The rebirth of the “Serpentin” public housing

September 29, 2015

Serpentin- The rebirth of the “Serpentin” public housing development in Pantin, France. The Serpentin housing complex was built by the architect Émile Aillaud during the 1950’s and 1960’s. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Courtillières neighbourhood was in decline and suffered from a degraded image.

In response to this alarming situation, the French state and local government authorities chose to implement public fundsthrough the National Urban Renewal Agency (ANRU previously known as the “Grand Projet de Ville”) in an effort to remediate the existing conditions for the welfare of the community and its residents.

In 2002, Agence RVA was awarded the contract for the design and rehabilitation of the ensemble of properties belonging to the public housing developer, HLM de Pantin, including the Serpentin housing development, the Fondsd’Eaubonne and Point-de-Pierre housing developments and a public park.

The aesthetic aspects of a building’s façade and its colour scheme were of extreme importance for the architect, but the coloured cement plaster façades were damaged over time due to multiple hasty building interventions and to the wear and tear of the fragile plaster surface material.

Architects in collaboration with a graphic designer decided of a unique and distinguished design. The street front is treated uniformly:  a continuous, vertical colour gradient signals the Serpentin within its immediate context.

The park-facing façade is treated with multiple, sparkling horizontal colour gradients, varying in length such that the building’s entryways are differentiated from one another.

The Urban Renewal Programme (PRU) and its associated funding enable the amelioration of the housing units’ spatial organisation, the modernization of each unit’s kitchen and sanitary equipment as well as increased thermal and energy performance.

The goal is to rehabilitate the Serpentin so that it meets current housing stock standards and codes.

Housing unit figures:

– 635 original housing units > 511 housing units after rehabilitation + a facilities management office;

– 21 housing unit typologies;

– 100 % of housing units with street and park views (except studio units);

– 100 % of housing units with a park view.

Construction programme:

– Complete interior renovation: only the exterior walls, floors and windows are conserved;

– Equipment and finish upgrades:

  • Installation of new electric and sanitary equipment;
  • Installation of a new controlled mechanical ventilation system;
  • Realisation of new wall and floor finishes.

Created in 1994 by Dominique RENAUD and Philippe VIGNAUD in France, Agence RVA is a multidisciplinary design firm specialising in architecture, urban planning and design and landscape architecture.

Our recent project commissions include the urban renewal master plan for the Malassis neighbourhood in Bagnolet, France, and the regional plan for the Canal d’Ourq corridor.

Project details

• Project site surface area: 75,000m²

• Housing unit density: 80 housing units / hectare

• Building dimensions: Width: 8m pre-rehabilitation, 8.40m after rehabilitation; Length: 1,060m pre-rehabilitation, 970m after rehabilitation

• Building height: 6 storeys (1 ground floor + 5 upper levels) / 16.15m

• Building footprint (in relation to site surface area): 11 %

• Gross floor area: 50,000m²

• Façade surface area: 30,000m²

• Housing units:

– Pre-existing units: 655

– Restructured units: 513

– Demolished units: 60

• Project team:

–  Architect: Agence RVA, Dominique Renaud, Philippe Vignaud and Associates

  • Principal architect: Nicolas Trentesaux

• Graphic designer: Atelier Pierre di Sciullo: 7-11 rue des Caillots, 93100 Montreuil

• Engineers/Economists: ARCOBA -ARTELIA: 45 avenue Victor Hugo – Aubervilliers, 93534 La Plaine Saint-Denis

• Landscape architect: Agence Vincent Pruvost: 47, boulevard Jeanne d’Arc, 93100 Montreuil



2001              Launch of the public tender process

2002              Laureates designated: RVA-ARCOBA-PRUVOST commissioned for the building rehabilitation project and the residential and public landscape renewal projects

2003-2005   Project design phase

2006              Grant agreement signed with the National Urban Renewal Agency (ANRU)

2007              Construction work order delivered

2008              Façade design phase

2009              Graphic designer, Pierre di Sciullo, commissioned

Additional funding allocated by the National Urban Renewal Agency (ANRU)

2010              Façade prototype realised

2011              Façade construction begins

2012              Residential and public landscape renewal project begins

2015              Construction completed

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