The city of Paris' original plan for this 200-unit affordable housing complex included a public street passing through the middle of the project. Then it hired the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Dismayed at the thought of the daily chaos the street would bring to residents, Piano and his colleagues convinced the city to drop its idea.

Instead, they designed four six-story buildings around a central garden filled with silvery birches. The trees provide a visual filter that lends residents some privacy without blocking light, and the surrounding buildings muffle the outside sounds of honking cars and other city noises. The courtyard serves as a contemplative zone as well as a common area for casual socializing.

  • Credit: Michel Denancé

In addition to the garden, Piano applied his customary emphasis on light and transparency to the buildings themselves. Their “double skin” of fiber-reinforced concrete and terra-cotta tiles creates subtle reflections and a quality of weightlessness.