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Ricardo Bofill and the Oxymoron of Postmodern Public Housing in France

Type of publication Not peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Other publication (non peer-review)
Publication date 2012
Author Kockelkorn Anne,
Project The Social Condenser
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Other publication (non peer-review)

Book Ricardo Bofill and the Oxymoron of Postmodern Public Housing in France
ISBN 978 90 6569 102 6


The public housing projects of the Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill for Paris’s villes nouvelles wed antithetical elements: the technocratic welfare state that used public housing as a political instrument during the trente glorieuses and the postmodern housing enclave usually created within the logic of neoliberal urban development. These features encapsulate the dilemma experienced by the villes nouvelles in general. The political and planning impulses of the massive state project were as ambivalent as one could expect, given its origin as a 1960s vision of the welfare state and its construction during the early-1970s economic crisis: controlling urban sprawl while financing the project with land sales to real-estate investors; celebrating the political meaning of French democracy while robbing the communes of their planning authority. Bofill managed to translate these contradictory objectives into positive design strategies. His historicizing and prefabricated apartment blocks for the little man were supported by the French state, built by the construction firm Bouygues, applauded by the popular press, and praised by architectural theorists. The colossally inflated project of Les Espaces d’Abraxas, completed in 1983 at Marne-la-Vallée, condenses these ambivalent goals of the villes nouvelles with unreal intensity, suggesting anything from a prison colony to a surreal dream. The conceptual cross between structuralist residential experiments and eclectic postmodern façades is what makes this project unique: the eclectic cement façade fed into middle-class desires for monumental representations of the grande nation, while the Piranesi-like stairwells in the palaciò’s inner gallery evoke the modernist negative utopia.