Joëlle Martin

Joëlle Martin

Cité - a neighbourhood - a collective place-consciousness. Academy of Architecture Maastricht (AAM) (Netherlands)

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In a time when more humans live in urban spaces than ever before, and normative residential buildings tend to diminish the everyday experience of the dwellers, I believe that the original meaning of cité is worth reviving as it stands for the qualities of human inhabitation. In the French language cité designates a particular place within a space - the character of a neighbourhood to which people feel attached to and identify with. Researching on places within spaces that incorporate a sense of communal identity directed me towards medieval urban enclaves: the typology of Hofies and Begijnhofs. They can be analysed as cities within other cities, constructed as enclosed ensemble their introvert character reveres the usual access to the houses that allows the complex as a whole to be used from its interior. Mostly, they were dedicated to provide affordable shelter for elderly people with a lower income or religious women who lived in community without taking vows.

This typology served as main inspiration. Instead of forging a new image, I was interested in learning from existing typologies in order to propose an alternative to current single-housing situations. Therefore, the design process consisted of fieldwork by visiting and analysing multiple Hofies within the Netherlands and Belgium. Eventually, the Sint-Martinushofie in Maastricht served as main reference. Having an identical scale, shape and orientation than my chosen place in the new residential area in the Sphinxkwartier, I started with simply copy pasting this Hofie into my location. A surface that reaches approximately 10 acre providing 13 modest houses with a communal courtyard. On the one hand this is a humble approach by putting myself into the background, on the other hand it is a bold statement towards current ways of designing. The challenge was to find the right balance between adopting and adapting. Minor changes have been made by reflecting on topics such as how to create a sense of community and respect individuality, how to design an enclosure that connects instead of divides (e.g. I designed an overhanging roof that protects and serves as intermediate space, I added to each house a small front yard that can be appropriated by one inhabitant, which relieves the pressure on the collective courtyard, and undertook minor modification in the interior). All these elements I have observed and accumulated through my fieldwork and eventually adapted those which I felt would be an added value.

I firmly believe that this typology is worth reviving. One does not have to reinvent the wheel to be good. Undoubtably, this position critically reflects on architecture that is occupied with being spectacular and complex for the sake of complexity. And in my opinion expressing nothing but itself, its form and the originality of its author.

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