Apartment strategies at Saint-Quentin

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Apartments at Saint-Quentin

Apartments at Saint-Quentin

Looking at recent apartment buildings in Paris, I had assembled an inventory of modernist and postmodernist tricks, and I found them all again on a smaller scale in Saint-Quentin: columns in the middle of openings, jutting windows, grids in mid-air, phony roof lines, in-built curves, and so on. In Saint-Quentin these don't have the panache they sometimes achieve in Paris, and they don't feel like attempts to play off nearby historical shapes, for there is no built history around them. These are not sober Parisian apartments but their antic relatives, geometrical tricks cross-referenced to one another. There is nothing deconstructive or transgressive in all these earnest streets. Place Pompidou isn't ironic but foursquare and sincere in its self-presentation. Or did I miss the play? (The saddest architectural excuse: "They meant well.")

The town exercised some control on the apartment blocks, for they all have approximately the same volume. Perhaps it is the strong Parisian model. In Saint-Quentin the apartments are lower, three or four stories, and arranged on a grid. There are none of the odd corner angles that give Haussmann's streets more vitality. Since the buildings are lower while the streets are wider, the space feels less urban -- there's room to avoid confrontations. The streets still have somewhat of a walled feel, modified by the various maneuvers the designers have used to disguise their uniform building volumes, but it's not like a Parisian narrow street.