Habiter la ville ouverte: nouvelle actualité de la villa urbaine

Between 2002 and 2004 Martin Steinmann gave a close insight to the urban villa, a building type well-known a century ago in our cities and recently brought to the foreground as a major architectural issue in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Through an article1, an exhibition2 and his architectural design teaching at the EPFL3 he introduced various interpretations of a pre-existing housing type's new identity, which this dissertation suggests to further investigate. In the spirit of a monographic contribution, we analyze the urban villa as a multi-unit housing type through its key historical moments, from the rented houses of Lausanne built around 1900 (Part I – Première actualité) until contemporary outstanding realisations (Part III – Nouvelle actualité). Through a typo-morphologic analysis and a sensitive reading of space, major issues such as the urban villa's placement among its surroundings, the subtle amalgamation of individuality and collectivity, as well as the insertion of a constructed nature into the urban cityscape, arise. In the spirit of a polemic contribution, we consider the ville ouverte issue as an intermediate condition of groups of villas or small blocks enhancing all four orientations (Part II – Habiter la ville ouverte, cinq essais). In order to describe the spatial mechanisms of their so-called urbanity, we analyse some coherent groups of urban forms, which belong to the hygienist era running from 1850 until 1930. Those correspond to various programmatic motivations and socio-economical conditions, whose architectural effects we highlight. The contribution of this research is particularly important in view of contemporary residential areas' densification, for it is a densification willingly crystallizing into open urban forms composed of small multi-unit blocks. As neat as they may be, those buildings have not much to offer other than merely "a cute view", "the freshening greenery around the house" or "that big balcony". In his article in 2002 Steinmann proposed a more complex reading of this open urban forms' architecture, which he based on "the sensitive experiences' density". Through the writer's references, a tendency to interpret urban space as a fluid sequence is made apparent. In the Introduction, we thus describe this affinity as "nemourian imaginary"4. Consequently, this preference invites us to speculate towards other imaginaries, rooted as well in the histories of the green city and of the intermediary scale open morphology. In these imaginaries, the plots5, the street6, the court7, or even the private garden8, participate in various scenarios of free space partitioning, between the individual and the collective whole. Finally, to expand the research field will serve to enrich the contemporary urbanism theories that pertain to free spaces, whose plurality of characters, uses and sensations we plead for. The term "urban villa"9 contains a semantic paradox full of promises. In its loneliness, the urban villa represents the individuality dreamt of by many multi-unit housing inhabitants. As the villa gets isolated from neighbouring houses and from the street, however, it is also a dialectical object, which liberates its surroundings while at the same time depending on them. On the one hand, its four elevations tend to open themselves generously towards the sun and to the views. On the other hand, in the case of dense groups of villas – which interests us most here, as it is the major trend in contemporary suburban context –, the free space is valued as a possession tightly shared. This is done in a very distinct way as in the compact city, and the urban villa becomes a particularly demanding performer/Schau-spielerin in matters of living and dwelling together. In such open urbanity forms, the closed universe of private life and the open one of the shared landscapes interact in a totally different way than in the modern scattered green city, particularly with regard to narrow density interactions and juxtapositions. The starting point of our research is to postulate that these interactions are able to generate an urban spatial tissue of high quality. The main objective is to recognize, to expose and to analyse the spatial modalities, architectural as well as scenic, through which this aim can be achieved. ________________________________________________ 1 Martin Steinmann, "Sinnliche Dichte, Die neue Bedeutung eines alten Wohntyps", werk, bauen + wohnen, n°10, 2002, pp. 10-19. 2 EPFL-ENAC-LHab, Prof. Martin Steinmann (direction) and Didier Challand (organisation), La villa urbaine : Exhibition, EPFL, 12-28 January 2004 ; seminar, 15 January 2004, with the participation of Martin Steinmann, Bruno Marchand, Adrian Meyer, Martin Hofer (Wüest+Partner), Didier Challand. 3 EPFL-ENAC-LHab (Laboratoire de l'Habitation Urbaine), Prof. Martin Steinmann, 3rd and 4th year. Winter 2002-2003; Villas urbaines - Le Clos Veyrassat, Rolle/VD ; Winter 2003-2004 ; Villas urbaines - Les Gönhardgüter in Aarau. 4 "imaginaire nemourien", in reference to Le Corbusier's sketch for Nemours, Algeria (around 1935) 5 We propose some examples around each topic, here : Brauerquartier, Winterthur (Blatter, Meili, Lerch, 1898-1899) 6 Une Cité Industrielle, Quartiers d'habitation en commun (Tony Garnier, between 1904 and 1917) 7 Quartiere operaio della Società Umanitaria, dit alle Rottole, Milan, (Giovanni Broglio, 1909) 8 Quartiers modernes Frugès, Pessac (Le Corbusier, 1925-1926) 9 The contemporary use of this term started from the late 70s in West Berlin and was stimulated by O. M. Ungers, H. Kollhoff and A. Ovaska.


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