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ACADEMIC VIEWS ON THE ECONOMICS
OF CONSTRUCTION
FRENCH VARIATIONS (1920/1970)
1) Public housing of the 1920’s in France.
Short presentation of early built garden cities
in the outskirts of Paris :
- Les Lilas (1921-1923 and 1930-1931)
- Stains (1921-1933)
LES LILAS
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Developer : Office public d’HBM du département de la Seine
Architects : Pelletier (Paul), Teisseire (Arthur)
Ground area : 6 hectares
Programme and dates of construction (two phases) :
1921-1923 : 212 dwellings, in one- and two-family houses,
(destroyed 1971-1973, and replaced by housing blocks)
1930-1931 : addition of approx. 100 dwellings in housing
blocks (northern part of the ground area, still existing)
Les Lilas : project design (1921)
One- and two-family houses
Les Lilas : project design (1921)
One- and two-family houses
Les Lilas, how it was built (photo 1927)
Source : Henri Sellier, Une cité pour tous
(Texts presented by Marrey (B.), Ed. du Linteau, Paris, 1998, p. 118).
Les Lilas : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Small housing block (4 apartments)
Les Lilas : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Housing blocks
Les Lilas : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Housing blocks
Les Lilas : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Tall buildings in place of one-family houses
Les Lilas : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Projects of the1970’s instead of one-family houses
Les Lilas : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Garden-city spirit preserved by private property
Les Lilas, how it looks today
(spring 2009).
Garden-city spirit preserved
…by private property.
Architect’s house (1933), at
the corner of the alley shown
in the previous photo.
STAINS
• Developer : Office public d’HBM du département de la Seine
• Architects : Gonnot (Eugène), Albenque (Georges)
• Ground area : 28 hectares
• Programme : 1700 dwellings, of which 460 one-family houses
and 300 rooms for bachelors
• Dates of construction : 1921-1933
At the period it was built, the garden city accomodated one third of the population of the
municipality.
It still represents 15% of the dwellings in this municipality where social housing in a whole
accounts for 69% of housing.
Stains : project design (1921)
One-family houses
Stains : project design (1921)
Housing blocks
Stains : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Single family houses
Stains : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Single family house
Stains : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Single family houses
Stains : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Housing blocks
Stains : how it looks today (spring 2009)
Housing blocks
ACADEMIC VIEWS ON THE ECONOMICS
OF CONSTRUCTION
FRENCH VARIATIONS (1920/1970)
2) Construction costs : academic approach of
the comparison between single-family houses
and housing blocks.
- The thesis by Henri Sellier (1921)
- The thesis by Claude Olchanski (1945) and what follows
until the 1960’s
The thesis by Henri Sellier (1921)
• A view based on a public developer experience.
• At given volume and finishes, single family houses are cheaper
than apartments in block houses (even including cost of public
networks).
• Therefore, construction in the suburbs has to favour a city of
houses project.
• Architecture and composition : reference to Raymond Unwin
and the principles of garden cities.
The thesis by Claude Olchanski (1945)
• Economic denunciation of garden cities, « particularly
expensive given the extensions of roadways, pipework, the
large number of foundations, structural works and roofs ».
• Therefore, construction has everywhere to favour housing
blocks, whose « reduced cost [permits] to improve comfort ».
• As for the cost of construction itself, assertion is only based on
arithmetic evidence, without any reference whatsoever to
observations : a very questionable approach.
• As for the cost of public networks, another arithmetic
evidence, that will become recurrent… but is equally
questionable.
Drancy : what was built in-between
(Second programme by the Office de la Seine,1935)
Source : Henri Sellier, Une cité pour tous
(Texts presented by Marrey (B.), Ed. du Linteau, Paris, 1998, p. 203).
And later ?
Academic views of the 1950’S and 1960’s
• The Faculty of Law and Economics continued to crown
doctoral works without these being based on facts.
• The source of such an attitude is not to be found in the sphere
of economic thinking.
• References cited by economic authors prove that they
matured their views under the influence of an understanding
of modernity propagated by architects and town-planners.
• The kind of profession of faith that held sway hereafter
perfectly reflected professional interests of specialists
involved in construction.
Conclusion
• Two opposite views : the first favouring the city of houses
project, the latter favouring housing blocks.
• The lack of factual bases did not prevent the latter from
contributing to real effects…
• …but it resulted in a gap between construction culture sought
by the elites and the popular perception of the problem.
• Similar gaps would undoubtedly happen if, for whatever
reason, we once again cultivated views of project economics
subject to a doctrine rather than to observations.
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