Tours Nuages is among the most original pieces of architecture built during the Trente Glorieuses. Sophie Masse, an architect with the French Ministry of Culture, explains why we should all care about this stunning dream maker towers.
What is heartening is that Nanterre retains its very different vibe. It is home to the Parc André Malraux where landscape architect Jacques Sgard used found materials from the local shipyard to create reliefs and it is surrounded by an abundance of interesting modern buildings such as the Préfecture des Hauts-de-Seine (architect André Wogenscky), which has a ‘protected’ status, the Town Hall, the Theatre des Amandiers (architect Jean Darras), the Foyer Maurice Ravel and the former School of Architecture (architect Jacques Kalisz).
One of the most original designs comes in the form of a poetic cluster of buildings, the Tours Nuages which best translates as cloud towers as a nod to their shape and design. This social housing complex was built between 1974 and 1981 by Émile Aillaud, with the artist (and Aillaud’s son-in-law), Fabio Rieti and sculptor (and Aillaud’s daughter) Laurence. It is among the most original pieces of architecture built during the “Trente Glorieuses” when the French government focused on building a large number of homes to solve a housing crisis.
Made up of 18 towers, Tours Nuages, which are between nine and twenty storeys high, arising from a dreamlike outdoor space; the landscape architecture of benches dotted along paved paths, and a number of trees planted in proportion to the numbers of homes (one for each apartment). The ground levels vary to give a sense of space and shape and the site is dotted with sculptures and children playing areas. The major attraction is the snake, a giant sculpture built on top of the underground parking structure.
The facades of the towers are striking and unusual, highlighted coloured mosaics. Huge windows come in three distinct shapes: circle, rounded-corner square or water drop.
A completely unique atmosphere
The unusual design is not exclusive to the Tours Nuages: most of Émile Aillaud other housing complexes are also unconventional (such as les Courtillières in Pantin, le Wiesberg in Forbach or la Grande Borne in Grigny. Curves, colours, greenery, public art and playspaces are used imaginatively.
Todays Challenge for the Towers
Today the cloud towers face changes and challenges. A vast urban renewal project is underway, led by the city and the two landlords who own the towers. The project’s aim is to renovate the estate. One aspect of this is to make it more energy-efficient, another aspect is to upgrade the overall image of the neighbourhood. It is principally a working-class neighbourhood in need of ‘deep change’. The plan involves the demolition of one of the towers and six others have been earmarked for change of usage.
The La Défence Factor
The impact and long tentacles of being so close to La Défense have an effect. The owners and local government see the potential for transformation. Private investors are interested and circling. As exciting as it is to imagine what the Cloud Towers can become once they are renovated (they sure need to be given the TLC they have so far lacked), the estate could very well lose something important in the process, perhaps the heart and soul of what it once was.
Caring for the Facades
The facades and outdoor spaces will not all be treated equally. The new use agreed will determine that outcome. Thus, the major and very special qualities of the place may end up being altered beyond recognition. This would invalidate the “remarkable contemporary architecture” certification given by the French Ministry of culture in 2008.
For now, we can still all enjoy this piece of very special architectural history and the fantastic sight it provides onlookers. You just need a little time to take the RER A to “Nanterre préfecture” station, and have a nice walk around…’
Greyscape Need To Know from Sophie:
‘I’m an architect, who returned to live in Paris. I studied for a few years in central Europe and the Western US. I now working for the French Ministry of Culture, mainly on the recognition, as cultural heritage, and the preservation of XXth Century Architecture. My special interest is the second half of the 20th century and the history of housing’.
Brazil by Terry Gilliam, Arizona Dream by Emir Kusturica, Ghost Dog by Jim Jarmusch
St Petersburg Tales and Dead Souls by Nikolaï Gogol. The World According to Garp by John Irving. La Peste by Albert Camus
Regional food we should all try …. croissants and pain au chocolat for breakfast!
Photos are all the Copyright of Sophie Masse
Bucket List of buildings to photograph and visit
The Salk Institute by Louis Kahn, many of Paul Rudolph’s buildings
All images the Copyright of Sophie Masse
Find Sophie on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/ultrarchitecte/