by Jerry ElengicalNov 18, 2022
What happens when architecture enables a community to become self-sufficient enough to feed and power itself, and create consistent jobs catering to the weakest, most vulnerable sections? One of the prominent architecture finalists for the EU Mies Award 2022, The Railway Farm (La Ferme du Rail) in Paris, France, has been conceived to follow the said thought, by a consortium of architects Grand Huit and landscaper Melanie Drevet Paysagiste, as a neighbourhood “solidarity facility” rooted in urban agriculture. The dense and abandoned stretch of land has been revitalised with a hybrid combination of agricultural production, food culture, gardening, student housing and alternative employment to transform the district, with a major chunk of it catering to the vulnerable and weakest layers of the society.
With a multifaceted programme of social welfare, the project was the winner of the call for the project "Réinventer Paris" (Reinventing Paris) launched by Paris in 2017, located at the edge of the "Petite Ceinture", a former railway that surrounds the city. Primarily, the revitalised public space defends the model of a sustainable, social and united economy, each becoming a catalyst for, and reinforcing each other, for the neighbourhood’s betterment.
"Born from the desire of residents and local associations to see a place that combines urban agriculture and solidarity grow, the Ferme du Rail aims to integrate vulnerable people. The farm offers emergency social housing and social reintegration of 15 social reintegration housing units, five social student housing units, an unheated, productive greenhouse, a restaurant open to the public, a mushroom-growing cave and a permaculture garden. Its objective is to minimise the need for energy, food and financial resources by implementing a circular economy,” share the creators who partnered up with the Municipality of Paris for this social and sustainable endeavour.
The urban design endeavour combines farming and affordable housing, powered by clean energy and beautified by green spaces. It is part of the social fabric of the neighbourhood, and is able to generate a service activity and agricultural production, ultimately creating jobs for the area’s inhabitants. “It is the eco-designed fruit of shared governance between operators and project managers during the five years of its development,” Grand Huit and Melanie Drevet share.
Forthright and functional, the farm's agro-urban programme is organised into local and territorial exchange networks, where the farmers become the main protagonists. They offer the district’s residents a set of services - collecting and treating local organic waste as well as unsold goods, market gardening, organising workshops and events, along with maintaining service for green spaces in the area, which is the underlying priority.
As a neighbourhood facility that caters to all its users as well as visitors, The Railway Farm also features a restaurant where fresh, farm-grown food items are up for tasting. It is also a stage of awareness responding to the urgent need for congregating to discuss the state of nature in the city, as well alternative food sources. "Whether, about education in market gardening and composting activities, information on sustainable or organic agriculture, the exchange of good practices around urban ecology, the Ferme du Rail is a social and cultural resource which the inhabitants of the district can take up freely,” they add.
The site was also conceived as a thinking and learning ground, for architecture students and various types of audiences, enabling the educational and social vocation of the project. Integration of learning about the beneficial, ecological building materials employed on-site, such as the structure being primarily made by wood, isolated by local straw bales and covered by cheap untreated wood was carried out. Research was led about reused materials employed, with experimentations of recycled textile for insulation, reclaimed bathroom tiles, dry stone walls made of reused Parisian sidewalk borders, as well as standing timber floor and jardiniere made by reused joineries. "The keywords are frugal, low-tech, but also innovative and performing," they say, summarising the materiality of The Railway Farm.
Name: The Railway Farm (Ferme du Rail)
Location: Paris, France
Area: 1,360 sqm (total), 1,000 sqm (usable floor area)>
Year of completion: 2019
Architects: Grand Huit and Melanie Drevet Paysagiste
Collaborators: Building technology: Scoping, Frédéric Cousin Landscape architect: Philippe Peiger Acoustical: Gamba Building advising: Pouget consultants Others: Albert & Cie Graphic design: Corentin Perrichot Construction company: Travail & Vie, APIJ BAT, Vaninetti, Chataing bois, Atelier R-ARE, Faure, CMF, Canone, Loï, Les Résillientes