Every architect, no matter how humble they may be, is a would-be social engineer at heart. The Greeks and Romans alike believed that the very values of their society were embedded in their buildings; more recently, Communists, Fascists, and Utopians have all sought to create new paradigms for architecture that would change the way people lived–and thus, how they thought.
A French firm, ecdm is continuing in that tradition, this time with a small-scale social experiment embedded in their new student housing block. The building, which contains 240 units, mostly houses students. But it also has apartments for researchers and professors–and also one wing which functions as a battered women’s shelter. The idea is to create social interaction of a type you’d rarely see in the wild. When’s the last time you saw students breaking bread on a regular basis with the less advantaged, much less sharing gardens and the laundry facility?
The various wings are color coded, to aid in wayfinding, and to lessen the monotony of an overall plan that otherwise might be overwhelming institutional. (We presume that the cladding, which makes the entire thing look like a Hershey’s bar, is as mostly about looks.)
It’s hard to say how an experience like this will work out; often, these kinds of programs can be patronizing and paternalistic in the extreme. (It’s probably no accident, after all, that this building is French.) But it’s probably not a stretch to think that some people–both the women and the students who pass through–will come away from the experience having learned something.