What is the legacy of architectures of change?


Richard Klein


newsletter august 2019
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by Richard Klein
Edited by Theodore Prudon and Eduarte Duarte Ruas

By the end of the 1950s, the French solution for mass housing, known as les grands ensembles, was strongly criticized. From this point on, the grands ensembles faced successive phases of criticism, modification and, more recently, destruction. The French State was confronted with the failure of the urban form generated by les grands ensembles. The political power was then forced to emphasize the need for change in the mass housing production in France. 

This change came in the shape of the Plan Construction, created in 1971. This plan had the ambition to renew and advance building technologies for mass housing.[1] The results of this public policy have influenced the housing production in two ways: building technology innovation and typological renewal. During the first years of the 70s the organization of The Plan Construction set up a laboratory for social housing with an experimental, innovative, and qualitative approach. The laboratory created a set of more or less experimental procedures and operations, among them the Modèles Innovation, the most pragmatic attempt to change mass housing.

The Modèles Innovation is a building technology system that consists of an assembly of prefabricated components (slabs, triangular slabs or facade panels) forming a structural stool composed of 4 pillars, 4 beams, and a slab. The process creates easily recognizable poly cube shaped buildings. From the point of view of building technology, the Modèles Innovation relied on different construction processes, frequently involving the design and prefabrication of standard elements. The heavy industrialization allowed the creation of a wide variety of construction typologies.

From a typological point of view, the Modèles Innovation proposed changes in the definition of the domestic space. Carrying an almost systematic reflection on the flexible and polyfunctional space, the Modèles Innovation proposed buildings that adopted prefabricated modules and frames.  These typological innovations are intended to redefine the habitat, adapting it to new lifestyles, in response to the repetitive and serial nature of the grands ensembles.

Modèles Innovation has generated a large number of singular buildings. They are based on the architectural expression of prefabrication, on the interaction between structure and space, and on the ease of reproduction. This experiment with new processes of building echoed in the production of urban spaces, and in the urban fabric.

The emergence of this new aesthetics derived from Modèles Innovation occurred concomitantly with the founding of several new French cities. Therefore, the aesthetics of these housing developments are often equated with those of new cities. However, a large number of Modèles Innovation have been built in medium-sized urban centers or on the outskirts of cities. The French urban landscape is, therefore, marked by the presence of these dwellings resulting from Modèles Innovation.[2]

The Modèles Innovation are frequently caught up by the critical revision of modernism and the post-modern period. This is likely to explain why the operation is the subject of early critical evaluation and contradictory commentary by architectural historians like Gérard Monnier and Jacques Lucan. As last architectural manifestation that precede the arrival of critical revision and postmodernism, the Modèles Innovation constitute the material, cultural and historical heritage of a pivotal period whose motto is precisely change. 

Buildings of this period are to be situated both in the continuity of the principles of modern movement but also in an attempt to change mass housing production in France. Architects in this process are either descendants of the masters of the modern movement such as André Wogenscky (1916-2004), or part of a young generation such as Michel Andrault (born in 1926) and Pierre Parat (born in 1928). The Modèles Innovations are also the last manifestation of renewal of urban forms before a long period of return to traditional urban morphologies.

Confronted with transformations, obsolescence, degradation or simply discredit. Modèles Innovations are often destroyed on the altar of "urban renewal.” Modèles Innovation are important for their technical and typo-morphological innovations; therefore, it is imperative to find ways to secure the preservation of Modèles Innovation. These architectures of change could then be treated from the detailed knowledge of the operations in their material realities and their cultural context so that their future is that of reasoned interventions. (Figure 08)


[1]On this subject: Lambert Guy, « La première décennie du Plan Construction (1971-1982): Stratégie éditoriale et représentations ». Histoire de l’art n°59, Octobre 2006, p.141-151.

[2]In the Hauts-de-France region there are a hundred operations with nearly 10,000 housings. This study of the Modèles Innovation was conducted with Caroline Bauer and took place within the larger framework of the research laboratories Lacth (Lille) and Inama (Marseille).



Gross, Daniel, Abram Joseph, "Bilan des réalisations expérimentales en matière de technologie nouvelle, plan construction 1971-1975," rapport de recherches du CEMPA, Paris, Plan construction, 1983.

Lucan, Jacques, "Architecture en France (1940-2000), Histoire et théories," Paris, Le Moniteur, p. 227-228

Moley, Christian, "L’innovation architecturale dans la production du logement social (1972-1978)," Paris, Plan Construction, ministère de l’Équipement, 1979.

Monnier, Gérard, "L’architecture moderne en France, tome 3 de la croissance à la compétition 1967-1999," Paris, Picard p. 19-20.

The Architecture Contemporaine Remarquable label has been put in place since the decree n° 2017-433 du 28 Mars 2017.




Richard Klein is an architect, historian of architecture, Professor at the University of Lille, Faculty of Architecture and Landscape, Director of the research laboratory LACTH, chairman of Docomomo France. He is the author of numerous articles and several books dealing with the history of contemporary architecture among which : A quoi sert l’histoire de l’architecture aujourd’hui ? (2018), Les maisons de la culture en France (2018), La villa Cavrois, Regards (2015), Robert Mallet-Stevens. Agir pour l’architecture moderne, (2014), La cité de l’Etoile à Bobigny, Candilis, Josic, Woods architectes, (2014), Le Corbusier : le Palais des congrès de Strasbourg (2011), Dialogues sur l’invention, Roland Simounet (2005, 2015), Robert Mallet-Stevens, La villa Cavrois (2005, 2015), Les années ZUP, architectures de la croissance 1960-73, (with Gérard Monnier, Picard, 2002), Roland Simounet à l’œuvre, architecture 1951- 1996 (2000).