French photographer Laurent Kronental’s latest photo series, “Les Yeux des Tours” views of Paris, are framed by the quirky windows of the Tours Aillaud, and by the subtle differences in which the spaces around them are inhabited.
Eighteen towers filled with more than 1,600 apartments were built by architect Emile Aillaud between 1973 and 1981. The housing complex is found in the Pablo Picasso district of Nanterre, an inner suburb of Paris. The residential towers range from 7 to 38 floors, yet each share peculiar windows shaped like futuristic portholes.
The Grand Ensembles, the name given to social housing projects that sprawl across the outskirts of Paris, are monumental in design but a failure in their utopian vision of contemporary innovation. Kronental considers the towers as some of the most spectacular of the Grand Ensembles built in the post-war economic boom in France. For him, photographing these buildings was a form of nostalgia, a way of satisfying a deep sense of childhood wonder and curiosity.
Each picture is perfectly composed through an apartment window frame. This limitation offers a visual rhythm. Many of the images in the series simply focus on the exterior view, while others include a glimpse into the lives of residents.
“The mundane and the magic intermesh and merge through the porthole that acts as a two-way eye, the window of a flying living room, of a spaceship galley,” explains a statement about Kronental’s series.
“Fascinated both by the architectural venture as much as by its underlying utopian paradigm, I wish to invite the spectator to discover the intimacy of the housing and to find clues of human presence within this exceptional “Grand Ensemble.” The “Tours Nuages” of “Cité Pablo Picasso” captivate by their curves and lines, their sheer size, their colored mosaic facades and their porthole-like windows whose Janus-like eyes observe both the world outside and the world inside. They are telling features of our society and of man’s aspirations.”
Public housing tells the history of the place and people within it. Design, functionality, and cost all play a part in whether a particular project is viewed as a success. And if all three align, it will stand the test of time.
The future of the towers is uncertain. The district is set to be modernized in 2018. A petition has been established to engage a dialogue with the main proprietors of the development. It is likely the use of parts of the towers will change and with it the lives of the current inhabitants of the complex.
All images by Laurent Kronental