Category Archives: design and architecture

How green will the future “Grand Paris” be?

equipe Castro Denisoff Casi/La Courneuve Manhattan

equipe Castro Denisoff Casi/La Courneuve Manhattan

Nicholas Sarkozy, like most recent French presidents, is mindful of his legacy and accordingly launched in 2007 a call for architects’ submissions for the “Grand Paris” of the 21st century. The results of that consultation can be seen at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patriomine: ten booths showcasing the visions of superstar architects such as Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers and Christian Portzamparc. These teams will take part in a working group which will try to define the guiding principles of a sustainable Paris. The aim is for work to begin in 2012, but we’re basically looking at Paris circa 2030

The most outstanding vision for me was that of Antoine Grumbach, who envisaged the extension of Paris via the Seine through Rouen to Le Havre.

He talks a bit about some aspects of his project , including a floating university on the Seine.

The themes which dominate all 10 projects are those of the current zeitgeist:

mobility and transportation, green spaces, housing, rivers, employment nodes etc. A better summary of the themes which ran through all of the projects is Adam Greenfield’s list of the 14 elements of networked urbanism. Somehow all of the abstractions and architectural gobbledy-gook contained in the exhibition can be boiled down to these transformations: for instance moving from held to shared, from constant to variable, from vehicle to mobility from consumer to constituent.

John Thackara at Doors of Perception zeroed in on the metaphor of Italian architects Bernardo Secchi and Paola Vigano of Paris as a “porous sponge” in which waterways are given pride of place. However, he argues that “a better approach would be to turn the peripherique itself into a garden, and thereby avoid the implausible and costly scenario of building “green spaces and networks above them”. His ideas echo those of Denis Baupin, deputy of the Green Party and driving force behind the popular Vélib bikeshare system.

Take a look at the (“Reclaim the Street”) operation he backed last year. His main idea is to transform the péripherique ring road that encircles Paris into an urban boulevard with transit, cars, pedestrians and trees.

Critics of the Grand Paris project are plentiful (for instance, Sarkozy is said to have a soft spot for monumental towers and the modernity of the Blair-ite London skyline) , but the importance of this initiative is that it makes a clean break with the way Paris has been administered and planned up until now by re-visioning the historical separation between Paris and the suburbs.

Historically, the city has passed through three phases:

1. The capital re-vamped by Napoleon III and Haussmann to meet the needs of industrialization and the 20th century.

2. 1973 – the completion of the ring road, or boulevard péripherique, which encircled the city physically and precluded the political possibility of any modification.

3. Grandiose projects undertaken inside Paris by a series of presidents – Musée d’Orsay (Giscard d’Estaing), Grand Louvre to the Grande Arche de la Défense (Mitterrand) and the Musée du Quai Branly (Chirac).


France to offer 30,000-euro zero interest loan for eco-renovation

via Fußgänger  



via Fußgänger


Home owners in France take note. The French government is planning to offer a zero-interest loan of up to 30,000 euros for eco-renovation. If approved, this plan will take effect as part of the 2009 budget. Dubbed “éco-PTZ” (pret a taux zero), the loan is open to anyone, with no revenue conditions attached, and is limited to a maximum of 30,000 euros over five years. In order to qualify, borrowers must prove they intend to undertake a comprehensive overhaul and not just a one-off item like installing a solar panel or some hemp in the rafters. The plan, initiated by Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, has met resistance from the Finance Ministry as it is expected to cost the government one billion euros. But Borloo argues that it will kick-start the industry in an otherwise sluggish economy.

Via Les Echos 

Starck’s wind turbine

photo courtesy of Flickr

Unveiled in Milan this April, Philippe Starck’s wind turbine is priced at 300-400 euros, looks like a cake beater, and is available in six different sizes. Attractive, affordable, and yard-ready, Starck claims that it can provide between 10-60 percent of a household’s energy needs.

via Ob Designer


France pushes for common standards in green building for Europe

Part of a wider movement to promote coherence in green building standards, France is pushing to ensure that its own standard, the HQE, becomes the norm in Europe. Haute Qualité Environnementale is an approach which uses 14 criteria for reducing consumption of natural resources and discharge of pollutants, as well as enhancing the comfort and health dimension of buildings. It focuses on the design and construction phases of renovation as well as new building projects. Certification is underwritten by the Paris-based Association pour la Haute Qualité Environnementale.

Alain Maugard, President of the Scientific and Technical Building Centre (CSTB), is lobbying for a Europe-wide adoption of the HQE standard. In an interview with Les Echos earlier this month, he noted that France’s HQE was among the world’s most advanced certification procedures.

