Le Plessis-Robinson is a commune away from Paris located about 10 km from the capital. In a recent census, the city was occupied by about 30,000 inhabitants.
The city was first mentioned in 839 as Plessiacus apud Castanetum, meaning Plessis near Castanetum. Plessis was a village that was surrounded by a fence made of branches.
In 1112 the village church was founded and built in the Romanesque style, and to date, the tower survives.
At the end of the 12th century, the village was renamed after the local Lord Raoul.
In 1407 the town was ruled by Jean Piquet de La Haye, who built a castle in the village.
In 1614 a monastery was built in the village.
In 1682 the minister of finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert, under Louis XIV had a pond dug and later the gardens were expanded in 1699 after its purchase by Pierre de Montesquiou d’Artagnan.
Le Plessis got its first mayor Antoine Moulle in 1790 as a result of the French Revolution. During his tenure, the monastery was nationalized and demolished and the commune was renamed back to Plessis-Piquet in 1801.
In 1848 a popular guinguette came up in the area, this was a popular drinking and dining venue whose name was inspired by the novel Robinson Crusoe. In 1909 the Commune officially changed its name to Le Plessis-Robinson, after Le grand Robinson.
After the industrial age, the town experienced a spike in the population, this was a result of improvements in medical treatments that helped deal with many ailments that had been previously fatal and recovered after the Great War in which the town lost 77 of its 600 inhabitants.
After 1920 the city developed its own identity as a city of gardens and with the development of guinguettes, people gravitated toward the city.
PROPOSED NEW URBANISM | Le Plessis-Robinson
Le Plessis-Robinson is considered one of the most significant social projects in France. This ambitious project was spearheaded by Philippe Pemezec, mayor between 1989 and 2018, to reshape the city and breathe life into the gray buildings that had stood in a sorry state of disrepair. The mayor with the guidance of two key architects (Marc & Nada Breitman, Xavier Bohl, and François Spoerry) began construction in the Neo-Traditionnel style.
After being sold to the HBM (Habitations à Bon Marché) in 1917, the horticulture school was subdivided and sold and on the same grounds, the first garden city came up.
In 1931 the population had risen to 4713 inhabitants and as a result, a second garden city was coming up intending to avail 10000 homes for the growing population. These buildings however were never completed due to a lack of interest from potential tenants.
In 1972, it was noted that the existing houses had fallen into a state of disrepair, and with the economic crisis being experienced across the country businesses were shutting down and people moving away from the city.
When compared to other projects of the same purpose a stark contrast is recognized. Le Plessis-Robinson may have its imperfections but lack of beauty is not one. The buildings are colorful and framed by lush greenery and colorful flowers that influence the behavior and overall atmosphere of the area.
The large undertaking influenced the rate of unemployment and divided it by three, new businesses increased by 150%, and the real estate value of the properties increased greatly becoming comparable to prices in Paris. The city was even awarded among European countries a trophy for the best urban development in Europe.
Urban plan proposals had been presented after the Second World War to offer guidance in the planning of new cities that rose in place of the ones that had been lost to war. Among which were proposals by Le Corbusier which were characterized by faceless blocks that served only for function. The blocks resembled the ones at Le Plessis-Robinson when it was under communist rule. Throughout the world, social housing units follow similar templates where they are set apart from the larger city and arranged in a military function. This alienation physically and aesthetically affects the psyche of the inhabitants, and the people as a result behave according to their environment. Areas that are set aside for social housing host a variety of vices attributed to the segregation during planning.
Le Plessis-Robinson took a different approach and integrated social housing units within the larger fabric of the community. 30 to 40 percent of the houses availed are set aside for social housing.
In 1990 Francois Spoerry a well-known Neo- Traditional architect was brought on board to create a new reality for the city far from the dreary communist past that had been its reality for 46 years. Following its ill repute in the community due to insecurity and lack of development, only one developer showed interest in the city. The town, therefore, began a rebranding campaign erasing its communist past and jumping to the great age of the guinguette that it was famous for before the great wars. The town began hosting yearly festivals that drew 30,000 within three years from 10,000 in the first.
By 2000 the city had gained enough traction with its campaign to raise awareness and interest in the development of the core of the city dubbed Coeur de Ville. The new development dedicated 30 acres for 2000 residents and 10 percent of the units created were dedicated to social housing.
The city is a great model for redevelopment and re-growth of cities in situ. With the demolition of Patterson College, in its place rose buildings following the neo-traditional style. These buildings were mix-use complexes with rentals and integrated social housing designed by Mark and Nada Breitman.
The city later hired Xavier Bohl, who promised to deliver a complete design to replace the remaining post-war housing projects in the spirit of Spoerry. The development came up 21 hectares larger than the Coeur de Ville. It included 1300 units 25 percent of which were dedicated to social housing. With 6000 square meters of businesses and public uses.
Architecture lends an opportunity for equity within the community, with integration all members of the society benefit from shared resources and opportunities equally. Le Plessis-Robinson is a model for smart growth and vision, as a result of great planning and execution the city has had its rate of employment increase by 50 percent.
The architect contends with creating the avant-garde as a legacy of self as seen in the design of the city of La Defense a modernist’s dream or instead a community legacy as seen in Le Plessis-Robinson where one allows the community to shape its environment. Rather than dictating the direction of growth pave the road for the growth and allow it to develop organically. This type of response ensures that needs are heard and met as they arise and resources are set aside for the same.
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- Architects marc & nada Breitman: Selected works (2018) WTTW Chicago. Available at: https://interactive.wttw.com/breitman/selected-works (Accessed: March 23, 2023).
- Category: Villa Maintenon (Le Plessis-Robinson) (no date) Wikimedia Commons. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Villa_Maintenon_(Le_Plessis-Robinson) (Accessed: March 23, 2023).
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- Le Plessis-Robinson (2022) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Plessis-Robinson (Accessed: March 23, 2023).
- Mehaffy, M. (2022) New urbanism in the new urban agenda: Threads of an unfinished (global) reformation, CNU. Available at: https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2022/02/28/new-urbanism-new-urban-agenda-threads-unfinished-global-reformation (Accessed: March 23, 2023).
- Uotila, M. (1653) Learning from Le plessis-robinson, LinkedIn. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/learning-from-le-plessis-robinson-marjo-uotila (Accessed: March 23, 2023).