A New Paris

26/06/2015 

Daniela Fernandes

For Valor, from São Paulo

 

Brazilian group participates in competition for urbanism operation in the French capital, where “innovation” is the word of order. By Daniela Fernandes, for Valor, from Paris.

 

Buildings fully constructed with recycled materials, including cement, or integrating the concept of “urban agriculture”, with greenhouses allowing residents to grow their own gardens. These are only a few examples amongst the innumerous projects presented by architects from several countries, including Brazil, in the public call launched by the municipality of the French capital to “reinvent Paris” – the name given to this novel urbanism operation where the main criterion for the selection of winners is “innovation”.

 

“Projects will be selected in virtue of their innovative content and utility, and not in relation to the offered bid. It’s the first time that a competition of this form is launched, wherein the ideas are more important than who will pay more”, affirms Jean-Louis Missika, adjunct of the City of Paris – a position equivalent to a Municipal Secretary – responsible for the urbanism, architecture, and economic development of the French capital. In practice, a blank check was given to interested players to “reinvent 21st century urbanism” in the city. “Lifestyles change at a fast pace and the buildings must adapt to this reality”, says Missika.

 

The Institute of Urbanism and Studies for the Metropolis (Urbem), a nongovernmental organization based in São Paulo, is one of the participating players of the call. With partners from the private sphere, Urbem is the only Brazilian competitor involved in the initiative, which received proposals from German, Japanese and Dutch groups, amongst others (see more on page 20). The competition was launched for 23 areas of Paris, located in nine districts (“arrondissements”). The land supply, which totals near 150,000 m2 of construction area, is substantially diverse: an energy substation, an abandoned railway station, historic buildings formerly used as noble and bourgeois residences (the so-called “hotels particuliers”), and vacant land lots that still exist in peripheral areas of the city. The Brazilian consortium coordinated by Urbem presented proposals for 12 of these areas.

 

“No other city in the world has dared to do what we are doing now. We are living a historic moment”, declared Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, when presenting the Reinvent Paris call in front of 200 architects and real estate entrepreneurs in November. In the first phase of the competition in January, 815 candidacies were presented, 650 of which were approved.

 

Of this total, 372 have given a further step towards action, presenting official proposals. The names of the final three or, at the most, four competitors will be announced for each of the 23 areas. By mid July, finalists will be announced by a jury formed by representatives of the City Hall, of political groups from the legislature, and specialists. The final selection will be made by an international jury, which will announce the winners in January of 2016. Construction works can be kicked off right after the decision, according to City Hall.

 

Critics normally point out that Paris, differently than London for example, became outdated, frozen in time, with several historic buildings and emblematic monuments, but without many innovative constructions since the time of the Eiffel Tower more than once century ago. Last year, the Louis Vitton Foundation of contemporary art, designed by Frank Ghery, was inaugurated. The building is considered the most revolutionary in the capital in recent decades, after the Louvre pyramid.

 

With Reinvent Paris, the city wants to create “models of the city of the future” in terms of architecture, utilization of urban space, and environmental innovation. “This project is based on the idea that it is necessary to transform Paris, a city of historic heritage. Certain buildings need to be given a second life, and for that it crucial to innovate from the start to the end of the construction process or in the renewal of the local”, says Missika.

 

From the viewpoint of City Hall, the scope of possibilities for innovation is immense, ranging from alternative forms of financing (such as crowdsourcing) to materials and uses of space such as rooftops and undergrounds, as well as in the environmental performance and energy efficiency of buildings.

 

The use of the buildings also necessitates innovation, affirms Missika. “Several forms of working exist today, such as from distance or in coworking spaces. There have also been changes in the commercial sector, such as showrooms shared by different companies”, he affirms. Additionally, there have been modifications to urban forms of living, wherein yards, gardens and other areas of a house are shared between residents, or even forms of “participative residence”, wherein dwellers define future of the building in conjunction with architects.

 

For that reason, City Hall prioritizes projects that follow the changes in urban lifestyle, thus favoring intelligent buildings that can be shared, transformed, and accommodate various simultaneous uses – housing, commerce, offices and cultural activities. An example from the received proposals is a residence for students that would convert into a hotel during the school vacations period.

