National Historic Context
The Beisson city was built in Aix-en-Provence between 1959 and 1961, during the Thirty Glorious (1945-1975).
An important period in the history of French architecture that saw the birth of the specific form of the collective social housing of these years, that of the Grand Ensembles.
In the mid-1950s, France experienced an unprecedented housing crisis, the gravity of which remains in the collective memory through the memory of the call of Abbé Pierre, his famous "Mes amis, au secours" launched in 1954 on Radio Luxembourg following the deaths in Paris of several people, adults and children, badly housed or expelled.
The causes are diverse, including:
- A dilapidated and unsanitary housing stock resulting from a virtual blockage of construction for about thirty years. In 1954, more than 40% of dwellings had no running water and 90% had no shower room.
- Sustained population growth resulting from the post-war baby boom.
- The return of returnees from North Africa.
The public authorities, through a powerful ministry, the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Planning (MRU), will set up a series of actions centered around the issue of social housing: experimental projects, national competitions, plans and programmes aimed at building as quickly, cheaply and for the greatest number.
One of these programs was authorized in 1951 by Eugene Claudius-Petit, Minister of Reconstruction and Urban Planning. 10,000 housing units in "standard constructions" must be built as part of the so-called "Industrial sector"which has three main objectives:
- a first, economic measure aimed at reducing construction costs,
- a second technique, which advocates industrialization and rationalization through the use of heavy prefabrication.
- a third, social by the hygienism of the Athens Charter – Space – Sun – Greenery – with particular attention to the housing cell which will henceforth have to integrate modern comfort equal for all.
Although the state’s performance in solving the housing crisis in terms of production profitability, hygiene and comfort was recognized at the time, its application is strongly criticized.
We denounce, on the one hand, urban planning zoning, and on the other hand the heavy prefabrication which gave rise to a character-less architecture, designed for families-types intended to live in cells-types assembled by means of cranes moving linearly on rails that produce standardized forms, repetitive and monotonous.
However, in this context, a number of architects managed to change or even to escape this serial architecture of the "crane path" by proposing more humanistic architectural alternatives to the problem of mass housing that distance themselves from the rationalist and functionalist excesses of Modern Movement. This is the case in Aix-en-Provence, with Louis Olmeta the architect of the Cité Beisson.