How a Mournful Old Square Turned into a Dynamic, Vibrant Plaza
Article by Farah Afza Jurekh – A review of the vibrant plaza at Place des Droits de l’Homme, by B+C Architectes , Tremblay-en-France.
The urban squares are like magnets to cities. The magnetic forces that the city square possesses depends highly on the design of the square.
An unused, forgotten, mournful space can be easily turned into a dynamic, attractive, vibrant place if it is designed creatively and meticulously by architects.
Place des Droits de l’Homme, located in Tremblay-en-France, designed by B+C Architectes, is one such project which has turned an old, unused square into one of the most attractive, living spaces of the city.
Place des Droits de l’Homme Vibrant Plaza
The Site, its Context, and its Importance
The site of the vibrant plaza project, or its context, dictated a lot in the design process. Place des Droits de l’Homme is located in a very significant portion of the city.
Being enclosed by civic, cultural, and residential buildings, the rehabilitation of the square demanded that it be very lively and open.
The old design of the square posed several problems, since the square was raised 2m above the ground for 2 storeys of car parking underneath the concrete deck, breaking both the visual and physical linkages with the urban realm.
Not only that, but the design team was also successful in turning a dangerous place into a safer one since the concrete deck of the square, raised above the natural topography, became fragile over many years due to maximum loading of 350kg/m2.
It should not be forgotten that the Square is not just a square, it is an essential part of the very big urban fabric.
Permeability in Planning
As a pivotal place of the city, connectivity is undoubtedly an essential factor for this particular vibrant plaza project. Hence, from an urban design approach, the design team at B+C Architectes intervened to make the square more permeable, bringing an openness in plan so that the square can be a nodal point connecting the surroundings seamlessly with the urban fabric.
Therefore, the design team stated that they have worked on both the ‘horizontal and vertical interfaces’ of the square to ‘open up’ the place.
The Design Approach; to Make the Square Accessible to All
Since the main idea was to open up the square in order to mend the broken connections, it was necessary to make it accessible to the city dwellers from all nodal points. As mentioned before, the square was raised above ground level, so it was important to make it accessible from all directions.
Firstly, le Jardin des Cultures, located to the south of the square, was connected through the introduction of a generous staircase.
Secondly, Nelson Mandela Avenue was linked by the revamp of the staircase and universal accessibility was ensured through the design of a new ramp for physically challenged people.
Thirdly, the northern urban park was linked through the design of a new access ramp from the boulevard de l’Hôtel de Ville.
The Dynamic and Vibrant Checkerboard Square
So we all understand that only making it accessible from all points will not make the square a lively place. The ramps and staircases certainly made the square accessible from vertical surfaces, but the horizontal facets of the square also needed to be taken care of.
The old paving slab of the square, which became risky due to overloading, was replaced by concrete squares, making it a safer place.
A new, dynamic pattern of paving was introduced in that area to make it an interesting, interactive and attractive square. The giant checkerboard of 3.5×3.5m concrete pavers form an organized grid, producing a pixelated and sporty look to the surface of the square.
The colored, reinforced concrete pavers of blue and yellow bring a sober look to the whole square, while the combination of different shades of blue gives a vibrant yet soothing look to the square.
Since the square is enclosed with public buildings, to accentuate the entrances of these surrounding buildings, a different yellowish-brown patterned paving was introduced.
Thus, the patterns of the paving system clearly define the entrances and the horizontal surface of the whole square. Moreover, the LEDs insertion in the pavers light up the square at night.
The Micro Gardens
The use of concrete pavers amidst the concrete jungle was equalized by introducing biomass — the micro gardens. A richer diversity of trees and plants, starting from deciduous trees like maple and a variety of flowering species, along with evergreens, are inserted in the micro gardens. The micro gardens were arranged to take up 4 ‘pixels’ of the checkerboard.
Since the square was aimed to house multiple events, it was a great idea to design mobile micro gardens; these micro gardens can be transported by forklifts depending on the occasion.
Alongside the micro gardens, the wooden seats were designed to provide opportunities for people to relax, interact, or to simply spend time indulging in the beauty of nature.
The square which was once an ignored space is now the breathing space of the town.
The Multifunctional Square
The city squares demand to be multifunctional. As the design firm stated, “When “empty” the square has to vibrate day or night. When “filled” the square has to send signals of its organization with people densities varying according to use.The design approach rightfully serves these purposes as the square can become a civic square by day,
The design approach rightfully serves these purposes as the square can become a civic square by day, urban forum by night, a marketplace for special events, a flea market, or a public plaza linking the theater, mediatheque and town hall.
Place des Droits de l’Homme gives us inspiration about how a totally unused, disconnected place was linked to its surroundings to become an important part of the urban realm and how the use of a dynamic paving pattern brings a new outlook to the mournful space.
Do you think this project has achieved its goal of revitalizing the city square? Share your comments below.
Full Project Credits For Place des Droits de l’Homme Vibrant Plaza:
Project Name: Place des Droits de l’Homme
Budget: 13.6M €
Date of Completion: 2011
Client: COMUNE DI TREMBLAY-EN-FRANCE
Project Size: 3000m2
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