The Eye

Paris’ Monumental Suburban Housing Projects Challenge Ideas About How the French Live

Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (1)
Les Tours Aillaud, Cité Pablo Picasso, Nanterre, 2014.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

Since 2011, French photographer Laurent Kronental has been working on an ongoing series documenting life on the edge of Paris in the “grands ensembles.” These monumental housing projects were built between the 1950s and the 1980s on the outskirts of major French cities as answers to a dearth of housing and an influx of foreign migrants. Aging monolithic concrete structures with an almost alien presence in the French landscape, they are a far cry from the Haussmannian apartment blocks that dominate central Paris and the world’s collective imagination about how the French live.

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (22)
Jacques, 82, Le Viaduc et les Arcades du Lac, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, 2015.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (10)
Les Orgues de Flandre, 19th arrondissement, Paris, 2014.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (8)
Le Pavé Neuf, Noisy-le-Grand, 2015.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

Kronental said in an artist’s statement that he is “fascinated by these projects’ ambitious and dated modernistic features” that “are today often stigmatized by the media and marginalized by public opinion.” He hopes that his images provide “sharp contrast with these cliché views” and celebrate the often overlooked “urban veterans who have aged there.”

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (14)
Denise, 81, Cité du Parc and cité Maurice-Thorez, Ivry-sur-Seine, 2015.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (11)
Nicole, 73, Cité Curial-Cambrai, 19th arrondissement, Paris, 2015.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (3)
José, 89, Les Damiers, Courbevoie, 2012.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

Punctuated by the occasional human silhouette, the images make the housing projects otherwise look like ghost towns.

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (2)
Joseph, 88, Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, 2014.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (4)
Josette, 90, Vision 80, Esplanade de La Défense, 2013.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (13)
Jean, 89, Puteaux-La Défense, 2011.

Photo by Laurent Kronental
 

“Exposing these unsung and underestimated suburban areas is a means to reveal the poetry of aging environments slowly vanishing,” he writes, “and with them, the memory of modernist utopia.”

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (17)
Lucien, 84, Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, 2014.

Photo by Laurent Kronental
 

Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (12)
Les Tours Aillaud, Cité Pablo Picasso, Nanterre, 2014.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

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Laurent Kronental - Souvenir d'un Futur (19)
Roland, 85, Les Arcades du Lac, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, 2015.

Photo by Laurent Kronental

Kronental’s photos are currently on exhibit at the French National Library until Feb. 7. The full set, including some close-up portraits of the elderly residents, can be viewed on his website.

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