Although hipster gentrification is creeping all over the French capital, this part of Paris’s 20th arrondissement has so far largely resisted, and is still what is known as a quartier populaire. Its urban fabric is characterised by a mix of residential buildings dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, and is consequently much more varied and eclectic than the relentlessly regimented Haussmann neighbourhoods for which the city is famous. It was in this context that the municipality decided to build the Centre d’Animation Ken Sara-Wiwa, one of a total of 51 leisure centres where Parisians can sign up for all sorts of activities including music and art classes, dance, sport, woodworking and multimedia. Following a small, invitation-only competition in 2010, Agissilaos Pangalos and Anne Feldmann of Pangalos Dugasse Feldmann Architectes were awarded the job.
‘Pangalos and Feldmann have succeeded in bringing out all the vibrancy of life in this ‘ordinary’ quarter of the city with the Wiwa Centre’
Faced with a narrow site on a corner plot, the architects chose to place all the vertical circulation at the rear, running along the party wall, which allowed the principal spaces to fill and animate the street facade. They also decided to remodel the junction at which the building is sited by pulling the upper storeys back from the street line, thereby opening up views, creating a greater sense of place (the junction now feels like a mini urban square) and also providing a small terrace at first-floor level.
Externally the building is organised in layers of solid and void: an all-glass ground floor welcomes in passers-by; the closed first floor contains a sound-proofed music studio; the generously glazed second floor is where the art studios are located; the top-lit final floor houses the dance studio; and in the basement is a small auditorium.
Source: Luc Boegly/Opictures
The budget was adequate but not lavish (€4 million for 1,500 square metres), and the architects chose a no-nonsense, hard-wearing vocabulary of glass, wire mesh and raw concrete, the latter being very present on the interior. This is a building that invites its users to knock it about. Among the activities championed by the centre is graffiti art, and the light-grey concrete is the perfect canvas for budding young taggers.
‘For the architects, it is as though the building will be continually tattooed by its users’
The blank external wall of the music studio, which is easily accessed from the first-floor terrace, was intended as a giant urban picture panel with a constantly changing display of sophisticated tags by recognised practitioners, while its less-easy-to-reach lateral wall is home to colourful calligraphic work by Tarek Benaoum. Leading out to the terrace is an internal concrete corridor which is the perfect surface for novices and amateurs, while the stair- and hallways are also crying out for self expression. For the architects, it is as though the building will be continually tattooed by its users.
Source: Luc Boegly/Opictures
While in the daytime the centre brightens up its surroundings with a dash of street art, after dark, with its ample glazing, it glows like a Chinese lantern, animating what would otherwise be a dim, humdrum junction.
With deceptively simple means and a pared-down vocabulary, Pangalos and Feldmann have succeeded in bringing out all the vibrancy of life in this ‘ordinary’ quarter of the city.
Wiwa Community Centre, Paris
Architect: Pangalos Dugasse, Feldmann Architects
Photographs: Luc Boegly/Opictures