Text and Photographs by Marina Caneve

1 kilometer without limits. Photography and urban planning in an urban re­modelage.

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2012 ­- on going, Villeneuve­ la ­Garenne, Île­ de ­France.

This sequence is part of a research on how to use photography in urban investigation.
In Ilê-de-France today the debate on the Grand Paris, that means opening metropolitan centers’ boundaries towards the suburbs is an issue of prime importance and is under discussion from years. In this context I’ve been attracted by the re-modelage¹ of the grand ensemble² La Caravelle at Villeneuve-la-Garenne (northern suburbs of Paris).

La Caravelle is an housing complex consisting of one-kilometer-long plan built during “The Glorious Thirty” as a refuge for the myriad of people who was, at that time, looking for a place to live in France. In that period this building was considered an admirable plastic work designed by Jean Dubuisson and could accommodate 6000 people.

At the beginning of the XXI century, in contrast with the ideals that led to this complex’s construction, something went wrong and the building has become an enclave averse to rest of the city among the five or six Grand Paris’ districts most criminogenic in France.

By numbers:

  1 linear km long

  10 floors

   6000 people hosted

My work focuses on the transformations of this place after the re-modelage made by Atelier Castro in 2003. I’ve been attracted by the reorganization of urban structures and, widely, the désenclavement³ – the architects through punctual demolitions constructed a new viability restoring the complex’s connection with the city.
I feel the importance of this place concerning how urbanism could help people to live in better conditions, how to transformate an enclave in a place to live. This conquest has been possible without demolishing completely the buildings but recycling the existing, and without moving the 6000 people that live there. Of course wasn’t easy to live in La Caravelle during the rehabilitation but at the same time for the inhabitants keep their own home. Not just this place’s image have been recycled but above all the quality of life. This area has become much more permeable and from my experience I can say that people living there welcomed me as a photographer even if I was a stranger, and helped me to develop my research.
Increasingly I’m convinced that is hard to recapitulate in few sentences the complexity of what happened at La Caravelle but finally I believe the désenclavement’s trigger has been the creation of a new roads network in the housing complex generated by punctual demolitions. This intervention has also helped to reestablish the order plinth-body-sky, necessary for the restoration of the dialectics stricly connected with the relationship among the use of the space and what is visible. These actions have brought us to perceive more concretely the human presence in this space as part of a defined identity. For instance new roads mean new addresses and not more numbers and letters inside a monolithic complex.
Through this new network La Caravelle has turned into an open-area interconnected with the major city and not just a dormitory, the public spaces have especially earned the function of liveable and living areas, where people often spend their free time.
I have decided to work at La Caravelle because I was fascinated by the concept of design starting from the existent, to establish a dialectics between the role (meant as buildings and urban spaces functions) and the visible.
The result has been the development of project operating in people and their conditions respect, without comforting attitudes but rather aiming to create empathy and to return to the subjects their dignity.

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¹ Rehabilitation and redevelopment
² Housing complex
³ To get out from an enclave, so get out from the situation of enclave averse to rest of the city