What Ever Happened to the Garden City?

Department: Architecture
Author: Nasrine Seraji

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Whatever Happened to the Garden City? is a unique design and research project that proposes a new strategic plan for Le Rheu, a town of 7,600 inhabitants situated in the region of Île et Vilaine in north-western France.  It was developed in the 1960s as an alternative plan by the French urban planner Gaston Bardet, who was a fierce critic of Le Corbusier and follower of Ebenezer Howard’s ideas of the “Garden City.” Our project expands upon his initial vision for cities composed of a more humanist rigour and structure, including public and cultural shared facilities as well as four major public parks of various themes.

Our strategic plan, awarded through an international competition, builds upon the prophecies of Bardet and imagines a new town that incorporates landscape as a structural device for city planning.  As chief architects and urban planners of the town, we have developed a ten-year plan that proposes a new urban extension through a “concerted open method” of design—one that will include spontaneous urban growth generated by specific economic and demographic constraints within the pre-existing town and its rural periphery.

This method led to a concerted project and its appropriation by the public.

The strategic urban plan was implemented through the construction of 450 housing units completed in 2018.

More generally, the project has stimulated a rediscovery of the work of Gaston Bardet, his ideas on social urbanism, his writings, and the wealth of research he produced based on the work he did on the town.

Following our proposed interventions, the town was registered as a “Cité Jardin”, with a registered ecological sector/corridor safe guarding rare species passage on the northern part of the site as well as ensuring a humid corridor/zone in case of drought.  It currently forms the core of a new “Plan Local d’Urbanisme” which has transformed the regional policies, urban, and landscape regulations of the town of Le Rheu.

The community’s understanding of the proposed actions has been largely improved by the concertation methods we used for planning.

Our proposal has been exhibited at a range of venues and locations, including the Town Hall of Le Rheu, and at the forum des “Projets Urbains” at the Palais des Congrés at Porte Maillot, Paris.  It has been reviewed in a dozen of popular local and regional journals as well as professional magazines, including Place publique, Amc, and Le Moniteur.

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