 “Right now there is competition globally among the different certification “brands”. You have the North American label LEED, which is used in Canada and the USA….  the Japanese reference CASBEE, which seeks to be the leader in Asia, particularly in China, and the BREEAM (U.K.)”.

“What we are trying to do is to forge alliances with the UK and our other European colleagues, notably German, in order to define a certification which would permit convergence of all the technical references covering initiatives of environmental quality which respects local culture.”

In April, the CSTB of France and its UK counterpart the Building Research Establishment (BRE) announced the launch of a new organization called the Sustainable Building Alliance which aims to speed up the international adoption of sustainable building practices through the promotion of shared methods of building performance assessment and rating. Some 20 odd countries have expressed interest in taking part, and some of them are meeting in Stuttgart, Germany this week for discussions. The alliance is modelled on the concept of airline alliances and hopes to pursue an approach of providing transparency between building assessment rating systems, while recognizing the need for regional and national differences to be reflected within such systems.

via Les Echos




Lyons unveils innovative pollution-absorbing plant wall

France’s first ever pollution-absorbent plant wall was unveiled this week at the railway station of Lyons Perrache. The 400 square meter wall, built by Canevaflor, is designed to filter out air pollution generated by the station’s parking lot. Plant walls were popularised in France by Patrick Blanc, who developed the concept of the vertical garden, notably at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. But the pollution-absorbing wall is a new innovation. Dirty air is sucked up – using energy from solar panels – into tiny tubes embedded in the wall and the air is first filtered by the plants before being shunted into the earth where it is metabolised by micro-organisms such as bacteria and mushrooms. The wall comprises 19 different plant species, selected for their ability to soak up heavy metals. For instance the “cornus” absorbs copper, “stachys” absorbs nickel and “arabis” absorbs cadium, lead and copper. The installation, which cost 213,000 euros, will also provide cooling and noise insulation for the building. It is expected to consume 12 times less water than a traditional plant wall. City authorities in Lyons have said that they are considering installing green roofs and facades throughout the city in order to achieve energy savings.

Greening the construction industry in France

Right now, building a green house costs approximately 10-15 percent more than the average house. The Grenelle is expected to usher in a slew of new rules and norms for the sector which should guarantee employment for at least the next two decades as well as bring that premium down considerably. The construction sector in France guzzles more energy than any other sector – 68.2 million tonnes of petrol a year, or 42.5 percent of all energy consumed – and the working group on construction has proposed that by 2020 the construction of zero carbon or passive housing be the norm everywhere.
There is considerable consensus on the need for an ambitious blueprint in this sector, but a big hurdle today is that most of the materials required for sustainable housing are not mass-produced.
Here are the highlights of the construction proposals:
– By 2015-2020, all new construction should conform to the proposed norm stipulating maximum consumption of 50 kW/h annually.
– For existing buildings and homes – whose average annual consumption currently stands at 240 kW/h – the proposal calls for a 20 percent reduction by 2012, and 40 percent by 2020.
– The working group hopes that the banking sector will offer lower credit rates to encourage the necessary initial investments.

There are a few prototypes which already exist or are about to be launched. One is La Bonne Maison, which was inspired by green activist and photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand, in conjunction with building giant Geoxia. This house consumes 85 percent less energy than its mainstream equivalent, and is priced at an affordable 125,000 euros for 100 square meters.

Key features include solar panels, high-performance wood-burning stove, outdoor rainwater tank, beefed-up insulation panels (twice more than the standard model home), triple-glazed windows and a “puits canadien”, which is a system for drawing fresh air through a long pipe buried underground. The fresh air is cooled in the summer, and warmed in the winter. See the photo below for the “puits canadien”. It’s an increasingly popular option which, once installed, costs nothing to run and shaves off a couple of degrees in the right direction in all seasons.

For more information on the “puits canadien”, go to and

France is way behind Europe on green architecture

France is 15 years behind Europe when it comes to green architecture and sustainable building, according to Françoise-Hélène Jourda, one of the country’s leading exponents on the subject. In an interview with Le Monde, she said France was behind in terms of regulations and ratification of techniques and materials. “It is, for example, very difficult to re-use rainwater.”

Currently in consultation with the government in conjunction with the Grenelle, she has just completed a botanical museum in Bordeaux with solar greenhouses, and is launching an office building project in Saint-Dénis, outside Paris, in December which will be the first zero carbon building in France.

The plants in the botanical garden are watered by 275 cubic meters of rainwater stored in buried tanks while 650 square meters of photovoltaic cells on the greenhouse roofs cover all energy requirements.

Jourda’s approach was a naturalistic and playful one, constructing “boxes” and huge connecting pebbles from wooden weatherboards and building frames to house the museum’s office quarters.

via Le Monde and ActuEnvironnement