Death and Life of a Small French city

new housings with medieval stones to fight against town-center desertion in Villefranche-de-Rouergue

In France, people are leaving town centers for the suburbs, taking the urban activity with them. However, proximity allows for greater social interaction and environmental sustainability. How can an ancient town center be adapted to a contemporary way of life? Which architectural interventions could breathe new life into medieval stones?

Image work detail

The XII century bastide of Villefranche-de-Rouergue offers a unique urban and architectural experience. The town's compact layout of 101 blocks, 80 housing units/ha, and streets from 3m- 6m wide hosted up to 11,000 inhabitants during the Middle Ages. Today, the town is home to fewer than 1,500 and the bastide is in disrepair: 34% of buildings are vacant, 10% are nearing collapse, and 32% of shops are closed. Real estate prices have dropped, and maintaining the public space, which comprises 45% of the surface area, is difficult. These alarming data allowed us to consider dedensification and degrowth as method to propose a small-scaled architectural urbanism which preserves the patrimony’s integrity.

3 main reasons lead us for this project. The societal importance of town center desertion orientates our project to be coherent with this topic’s expectations. Solving this problem will need tens of years and is going to be crucial in our future profession. Further people’s decisions will change the way we live in cities. We believe student’s works must participate to public debates : it’s fundamental to consider uninhibited ideas as a contribution to highlight possibilities and contradictions of the current urban fabric system. We thus designed this project as operational propositions. The town council of Villefranche-de-Rouergue, which just starts procedures to stop its center’s desertion, took our project as a base for further reflections on the mutation of the bastide. The ground floor condition in France is nowadays . Large scaled urban projects design shops, technical rooms and garages making the ground floor uniform and lifeless. This project offers 8 proposals of collective housings, 3 proposals of plaza and an architectural “tool box” which bring a diversity of though on the way we can mutate the ground floor. Such proposals were designed for Villefranche but their process could be used in other cities. Historical patrimony conservation’s normative method is a heavy issue in France. Patrimony is nowadays seen as an addition of disparate elements and as a touristic attraction and terroirs’advertising. Forgetting people living in these buildings takes part of the narcissism of our patrimonial policy. We decided to look at the historical patrimony as a whole by its urban scale. Commercial and touristic ambitions are not stable values : a sustainable conservation must be freed from them. Historical patrimony as a daily experience leads this new conservation method. As Françoise Choay said, if we don’t find uses for a historical monument we better destroy it.