Big Heavy Beautiful

Department: Architecture
Author: Nasrine Seraji

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Big Heavy Beautiful (BHB), or Les Ateliers Jourdan-Corentin-Issoire, is a multi-use architectural complex consisting of several distinctive programmes located in the14th arrondissement of Paris.  The project was selected through an international architectural competition organized by the Paris Transport Authority (RATP) in 2006 to renovate and restructure a bus depot which had been in use since the late 19th century and did not suffice neither in its storage and maintenance capacities nor its technological compatibility to cope with new hybrid buses (Gas and electric) and the new computer technologies  which are used to manoeuvre the vehicles.

The project’s originality stems from the series of seemingly contradictory programmes it supports, each of which is allowed to project their own autonomy and specificity.  Such a diverse array of programmes offers a particular urban quality that suggests a city within a city—the renovation of an industrial site in the city’s centre that incorporates new technologies and electric bus infrastructure superimposed over housing, a kindergarten, a day care centre, as well as retail to generate a new form of social housing.

Nine major meetings and interviews with the public prompted changes that were subsequently incorporated into the project during the construction period.  An hourly photographic record of the 32-month construction was broadcasted to the neighbourhood through the support of an NGO association.  This ensured that the public felt they were an active, participatory force in the project’s materialisation.

The project’s rigor is also embedded in thousands of  iterative drawings and 3-D models produced throughout the design and construction phases. 3-D BIM modelling was used for the first time by the contractors in a housing project which enabled the various teams, including architects, engineers, and the contractors, to work around the same changes and variations of the project (in the construction phase).

BHB demanded thorough research into five domains considered crucial to the design of extra large-scale architecture in Paris, including historical, structural, material, typological, and sociological investigations.

Enlarge Photo: Big Heavy Beautiful 1