The Post-Modern ‘Utopia’ in Paris Suburb as Photographed by Laurent Kronental
If you are a keen follower of science fiction movies set in the future, then you might be familiar with the grand architecture featured in the following photographs from Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris. This location was the setting for movies like Brazil (1985) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (2015). Both Science Fiction movies fall under the Dystopian category, featuring an age of advanced technology, indeed, yet a bleak degraded future for humanity. However, and interesting enough, these were not the intentions of the post-modernist designers of this quite intriguing housing project. On the contrary, these compositions were meant to be a utopia for the residents of the Parisian suburb.
The part of the city that is forgotten after being built between the 1950s and 1980s, a high-rise housing accommodation which instigates the flow of people from different parts of the city and from all age groups. As of today, the structures are not being looked after very well but still, the grandeur structure looks like a city from some future design and a utopia that has been long forgotten with its mass of concrete.
Laurent Kronental wanted to portray the part of the city into something that should be remembered while keeping in touch with how the city around it is being looked after. The people living in the Grand Ensembles are not aware of the historical value of the place they are living in and why people should look more deeply into the suburbs and how the structures were designed.
Laurent then went on a journey for four years to document and collect information regarding the suburbs with his 4×5 analog camera. He visited the senior citizens who have been living there since the day the structures were constructed.
Laurent wanted to create a series which had a core connection with man and architecture, showcasing how people forget about monuments which are not the center of attention and, also, about the elderly. His thought process was fixated on how to create a documentation of these extraordinary structures which were designed by the Spanish architects Ricardo Bofill and Manuel Nunez-Yanowsky in the postmodern era. The Grand Ensembles is composed of three housing complexes: Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Les Arènes de Picasso, and Le Viaduc et le Temple.
“Theses Monuments, as living memories of their time, hold a fragile force: that of a younger generation that did not see itself age,” said Laurent.
People say that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is exactly true in this case because every picture that the photographer has taken shows the tragic loss the people and the structure both have gone through with the passage of time and how people avoid coming in and going out from the suburbs.
The buildings are true masterpieces of the postmodernism era which are losing their touch and they are not being very well maintained. The structures were built very quickly and cheaply due to the requirement of the space for the refugees of war coming to the city and they are aging at the same pace as the residents which is a serious matter that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.
The way the architecture of these suburbs has been featured in the movies made them seem like a slum which needs to be demolished and replaced. However, when Laurent asked the people of the suburbs if they would love to get their homes re-built or restored to their original state, some people said that the Grands Ensembles are like French wine or cheese and that they just get better with age.
By: Muhammad Umair Siddiqui – Edited by Yosra M. Ahmed