So as Malka sees it, Parisians need a way to “reclaim” the city. His idea is a modular micro-city consisting of rooms that attach to scaffolding built around existing infrastructure, like barnacles clinging to a ship. He calls it the P9 Mobile-Ghetto, and has imagined them here hanging off the side of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris.
“In a time when we are getting more and more mobile, not only regarding our phone and laptop devices, but also…the increasing number of freelancers or homeworkers, mobile-cities would totally change the uses and the morphology of the city,” Malka says. In practice, this means that the idea of a third space—in which city dwellers inhabit coffee shops and parks the way others gather in their living rooms, or regard shared bicycle programs as their own bikes—extends to include a smattering of rooms or event spaces created for the public, and run by the public. The bridge can become your meditation center; an out-of-use monument could become an art gallery.
Obvious complications with zoning and historical preservationists aside, Malka says the Voluntary Ghetto is technically plausible, and would just require using scaffolding to support shipping container-sized rooms. That said, this (conceptual) new layer of infrastructure says more about urban lifestyles than it does about feats of architecture. Would Parisians (or New Yorkers, or Londoners, or any city residents) delight in finding more intimate, indoor, spaces, or would it feel like a brash paint job on a historic city? “If there is an utopia in this project,” Malka says, “it’s more in its social dimension than its architectural aspect.”
Two quick thoughts:
1. Shipping container type structures are popular these days since they are relatively available and have a standard size. Yet, I wonder how communities would respond to the architecture that is often made with them. For lack of a better descriptor, it is boxy. It is one thing to supply affordable housing; it is another to put these sorts of designs on the Pont Neuf. Add that to the barnacle type image and it doesn’t necessarily look pretty.
2. A design like this or other recent innovations like tiny houses really can be limited by zoning laws. Major cities are often mazes of zoning regulations. While these zones exist for a reason, they can often make true innovation quite difficult. How much would cities be willing to revisit their zoning laws to allow spaces for these sorts of designs that are smaller and more flexible? I’m not imagine an overlay district – that is simply putting a temporary or permanent zoning change or exception over existing zones – but rather revisiting the whole thing to adapt to buildings and spaces in the 2010s.