 

“There is a great diversity of proposals. The results go beyond our expectations”, emphasizes Missika. “There are ideas that are very interesting architecturally, but our priority is the innovating aspect of projects”. Despite the total freedom given to elaborate the proposals, the City Hall requires in some cases the creation of local housing units. Around 500 to 600 units are planned for.

 

Some of the 23 areas have inspired the candidates more than others, having received a greater number of proposals. This is the case of Morland, location of the Municipal Office of Public Security, a Soviet style building in the banks of the Seine River, between Île Saint-Louis and the Marais district. With 40,000 m2 (a rare available area for the city), it provides an exceptional panoramic view of the city.

 

One of the areas that most attracted candidates was the Voltaire electric substation, built early last century and determined a heritage site, located in the vicinities of the Père-Lachaise cemetery, which is visited by tourists from around the world. At the site, the municipality wants to create a movie theatre that is both “popular and of quality”, based on reflections about the “new functioning modalities of a cinema”.

 

Three old residences previously occupied by the nobility and bourgeoisie (the hotels particuliers) are to be transformed following the rules of heritage preservation. One of the properties, built between the 17th and 18th centuries, was the home of the marquise de Sévigné – whose letters became French Literature classics – and is located in the vibrant rue des Francs-Bourgeois, in Marais. Another one, a historic heritage site from the 15th century, with 2,000 m2 at the former school of medicine, is located in the vicinities of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Some projects defy the imagination, such as the area of Porte des Terners over the “périphérique”, where a bridge-building will be constructed over the highway, according to City Hall.

 

The winners of the competition will be allowed to choose whether to buy or rent the properties, informs Missika. According to him, the participation of the private sector does not stem from the municipality’s present financial difficulties, resulting from the reduction of transfers from the government, which has already caused a hole of €300 million in the 2016 budget. “It’s not the first time we launch an initiative with private funds. The municipal administration has a large set of assets. We buy more than we sell”.

 

Paris City Hall announced at the end of last year that it intends to annually sell 200 million in real estate during the Anne Hidalgo administration, which extends until 2020. It is also until this date that the construction works of Reinvent Paris should be finalized, as expected by the administration.

 

The initiative refers only to territories within the “périphérique”. In 2016, the city intends to launch a similar competition for peripheral areas of the city, according to Missika. As it appears, the “heritage city” will undergo several innovative changes in the near future. 

 

Brazilian organization Urbem has 12 projects

Jacílio Saraiva

For Valor, from São Paulo

 

A group of Brazilian entrepreneurs is about to achieve something unique around the Eiffel Tower. With partners from the private sphere, the Institute of Urbanism and Studies for the Metropolis (Urbem), a nonprofit organization based in São Paulo, is one of the competitors of the Reinvent Paris urban development initiative organized by the City of Paris. For the first time in history, the city government is offering a set of 23 properties that belong to the city, which will be handed over through this competition to those with the best proposals for local uses. The list includes a variety of different areas, from unoccupied lots to historic buildings at the bank of the Seine, one of the most valued real estate areas in France.

 

Urbem is the only Brazilian competitor involved in the initiative, which received proposals from German, Japanese and Dutch groups, amongst others from a total of 15 countries. “This initiative could be replicated in other places by governments concerned with the future of cities”, says the Philip Yang, a São Paulo native and founder of the institution that was also the winner of the Casa Paulista public call – the first public-private partnership (PPP) focused on social housing – put forward by the State of São Paulo.

 

“The City of Paris wants to transform these properties into urban innovation platforms, but with the economic prowess of the competition finalists”, he explains. All of the 12 occupation proposals elaborated by Yang’s team were initially approved and qualified for the following stages of the selection process, which will have its final winners known in January.  The areas that could be recovered by the Brazilians add up to a sales total of over €1 billion.

 

Yang’s journey to Paris started last year, when the French-Brazilian architecture office Tryptique knocked on his door with the competition’s regulations, launched in November. “The challenge had everything to do with the work Urbem does”. The institute, created in 2011, is maintained with donations from Yang, co-founder of Petra Energia, an oil and gas company. Urbem’s focus is to structure projects for the public and private spheres, with the aim of creating “a more just and functional urban fabric”. To achieve this objective, the institute hires professionals from of a variety of fields and from all over the world who are in a position to contribute to the development of cities. With the French program, this was not different.

