The new Prairie-au-duc district singled out for its “ugliness”

Operation Ilot des îles, boulevard de la Prairie-au-duc. All concrete. – F.Brenon/20Minutes

  • In the landscape, we only see them. Massive, too high, not harmonious, misfires, etc. are the adjectives which return to evoke these constructions which have sometimes become emblems of our cities. In the Archimoche? Series, 20 Minutes is interested in buildings which do not leave indifferent, which clash, even that some qualify as “ugly”.
  • In Nantes, the Prairie-au-duc district is not yet finished but has already been criticized.
  • It brings together around ten mixed operations, to the west of the island of Nantes.

“Gray”, “depressing”, “cold”, “too square”, “too massive”, “Stalinist” “quite simply awful” … The least we can say is that the new neighborhood out of the ground around the boulevard de la Prairie-au-duc, on the Ile de Nantes, does not arouse enthusiasm for its character. It was also cited on several occasions among the constructions perceived as the ugliest in the city during the consultation organized by 20 Minutes with its readers.

The main criticisms come from walkers, attracted by the banks of the Loire, or employees from the surrounding area, many of whom take the boulevard in the mornings and evenings. “It’s really ugly, sad. I do not understand that we can let that happen right next to the Machines of the island which are, conversely, a symbol of daring and creativity, ”says Maïwen, met near the Yellow Crane. “We missed this sector, which nevertheless offers itself to all tourists. It is all the more unfortunate that around the courthouse there are
beautiful architectural things », Regrets Daniel, an executive in a community.

The shopping square in the heart of the new Prairie-au-duc district. – F. Brenon / 20Minutes

“There is an austerity that cannot be denied”

On the Quai de la Fosse, on the other side of the river, the assessment seems similar. “With hindsight, it forms like an impassable block, a concrete fortress. Were the colors prohibited? », Quips Stéphanie, leaving the Navibus. The residents of the ten operations carried out since 2016 are more indulgent. Most appreciate their apartments, the functionality of the common areas, the balconies, the “good atmosphere”. “But, we’re not going to lie to each other, the buildings are not magnificent. It’s a bit like the suburbs of the 1960s, ”comments Djibril, in front of the Aimé-Césaire school. “It’s true that it’s not very nice,” says another parent. But, honestly, I don’t care anymore. And then when the vegetation has grown, it will go better. “

This global feeling does not surprise Jean-Louis Violeau, sociologist and teacher at Nantes School of Architecture. “There is indeed in this district an austerity that cannot be denied, analyzes the one who has also devoted a
work on the island of Nantes. There is an authoritarian side, quite smooth, geometric. Characteristics generally attributed to modern architecture. It may be missing a little ornaments, varieties, highlights. In fact, the real beauty of these buildings is hidden inside. “

The architectural firm Garo-Boixel signed the Îlot des îles (84 housing units) in 2017, on the edge of boulevard de la Prairie-au-duc. An operation itself singled out for its minimalist gray exteriors. “It saddens me to hear that, admits Nicole Garo. We know that there are debates on the island of Nantes and we understand that town planning can be questioned. I think pedagogy is important. When we organize visits with groups, when we explain that we have chosen a velvety concrete, that we try to give meaning in line with the history of Nantes, people seem convinced. “

“A response to the quai de la Fosse”

Would it be too easy to lay the blame on the architects? Jean-Louis Violeau is convinced of this. “We must also look at the developer, promoters, suggests the sociologist. The architect works for others with the money of others. He responds to commands. In this sector of the Ile de Nantes, for example, we have changed town planners. We also put in less resources. “” There are rules to be respected, we meet urban specifications, confirms architect Nicole Garro. On this built face of the Ile de Nantes, we were asked to respond to the opposite of the Quai de la Fosse, very mineral, fairly neutral. I understand that one can wonder about the colors but the historic city as a whole is quite neutral. Rather, it is the shopping areas that are colorful. “

An overview of the new Prairie-au-duc district.
An overview of the new Prairie-au-duc district. – F. Brenon / 20Minutes

“Aesthetics are totally subjective,” considers Jean-Luc Charles, director of Samoa, public company in charge of the development of the island of Nantes. We have a monumental boulevard in this Prairie-au-duc district, but the scale is very successful. It is necessary to give him, like others, a time of acclimatization and acceptance. “” The city takes a long time to emerge. We have to wait a little before having a final judgment, ”agrees Jean-Louis Violeau.

The boss of Samoa emphasizes that the greatest architects have intervened on these achievements. And, he too, considers that this district is lived mainly “from the inside”. “Behind the facades there is a whole system of passageways, loggias, meeting places. These buildings offer through apartments, a ceiling height of 2m70, green outdoor courtyards. All this, we do not necessarily see it at first glance. “

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