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Smart French
Le logement collectif du second XXe siècle, au prisme de l'énergie

In 2016, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication launched a call for research projects on ‘Architecture du XXe siècle, matière à projet pour la ville durable du XXIe siècle. Outils conceptuels et techniques pour le recyclage, la transformation et la restauration des architectures récentes’. Stephanie Van de Voorde was part of a research team, headed by Prof Raphaël Labrunye (ENSA Bretagne), bringing together scholars and professors from 6 ENSA schools of architecture (Bretagne, Nantes, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Strasbourg, Normandie) and the ae-lab of the VUB as international partner. The team formulated a two-year research project ‘Smart French’, which was granted in September 2016.

The goal of the project is to acquire a profound understanding of collective housing projects in France, constructed between 1949 and 1974. These buildings represent almost 20% of the total residential park in France. In general, these buildings are not perceived as heritage or deemed obsolete. Furthermore, since the 1980s heavy renovation campaigns (with a clear or sole focus on energy) have often changed these buildings unrecognizably, as exterior insulation seemed to have become a panacea. Yet this solution has far-reaching consequences at many levels and is not always appropriate from a building physics point of view.

The research of international scholars and professors has shown that there exist other ways to ensure a durable, respectful future for this heritage (e.g. the Cité du Lignon by Franz Graf). Other studies have pointed at the architectural, urban and environmental qualities of these buildings (e.g. by Raphaël Labrunye, Benoît Carrié, Yvan Delemontey, Guy Lambert, Valérie Nègre, Stephanie Van de Voorde). This research projects aims to surpass the level of individual buildings, and to acquire a generic understanding and evaluation at a larger scale.

The projects will evaluate this young architectural heritage in a multidisciplinary way, both quantitative and qualitative. The study will involve aspects related to their history, heritage value, architectural and volumetric analysis, construction techniques, spatial layouts, material sciences, typology-morphology, sociology, legal and financial issues, and energy performance. The point of departure is a database of more than 300 ensembles of collective housing. This database will further be elaborated with detailed knowledge on each of the buildings. It will lead to the elaboration of descriptive protocols and analytic criteria concerning the various aspects listed above. As such, the project endeavors to propose a new approach and alternatives in the elaboration of (energetic) renovations. The research will be complemented with educational projects, developed at the ENSA schools: leaning on the results and methodologies developed in the research, students will develop architectural projects and master theses, acquiring the competences they will need in their future career when dealing with this patrimony.