after noticing it in the exhibition "Who's Next?", shown at the Architecture Museum in Munich. It was wonderful to see the site come alive with us this morning - people working in security vests, gardening happening consciously and slowly, first coffees being brewed. Julia, one of the principle architects at Grand Huit, arrived shortly after as and we looked for a suitable place together to conduct our interview.
We were amazed by the many situations this lot provided - so varied and different, not only architecturally, but also in use. Like Julia explains, the terrain links the street to the neighbourhood and to the "petite ceinture", old train tracks running through Paris, which can also be reached in a wheelchair here, thanks to a new elevator. The site is organized around a central garden and planting area. The large balconies from the building with the living functions open up generously towards the garden. The main building, located along another edge of the central garden, opens up to the center with an impressive facade. The timber construction is immediately visible and the various functions are already hinted at from the outside.
The building houses multiple rooms on the ground floor, a restaurant, a large indoor greenhouse on the top floor and a beautiful staircase running along the heights along one of the facades. Julia told us about the process, how the many actors came together to take decisions and how the various processes came together in the end. It was exciting to follow her ideas from conception to practical building, hearing about the materials in detail and discovering how forward thinking Paris is in regards to natural building materials. The office, led by three women, is often involved in social, public projects. This project shows that the process of co-creation can yield interesting solutions for putting re-socialisation, housing and work into practice. It stands as a strong, pioneering example not only for social inclusion and urban transformation of a public space, which makes accessible what was previously not in use, but also from an architectural and constructive point of view. A place where one truly believes in conditions that allow for better living and production on the same site in an urban context.
Video music by Matteo Silvestri
Photos taken by PIONIRA over the course of the last years.