Paris Housing Precinct Uses Hybrid Materials to Drive Net-Zero

A UN report for construction has identified substituting steel and concrete with low carbon alternatives like timber is critical to meet climate targets.

Sun 01 Oct 23


In the heart of the Paris 15th arrondissement, on the left bank of the River Seine, Christ & Gantenbein has unveiled a new 104-apartment project clad in a timber and steel hybrid.

‘The Vaugirard Social Housing precinct‘ is the studio’s first in Paris, and it hopes to demonstrate that high-quality social housing is achievable in the city.

“We aim to offer the highest quality of housing within dense spatial and economic constraints,” according to the studio.

Paris has emerged as a world leader in using low-carbon materials in building and construction, with next year’s Olympics set to become the greenest in history thanks to an extensive upcycling programme.

The Champs de Mars Arena – was constructed using a massive glue-laminated timber superstructure (Photo Credit Eric Asselin via Twitter)

Under French law, all new public buildings must use timber as their primary building material.

The 124-metre-long project is split across five floors and is a leading example of how affordable housing projects can use lower carbon materials to meet net-zero commitments.

Last month, the UN released a “blueprint outlining how the building and construction can reduce emissions.” 

The report calls on policymakers, manufacturers, architects, developers, engineers, builders and recyclers to address the billowing emissions from construction activity. It includes substituting steel and concrete for timber elements and, where possible, reducing consumption and reusing materials.

The UN reports that, thanks to rapid urbanisation, every day the world adds buildings equivalent to the size of Paris.
The UN reports that thanks to rapid urbanisation, every day, the world adds buildings equivalent to the size of Paris. (Photo Credit: Henrique Ferreira free to use using an Unsplash License)

Designed in collaboration with the French studio Margot-Duclot Architects, the project has been inspired by a study of Parisian housing typologies at ETH Zurich.

The research team catalogued numerous examples of dense urban living, uncovering the strategies used to create identity and optimise access to light and ventilation.

It sits above a subway maintenance workshop and is constructed from a concrete frame with large timber infills to reduce the building’s weight.

The building has a concrete frame with large prefabricated timber infills and a steel facade that integrates with the surrounding industrial buildings. (Photo Credit: Walter Mair and Florent Michel)

“The building’s facade is a light construction with prefabricated wooden elements,” according to Christ & Gantenbein.

“The choice of wood follows a twofold strategy: it lightens the construction and reduces the costs of superimposed structures while improving the building’s ecological footprint.”

Its structure is enclosed within a steel facade, chosen to relate to the industrial setting of the building above the workshop while giving it an unexpected appearance.

Increasingly, architects are looking to hybrid construction “to get the best of both worlds.”

In July, Bill McKay, a senior Lecturer at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland, said that timber, concrete (and steel) should be used harmoniously in construction projects.

Last month, Wood Central reported that researchers are now testing fibre-filled steel tubular (FFST) posts and beams which used dried wood fibre inserted into cold-formed steel square hollows, which could “bring lighter, taller and long-spanning solutions to market.”

The structure is enclosed within a steel facade, which it said was “chosen to relate to the industrial setting of the building above the workshop while giving it an unexpected appearance.”

“A steel facade is rather unexpected for a housing building, they said, “and we appreciate the opportunity to challenge typical material uses.”

“Here, the steel relates to a certain infrastructural context to which the building is connected through its hybrid programme,” the studio said.

“But it also adds shine, reflection and lightness to the volume. And, of course, it also references the city’s traditional roof cover elements.”

The social housing project has been designed to blend in with the surrounding Paris 15th arrondissement.

The 124-metre-long block is broken up with indents and balconies “which animate the facade.”

“The building’s elongated form is articulated by regularly carving out the volume, a morphological feature referred to as ‘redents’,” they said.

“This architectural feature is often found in Paris and facilitates ventilation and diverse views amidst the city’s dense fabric.”

“Furthermore, these protrusions create small courtyards along the facade and thus help to break the volume scale.”


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