The Caserne de Reuilly in Paris was "a hollow tooth that we had to fill"

We continue our Social Housing Revival series with a look at the Caserne de Reuilly, the transformation of a 19th-century barracks in Paris into hundreds of affordable homes that is emblematic of the city’s effective approach to retrofit housing.

Located in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, the project was completed in 2020 for the country’s largest social landlord, Paris Habitat, which manages some 124,000 homes in and around the city.

The Caserne de Reuilly now provides nearly 600 homes – half social and student housing and the remainder a mix of assisted and rent‑controlled housing – alongside a nursery, artist’s studios, shops and community spaces, all organised around a public courtyard at its centre.

Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen blocks at the Caserne de ReuillyOffice Kersten Geers David Van Severen blocks at the Caserne de Reuilly
Office KGDVS was among the studios to slot new apartment blocks alongside the old barracks building. Photo by Bas Princen.

Led by French studio h2o architectes, six European teams were invited to contribute to the project: LIN Architects, Agencie Anyoji-Beltrando, Charles-Henri Tachon, Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen (Office KGDVS) with NP2F, MIR and Lacroix Chessex.

The recent history of housing in Paris is one familiar to many European cities: soaring rents and land prices have long been forcing residents into the suburbs, while the blocks built during the postwar period suffer from poor maintenance and standards.

In Paris, the concentration of affordable and social housing in its urban peripheries and suburban “grands ensembles” has historically made the divide between the centre and its edges especially pronounced.

lacroix chessex caserne de reuilly paris social housing joel tettamanti dezeen 1704 col 6lacroix chessex caserne de reuilly paris social housing joel tettamanti dezeen 1704 col 6
A team of seven architecture studios contributed designs for the project, including Lacroix Chessex. Photo by Joel Tettamanti

In 2022, Paris set a target for 40 per cent of homes in the city to be affordable housing by 2035 – 30 per cent of which is to be socially rented – set to be achieved through the retrofit of disused offices, hotels, garages and schools.

This goal is highly ambitious, but over the past two decades the city has been home to some to the most effective examples of housing refurbishment and retrofit, spearheaded by the likes of Pritzker Prize-winning studio Lacaton & Vassal.

It is this recent legacy that the Caserne de Reuilly continues, tackling a complex site that was not only home to heritage structures but suffered, due to its history as a military site, from an insular, closed-off layout that needed stitching back into the city.

The Caserne de Reuilly in ParisThe Caserne de Reuilly in Paris
The architects wanted to open up the development to the surrounding city. Photo by Simone Bossi

“It was an inward-looking, impassable site – a break in the dense Parisian urban fabric,” explained Office KGDVS associate Justine Rossillion.

Eschewing the design of large, monotonous blocks, h2o architectes tasked the team of architects with creating what it termed “autonomous ensembles,” recognising that there was no single type of apartment to be provided but rather a diverse range of needs and desires.

To allow for the creation of these ensembles, the site was divided into six lots – one for each team, labelled A to F – that either involved the renovation of one of the site’s existing structures, a new build, or in several cases a combination of the two.

Lacroix Chessex rooftop at the Caserne de ReuillyLacroix Chessex rooftop at the Caserne de Reuilly
Each studio sought to design in public space to the new buildings. Photo by Joel Tettamanti

In order to establish a common language and set out a series of guidelines, all of the practices involved took part in an extensive series of workshops.

In the words of Lacroix Chessex director Hiéronyme Lacroix, “[The lots] were like a hollow tooth that we had to fill. This supra-order was stronger for us than the envy to shine as an object.”

In addition to the new buildings, a landscape strategy was developed by D&H Paysages, which saw the site’s central courtyard transformed into a large urban park opened up to the surrounding city with a series of new through-routes and paved squares.

Restored building at the Caserne de ReuillyRestored building at the Caserne de Reuilly
The project saw the existing 19th-century barracks restored. Photo by Clément Guillaume

At the original entrance to the barracks along the site’s eastern edge, comprising lots D and E, two historic gatehouses were retained and refurbished by MIR to house shops and spaces for local events. 

Setting the tone for much of the work at the Caserne de Reuilly, MIR’s approach was characterised by a blend of careful restoration with simple, volumetric additions.

