École Spéciale d’Architecture (Paris) / Tutors: Many people! (2016)
This project stems from a series of interrogations regarding the role of the architect and the impact of architecture in the context of massive displacements of people. The study of several migration territories highlighted tensions between, on the one hand, the urgent necessities of accommodation and, on the other hand, their management by the police materialized through surveillance, control and suppression. In Paris, unsanitary hotels, called hôtels meublés (furnished hotels), are the method preferred by the State for the urgent accommodation of people in need, regardless of their nationality or administrative status. More than 100 million euros, spent each year by the State through the SAMU Social (Municipal Aid Service), finance a crooked network that hosts people experiencing great precariousness in conditions that do not even fulfill the weak standards fixed by the State.
The common point between refugee camps, informal settlements, unsanitary hotels, and poor housing is not the inaction of the State. The State is active; excessively, as a matter of fact. It undermines its public action by using means and tools of control, repression, detention and exclusion. The problem is not what the State doesn’t do, but, rather, what it does, acting against the poorest and not in their favor: by building barriers, walls, boundaries, monitoring techniques of surveillance and control, successive and violent dismantling, etc. The State’s energy, rhetoric, and budgets are focused on suppression rather than hospitality.
This project is meant to denounce this reality, this hypocrisy, and seeks to raise awareness on the subject: on the one hand, through an architectural critique of a political context, addressed indirectly towards the State by raising awareness and, on the other hand, through a more humane project addressing the poor conditions of accommodation offered to those who need it. The project is founded upon a precise contemporary context of materials and tools. It is built by diverting the equipment of police suppression that becomes the structural components of a housing building. It aims at re-thinking the paradigm of the hôtels meublés, and constructs various interpretations and symbols. It recycles the object of suppression and its budget, and diverts its use to become the structure of an operative project of hospitality. The police barrier becomes a metaphor that structures the problem: the situation can change only through the State’s divestment from police equipment to favor the people in need instead.
The project is located on a double plot in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, where two hotels currently stand. This decision was made to draw attention to these hotels, as well as to imagine an alternative to this flaw in emergency accommodation. The elements of suppression are re-used throughout the entire project, but they are not always visible: they are aggressively apparent on the facades, aiming to shock and raise questions, while they are more discreet on the inside. Often, hotel managers attempt to hide the poor conditions of the interiors by maintaining the façade, while leaving the inside in unsanitary (and illegal) conditions. This project reverses this opposition by generating reactions through the façade, while reorganizing the interior spaces in the best possible conditions. The interior is organized around a central void to promote social interaction, non-existent today. The ground floor is left to the public: workshops, shops, cafés, common spaces, and an interior courtyard allow the project to open itself to the neighborhood. Today, even though these hotels are located in the center of Paris, they do not participate in the inhabitants’ integration. Instead, the administrative and accommodation constraints (no possibility of cooking, no common spaces, no visitors allowed) that their residents have to experience make their daily lives fundamentally different from their neighbors’. This project is therefore meant to combine the critique of State and Police’s suppressive action with the construction of a life space to be appropriated by a population, whose precariousness is partly caused by this action.