In a city that can’t grow outwards, the only option is to go upwards – and even to build over the railway lines. That’s the response of city planners to the need to provide more homes in Paris.
Take the M6B2 tower (pictured), for example. This tower of biodiversity, as it is described, was designed by architect Édouard François for Paris Habitat and is 37m tall.
It sits at the end of the Avenue de France in Paris’ 13th arrondissement, right by the railway lines leading from the Gare d’Austerlitz. Up the road, new homes are being built – quite literally – over the tracks.
The 15-floor tower has been built on springs to absorb any movement, so that one day its bottom floor could be removed to allow trams to pass beneath it. Its first occupants are due to move in at the end of 2015. They will be able to enjoy panoramic views from this new landmark on the edge of the city.
I was lucky enough to have a chance to have a look around it last week on a work trip to Paris.
Clad in green titanium tiles imported from Japan and covered with plants from the wild, the building is an imposing structure. What is perhaps most surprising about this stunning tower is that it will be occupied entirely by social housing tenants.
In Britain, the project would be deemed too ambitious for social housing. Too good, even.
In particular, the finances wouldn’t stack up. In the UK, government grants for social housing are almost non-existent these days. So now, if housing associations want to grow, they build homes that they sell on the open market and then plough any money they make into new social housing.
In France, the sector is still largely state-funded. However, with France’s public purse in poor shape, you have to wonder how much longer that model will last.
“What is perhaps most surprising about this stunning tower is that it will be occupied entirely by social housing tenants”
Mind you, what you get in France is iconic buildings that people would be excited about moving into. In Britain, there are undeniably some attractive new social housing schemes, but there are also plenty of ordinary ones.
Is one system better than the other? Well, I’m happy to go back to Paris with work to check…