Two concrete, arcade-like additions overlook the courtyard, each comprised of eight bays that match the existing building’s eight windows and topped by a public roof terrace.

Agencie Anyoji Beltrando at the Caserne de Reuilly in ParisAgencie Anyoji Beltrando at the Caserne de Reuilly in Paris
Agencie Anyoji Beltrando added zig-zagging balconies at the rear of a restored building. Photo by Clément Guillaume

“The extensions are designed as two prisms respecting the symmetrical system of the barracks,” described the studio. “These two prisms have an identical purity but they offer a subtle variation in terms of concrete shades.”

Looking across the central courtyard to plot B, the long, western wing of the barracks was restored and extended by Agencie Anyoji Beltrando.

Much like the entrance pavilions, the studio kept one original facade facing inwards towards the courtyard but created a new elevation of zig-zagging concrete and steel balconies at the rear, overlooking a new paved route along the site’s edge.

Charles-Henri Tachon building at the Caserne de ReuillyCharles-Henri Tachon building at the Caserne de Reuilly
A pink-toned block was the contribution of Charles-Henri Tachon. Photo by Simone Bossi

“To avoid the effects of facadism – indiscriminately merging contemporary interventions and heritage actions – we proposed a contrasting intervention clearly separating restoration and contemporary interventions,” the studio said.

The western route below these balconies is bookended by two new entrance squares, overlooked by the pink-toned lot B1 by Charles-Henri Tachon to the north and the more angular, stacked form of Lacroix Chessex’s lot F to the south.

Responding to the mixed context of both new and old found on the site, Lacroix Chessex looked to create a building that was “deliberately not standardised”, with each level or facade featuring different sized windows or cut-outs for terraces. 

Inside Lacroix Chessex apartment at the Caserne de ReuillyInside Lacroix Chessex apartment at the Caserne de Reuilly
Lacroix Chessex wanted the inside of its apartments to “make you forget that it’s social housing”. Photo by Joel Tettamanti

Inside, apartments were organised on the corners of the plan to maximise natural light and the need for corridors, with large double entrance doors intended to give the homes a similar luxurious feel to bourgeois Parisian apartments.

“For us, the construction of social housing should make you forget that it’s social housing,” Lacroix told Dezeen.

“The solid concrete of the facades was sandblasted to give a stone aspect to the prefab, giving them the appearance of granite construction.”

Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen at the Caserne de Reuilly in ParisOffice Kersten Geers David Van Severen at the Caserne de Reuilly in Paris
Office KGDVS and NP2F created simple blocks alongside one of the 19th century structures. Photo by Bas Princen

“To give to this architecture the sensation of a certain nobility and perennity is a social gain,” he added.

At the northern wing of the barracks on lot A, Office KGDVS and NP2F added two simple volumes raised atop concrete bases on either side of the existing building.

The simple facades of these blocks feature oversized openings that align with slightly higher ceiling heights for the apartments in a focus on interior generosity rather than external expression.

LIN Architectes blocks at the Caserne de ReuillyLIN Architectes blocks at the Caserne de Reuilly
LIN Architects flanked an existing barracks building with two new blocks of flats. Photo by David Boureau

“The rough-cast concrete plinth stopped by a long balcony refers to the composition of Haussmann facades, comprising a ground floor with a ‘bel étage’ below the long balcony on the second floor, but it also echoes the base of the existing Caserne building,” Office KGDVS’s Rollinson told Dezeen.

Lastly, on plot A to the south, LIN Architects flanked a wing of the existing barracks with two blocks, one stretching to create a new street front with deep-set window reveals, and the other smaller and wrapped by balconies.

Each of the new buildings is topped by a green space, combining open terraces for residence with spaces for growing vegetables and fruit.

The top photo is by David Boureau.

Social Housing Revival artwork by Jack BedfordSocial Housing Revival artwork by Jack Bedford
Illustration by Jack Bedford

Social Housing Revival

This article is part of Dezeen’s Social Housing Revival series exploring the new wave of quality social housing being built around the world, and asking whether a return to social house-building at scale can help solve affordability issues and homelessness in our major cities.

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