27 September 2017
Terrains vagues: Walking the line between bottom-up initiatives and public space in Rotterdam and Paris

Global Street seminary organized by Saskia Sassen

Session of seminary of the project Global Streets, the project developed within the Global Cities's chair
The same day, a projection of the documentary
Behind the Stones of Magali Roucaut followed by a discussion will be livened up by Catherine Visser, Magali Roucaut and Sébastien Penfornis in the Villa Vassilieff. En savoir +

From the perspective of her own experience as a city-maker, inhabitant and architect in Rotterdam, Catherine Visser (DaF-architecten) will raise questions around inclusive public space and social networks in Paris with the French landscape architect Sebastien Penfornis (Taktyk). Part of the seminar will take place on the Chapelle Charbon site including a walk & talk and the screening of the films of Magali Roucaut, documenting urban transformation in Paris.

Rotterdam West: an experiment in inclusive development
In 2015 three neighborhood initiatives in Rotterdam-West , working collaboratively, successfully convinced the municipality of Rotterdam to buy and preserve 7 hectares of derelict railway ground as a green urban space. Visser will argue that this was achieved by incorporating both ‘soft’ values (the need for inclusive green space for the diverse population) and ‘hard’ values (the need for cheap water retention space) into the project. Together, the municipal planning authority, the regional water authority and the inhabitants managed to define a common framework for the development of Essenburgpark that is purposefully kept vague and flexible. The Essenburgpark is a keystone of the Groene Connectie, a promenade of nearly 8 kilometers that links several smaller and bigger green citizens’ initiatives in Rotterdam-West and turn all these stand-alone sites into a social and physical network committed to the issue of health care and inclusion in green urban space.

La Chapelle Charbon: a transitional park near porte de la Chapelle
The former infrastructural site Chapelle Charbon is an interesting terrain vague, a friche, on a strategic location near porte de la Chapelle. The Mairie de Paris is undertaking to develop this site into a residential park in the coming years. Penfornis, principal of Taktyk and representative of the COLLECTIF CHAPELLE CHARBON will be in charge of activating the transformation of the site during 36 months. During 12 seasons, they will create a series of actions together with inhabitants, gradually opening the site to the surroundings and animating its fringes. They aim at transforming the marginal site in a space for urban research and experimentation.

Paris: some observation on terrains vagues
The promenades of Paris form an iconic model of public life. They emerged in the 19th century and staged the leisurely coming together of immigrants and bourgeois, the rich and the poor. Somewhere along the way the promenades lost this inclusive capacity and their capacity at vagueness: they became the exclusive domain of bourgeois life, overdetermined representations of gentrified urbanity.

Diametrically opposed to the promenade, the ‘friche’ is the newest Parisian focus point of public life. Friches are transformed into temporary public space, using the genius loci of former production sites. They are specific and enclosed spaces with a strongly convivial, festive, and interactive spirit. Where promenades are formal spaces belong to the urban network, friches are informal and literary closed off from the urban network. The magic and excitement of the friches lie in their isolation and ephemeral condition: visitors step in an other world that will soon stop to exist. On the one hand the ephemeral programming of the friche generate instant cultural value, and involve different unrepresented groups in public life by creating a safe place for interaction and meeting,. On the other hand they have a life cycle that is characterized by discontinuities and loss. The friches function as public spaces during a transitional phase waiting for the real estate development of the site to start. As much as the former industrial production is obliterated when the site turns into a friche, so will the cultural production, the diversity and excitement, disappear when the friche turns into a development. 


This transformation cycle is not a new urban pattern. Paris had during its history many instances of terrains vagues, frontier areas that were turned into formal green urban space after interesting transitional phases. They form an interesting repository of social and spatial transition histories. 


As Paris embarks upon a new era of the large-scale creation of public spaces on industrial and railway friches around the frontier area of the Périphérique it is important to question and discuss the values, ideologies underlying both the development and transitional practices. In the seminar we will confront current ideologies of the public landscape with the examples and developments in other cities, the aim is to facilitate a critical conversation about the possibilities and challenges for contemporary transformation processes in Paris.


Catherine Visser (Paris, 1966) graduated in 1994 in architecture at Delft University on a community landscape project for Gibellina, a Sicilian village destroyed by an earthquake and its aftermath. She started DaF-architecten with Daan Bakker in 1998. Since then, they developed a cross over practice of research and design. The office builds amongst others bridges, belvederes, visitor centres and health care centres. Research and intervention fields are urban history, heritage, archaeology and landscape. In her view, urban regeneration should reinforce inclusive public domains using the layered historical context and multiple identities of the contemporary city. By participating as a local actor in different bottom-up Rotterdam initiatives she combines commitment with research by doing. For the Rotterdam region, her office works on the transformation of the northern fringe into a place to be and to cherish, promoting cycling and walking access to open landscape. She was curator of an event on social reformist architecture and planning of the ’70 and ’80 in Rotterdam and did several projects on urban transformation in precarious areas in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires. Since 2003 she works on the preservation and interpretation of the Roman frontier in the dynamic Rhine Delta (UNESCO, tentative list). She teaches at Delft University and other architectural schools on the subjects of urban history, archaeology and public domain.


jeudi 27 septembre 


Salle du Conseil B
Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme
56 boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris


Ajouter à mon agenda

En translation unavailable for Global Streets.

Related events