Passage 56 / Rue Saint-Blaise / 20th arrondissement in Paris
Notes from research trip to Paris
The research subject for studies conducted through Artecitya was a community garden (jardin partagé) at 56 Saint-Blaise street in the 20th arrondissement in Paris. Launched by local authorities in 2005, the initiative was part of GPRU – Grand projet de renouvellement urbain [Grand project of urban renewal]. Architecture studio aaa (l’atelier d’architecture autogérée) led by Doina Petrescu and Constantin Petcou, was invited to execute the Passage 56 project. Prior to this, the studio had already created a similar garden (called ECObox) in the 18th arrondissement, which became their trademark project. The garden was physically established a year later, after public consultations in Saint-Blaise quarter, held during district meetings, garage sales or Christmas markets.
The empty space between two buildings did not serve any particular function; because of the windows in walls of the buildings around it, it could not be used for development. Thus, it became an abandoned site and a garbage dump used by drug addicts. As a result of discussions held between the architects and local citizens, a community garden with four distinct zones was created: composting unit and dry toilet in the back part of the garden; a zone for individuals plots as well as a shared one; a meeting space with a small plaza and a common table for group gatherings, and finally – a gate that can open entirely with a superstructure housing the garden’s office, library and archive that can also be used as a shelter from cold in winter days. On the roof of the construction, the architects placed solar panels, which as of this year are accompanied by beehives. A few years ago, users of the site established an association whose membership is open to anyone who would like to obtain a key to “Passage 56”.
For research purposes, a series of meetings with the garden’s designers, co-authors and users was organized. Our interlocutors included architects Doina Petrescu and Constantin Petcou, Anne-Marie Vuystyke, who heads the association, Jean-Laurent from AMAP grocery co-op and Marianne – a visitor that has been coming to the garden for more than a decade. Research meetings had an almost familial character, which was certainly generated by our interlocutors and the site itself. For many, stepping into ”Passage 56” is like being invited into someone else’s home – on Saturday afternoons, the hosts offer their home-baked goods at the common table and invite visitors for coffee; anyone is welcome to visit, relax and interact. Active members of the association show visitors around the garden, presenting its concepts and particular plants, explaining why the garden’s insufficient exposure to the sun results in lack of grown fruits and vegetables. Everyone agrees that this fact has an unquestionable impact on the garden’s character, which serves as a landscape, backdrop or refuge for new neighborly and interpersonal relations. The people who come here do so to attend to the crops, but to spend time together in a green space. The lack of produce is compensated by AMAP [Association pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne] – an association supporting organic farming that meets in the garden every Wednesday to distribute organic groceries. All of the interlocutors note that the garden has made an impact on their lives. The architect Constantin Petcou emphasizes that “Passage 56” is a generator of public space – opening its doors wide open to invite the exterior world into its intimate space. Petcou notes the time intervals that impacted the way project participants participate in the site’s existence. Creation of the garden not only influenced the life of the district, but also individual life stories.
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The research trip is part of the collaboration of LAZNIA CCA with Institute for Public Space Research at Academy of Fine Art in Warsaw, within “Artecitya” project. The effects of research trips are published in the book “Artecitya. For whom is art in public space?” summerizing the process.