Designing Social Life: The Urbanism of the Grands Ensembles

Kenny Cupers
Positions, 1, 2010

This article examines the search for a doctrine that accompanied the production of the grands ensembles, the mass housing estates that were built in France between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s. Planners’ proposals, organized in the form of a “grid of facilities,” aimed to turn mass housing areas into healthy, vibrant neighborhoods. While this grid transformed the institutions of community life into a bureaucratic series of requirements, the research accompanying it instigated attempts—centered on the notion of “animation”—to encourage neighborhood liveliness and user participation. Against the prevailing idea that the grands ensembles were unthinkingly steamrolled over France, the article demonstrates the experimental nature of this kind of urbanism, involving a network of experts studying not only its own production, but also the reception and consumption of what was built. Such concerns expanded and ultimately unsettled the bases of modernist urbanism.

La Grande Borne, by Emile Aillaud
© Hachette 1972

Keywords:
social life, housing, architectural modernism, France

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