 

After the visit by architects from Tryptique, who became Yang’s partner, the entrepreneur invited two investing partners for the initiative: Ângela Freitas, from the founding family of Universidade Anhembi Morumbi (led since last year by the real estate developer Gamaro), and Edson Moura, president of Baterias Moura, a automotive battery manufacturer. Also part of the consortium is Ilion Partners, a French real estate investment consultancy with activities in Paris and São Paulo, led by Maxime Barkatz. “This is the first time I enter a project without my own resources”, says Yang.

 

With the executive team formed, he then recruited architects to envision the projects to offer to Paris. He recruited 12, and amongst the world’s best. From Brazil, he counts with Paulo Mendes da Rocha, the only Brazilian Pritzker Prize winner alive; and also Angelo Bucci, Márcio Kogan, and the MMBB, Andrade Morettin and Tryptique offices. The lineup also includes Alex Washburn - New York City chief urban designer in the Bloomberg administration (2002-2013) - and the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena - winner of the 2015 “Design of the Year” Prize by London’s Design Museum.

 

The venture’s bet on creative capital was successful. The 12 proposals from the Brazilian consortium passed to the next phase of the competition, which covers  initial proposals for the properties. Of the total, seven are greenfield sites (areas available for new developments), and five are existing buildings that will change functions. Among the designs from the professionals are housing units, commercial centers, movie theaters, and mixed public and private spaces.

 

To have an idea of the level of the competition, the City Hall has received 815 proposals, but only 650 were approved. There is an average of 30 competing consortia for each of the 23 available properties, and accomplished names are involved in the dispute, such as the Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, known for designing houses with transparent walls in Tokio, and the Canadian architect Michael Green, who intends to build the tallest wooden building in the world with 35 stories.

 

Among the areas offered in the call, two are considered “crown jewels” of the event: the winner of these lots will certainly obtain additional leverage in the real estate developing market. Situated between Île Saint-Louis and the iconic Marais district, on the right banks of the Seine, the Morland building has 40,000 m2 of constructed area and a 180-degree view of the city from its terrace. In the zone known as Pershing, which is presently a parking lot for buses close to the Palais des Congrès, aerial rights were granted for the construction of a bridge-building over the city’s beltway.

 

Urbem has established nine partnerships with French developers to design models for the potential construction works. There are agreements with Ogic, in the market for almost 50 years, and Bouygues, which develops housing plans and business parks in 40 locations in Europe. “I made great connections at the Mipim conference in Cannes”. The event happened in March and is considered the most important one in the international real estate sector.

 

In virtue of Reinvent Paris, Yang has already travelled four times to Paris this year. In July, he embarks once again for another round of the competition. “This is one of the projects that has given me most satisfaction until now”, reveals the former diplomat, who served in Geneva, Beijing, and Washington between 1991 and 2001. The entrepreneur’s curriculum also includes a MPA from Harvard University and an experience as a pianist with the Symphonic Orchestra of the State of São Paulo (Osesp).

 

While the selection process unfolds in the other side of the Atlantic, he continues attentive to the local scenario in São Paulo. After Urbem won Casa Paulista’s initial conception call, which aims to establish 5 to 24-story buildings for families of mixed income, the entrepreneur also decided to participate in the project as an investor.

 

The goal of the venture, estimated at R$ 4.6 billion (with investments from the State of São Paulo, the municipality, and the private sector) is to give rise to 14,000 housing units in four areas of the city. The first contract was signed in March, with Canopus Holding from Minas Gerais, winner of the competition for the first lot. It will be responsible for delivering 3,600 units in the Barra Funda district, with works scheduled to start in 2016.

 

“I was satisfied with the entry of the firm. It’s a sign that the model we created for the city works”, he says. Now, Yang’s idea is to associate with a construction firm to compete for the three remaining lots. With the recent collapse of the sector in Brazil, it is almost certain that the future partner will not speak Portuguese.

 

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