Makery is on-site to accompany the construction of a future shelter for refugees in Paris. Decided by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and entrusted to architect Julien Beller and nonprofit Emmaüs Solidarité, the center will open in mid-October, based on a co-design by architects, graphic designers, social workers and botany artists.
An emergency construction site in response to an emergency—on Ney Boulevard in Paris, construction began this autumn, well before Emmaüs Solidarité’s sign announcing a “temporary welcome center” was duly posted. The reception and orientation center will open in mid-October in the north of Paris. Spurred by Emmaüs Solidarité and architect Julien Beller—member of the now-defunct Exyzt collective, adept of temporary architecture and founder of the 6b cultural lot in Saint-Denis—, the former French railways warehouse is undergoing a complete transformation.
Makery decided to accompany this more than exemplary construction site. After interviewing Julien Beller last week, we met other contributors, architects, botanists, graphic designers, illustrators…, who, under a tight deadline, are pooling their energy to transform this wasteland into a warm and welcoming center.
This highly visible center will be unlike any existing refugee camp. Neither Calais Jungle, nor Red Cross camp (with its signposted tents and alleys), it was conceived based on unprecedented cooperation between social workers specialized in migrant populations, Emmaüs Solidarité, architects and artists. “It’s sensitive, attractive. Artistic intervention is not just for museums, it can also be applied to emergency shelter,” says Gonzague Lacombe, another graphic designer from Exyzt, who is working with illustrator Laure du Faÿ on the signs for the center. “At first, we were worried about doing something too decorative, but these people in distress also deserve something warm and welcoming.”
Liliana Motta, a botany artist working on a plant reception (bagged fruit trees), was preoccupied with the same concept: “We thought about how to welcome people in a way that would be pleasant, joyful, above all, not cold.” Architect, graphic artists, illustrators, botanist… Julien Beller called upon a wide range of practices to participate in this extreme site.
Moucharabieh to forget the fences
Welcoming fruit trees
Artist Liliana Motta works on industrial wastelands and botanical history (she was in charge of Paris’ Garden of the City of Immigration in 2013). She immediately agreed to participate in the Ney Boulevard construction site. “I was in a big hotel, and when I entered the room, I found a fruit bowl,” she says. “I thought, that’s it—when you welcome people, you offer them fruit.” 40 fruit trees are scattered around the future entrance in big bags to make them portable. Half are pear, apple and plum trees; the other half are evergreen Japanese loquat trees (which bear their fruit in May).
“Most of the trees are not ‘French’, they come from Asia,” says the botanist. “The bags respond to the transient nature of the space and travel a bit (also so I don’t have to see what garbage lies in the soil…).” The plant welcome is a way to fit into the center: “Instead of lining up treated pine trees, I zigzag chestnut trees (the wood used for farm fences) to maintain a rough feel.”
A “strong gesture for a warm welcome”
Julien Beller asked the pioneer of inflatable architecture, Hans-Walter Müller, 81, to contribute to the centerpiece by covering the containers of the welcome area with a spectacular inflatable structure, made of plastic held under tension by pressurized air.
“Under the 900m2 bubble,” says Bruno Morel, director of Emmaüs Solidarité, “we will install containers for individual interviews and rest areas to have a coffee while waiting for a suitable solution within the day.”
8 colors for “everyday life”
“Just because we’re working on something serious, doesn’t mean we can’t use color,” says graphic designer Gonzague Lacombe. He and illustrator Laure du Faÿ are among the last ones to contribute graphics and signage to the site.
Part of their contribution, discussed “as a team with the architect and Emmaüs Solidarité,” he insists, are colors on the ground to indicate paths, universal black and white icons (because the people arriving speak all the languages of the world), “work on the tarps with transparent tape, like curtains, to make the space more welcoming.”
While accustomed to doing ephemeral cultural interventions, the duo is also involved in social initiatives. In June 2016, they designed a recreation space with refugee children sheltered in a former barracks in Darmstadt, Germany.
At the entrance, near the reception, are pink arrows and signage icons. On the ground will be painted colored marks to guide people to their living units, small villages made up of colored wood and tarps within the old warehouse. It’s a method that Gonzague had experimented with Constructlab in São Paulo, in 2015, to transform a storehouse into a temporary cultural center, with the participation of the residents.
On the white tarps of the dining areas, transparent colored tape will let in light. “Using the 8 basic colors structures the space and brightens this rather harsh factory environment,” says Gonzague.
Is this a model to welcome migrant populations?
Can the Ney Boulevard construction site’s accelerated method, techniques for emergency architecture, temporary and low-cost shelter, constitute a reproducible model?
“We hope it will inspire politicians,” says Gonzague.