In Paris, Châtenay-Malabry, Malakoff and Toulouse, four emblematic architectures of the 20th century in danger
Nothing escapes the pickaxe of the demolishers, not even the architectural heritage. Garden city, Art Deco synagogue, tripod office tower or fire station would risk disappearing in favor of new programs. Is that quite reasonable?
The building sector is “at the top of polluting activities”, writes the architect-urban planner Patrick Henry in From lines to traces, for an urban planning of soils (Apogee editions, 2023). And to prove it with the figures from the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition: the building represents 75% of the waste produced in France, 45% of energy consumption, 27% of CO2 emissions. All the more reason to think twice before demolishing to rebuild. Not to mention the heritage, affective and historical value of the architecture. And yet, despite the calls to preserve the existing, we continue in France to destroy buildings that deserve to be saved. And who are sometimes not very old. Four examples.
The garden city of Butte-Rouge, in Châtenay-Malabry
In the middle of century-old trees, on the slopes of Châtenay-Malabry, south of Paris, the three thousand seven hundred very social housing units of the garden city of Butte-Rouge are distributed in buildings with elegant pink facades. Designed between 1931 and 1939 by four architects and a landscape architect, they are labeled “remarkable contemporary architecture”. And yet they risk being replaced by a homeownership program. This is called “urban renewal”: dispersing the less fortunate like a puzzle.
Anru, the National Agency for Urban Renewal, is also taking part in the operation. With the mayor, Carl Segaud, she says she wants to promote social diversity in this way. “The main problem with this project is not gentrification, believes, however, the architect Barbara Gutglas, from Châtenais citizen collectiveopposed to the operation. It is the real estate and land pressure that rages in the Hauts-de-Seine. All the promoters covet this 70-hectare site on a wooded hillside. They would like to build three times more housing there than today. »
As HLMs are publicly funded, the mayor needs state permission to demolish them. And the state hesitates. For the moment, no demolition or building permit has been granted. Because associations and architects, including Frédéric Borel, Jean Nouvel or Christian de Portzamparc, oppose the destruction. A letter addressed to Emmanuel Macron begs him to intervene to protect the garden city. Contacted by Telerama, the Elysée did not wish to speak.
In the meantime, nothing undermines the determination of Carl Segaud. “Eight hundred to a thousand apartments have already been emptied and walled up, deplores Barbara Gutglas. It is incomprehensible to leave them inhabited, while the Region lacks housing. » The mayor ensures that residents are relocated to Châtenay-Malabry without a rent increase. And he takes advantage of the public inquiry report according to which the inhabitants of Butte-Rouge are “overwhelmingly” favorable to the project. This is disputed, with supporting figures, by the Châtenaisien Citizen Collective, which is asking for the rehabilitation of the buildings and the return of the displaced tenants.
The rue Copernic synagogue in Paris
Behind a discreet facade in the west of Paris hides “the best, if not the only, example of an Art Deco synagogue in France”, according to art historian Dominique Jarrassé. The architect Marcel Lemarié (1864-1961) built it in 1924. Of harmonious dimensions, the concrete prayer hall is adorned with “white and gold stucco” adorned with “geometric plant motifs”. On the ceiling, next to a circular skylight, a large yellow and blue stained glass window dominates the holy ark housing the Torah scrolls. The elegant Art Deco, which radiated in the world from Paris from the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925, was much destroyed, when the fashion passed, after 1945. All the more reason to save the Copernic Synagogue, which is not yet listed as a Historic Monument. However, it is well known to historians for having suffered two attacks in 1941. and 1980which also makes it a place of memory.
Its owner, the Liberal Israelite Union of France (Ulif), wants to demolish it to enlarge it in the form of a rectangular box signed by architects Denis Valode and Jean Pistre. Only a few Art Deco elements will be kept and reinstalled in the new building. “The Ulif wants to make itself more visible, which I fully understand, but why should the unique heritage of Liberal Judaism be destroyed for this? » asks Eva Hein-Kunze, president of the Association for the protection of the heritage of the Copernic Synagogue (APPC). His fight has been going on for seven years. With some success, since an application for a demolition permit, filed in October 2021, has still not been successful.
The Jacques-Vion fire station in Toulouse
“Our house is burning and we are looking elsewhere”, said Jacques Chirac in 2002. We are looking at juicy real estate transactions. The Jacques-Vion fire station, built in 1972 by Pierre Debeaux (1925-2001) and labeled “Remarkable contemporary architecture”, like the Butte-Rouge de Châtenay-Malabry, occupies 1 hectare in the center of Toulouse. The concrete is stretched by multiple “hyperbolic paraboloids”, the garage looks like a cathedral, and the inverted wooden vault of the auditorium evokes the hull of a boat. But such a well-placed pitch is a godsend. The municipality therefore put it up for auction, despite an ongoing Historic Monument classification procedure. If it does not succeed in time, the firefighters will leave the premises in 2025, and nothing will be able to prevent the demolition.
But the barracks has its defenders. A group of architects, including Sébastien Segers, a student of Pierre Debeaux, launched a petition and applied an open letter to the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul-Malak. More than two hundred creators from around the world, including architect Patrick Bouchain, artist Annette Messager and designer Jasper Morrison, have signed. The Ministry has just responded, stating that the architectural interest of this complex was taken into account by the services examining the request for protection. The file will soon pass in a regional commission of heritage and architecture.
The INSEE tower, in Malakoff
Fifty years is hardly the age of maturity for a building. But the headquarters of INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) may not reach them. At the entrance to Malakoff on the Paris side, this thirteen-story three-pointed star with bronze-tinted windows was designed in 1974 by Denis Honegger (1907-1981) and Serge Lana (1927-2011). If they saw what was coming, they would be sick of it. Because the State undertook to demolish the tower to make way for the “second major site of the Ministry of Social Affairs” : two buildings with squared facades already seen, seven and thirteen stories high connected by glass walkways, all signed by the architect Jean-Paul Viguier.
“It’s a bad project. believes Dominique Cordesse, of the association EN C’Malakoffwhich unite the opponents. The INSEE tripod tower, which sees the sun in three different ways, historically led to the northern renovation of Malakoff. It is the entry signal to the city. Instead, along boulevard Adolphe-Pinard, we will have a wall fifty meters high without any interest in front of the law school, a very harmonious building listed in the inventory of Historic Monuments. »
Of course, the thermal qualities of the tower are poor, but today we know how to renovate and improve this type of construction. “Destroying it would be an ecological disaster. You can completely remove the facades and keep the structure. The price of the new buildings is announced at 175 million euros, while the renovation would only cost 150”, assures Dominique Cordesse. The mayor, Jacqueline Belhomme, initially in favor of destruction-reconstruction, now sees in it a “urban and architectural aberration”.
Or the State needs a municipal vote modifying the PLU (local urban plan). Which is far from certain. Especially since a national petition against the project to collect more than eighteen thousand signatures. On January 26, the government therefore announced that it would launch a new phase of consultation and that it would receive the president of IN C’Malakoff, Jean-Christophe Hanoteau.