Christophe Lab: The Starchitect of Eastern Paris

Christophe Lab: The Starchitect of Eastern Paris
Most visitors to Paris, and certainly Parisians themselves, are familiar with a particular art form: that of the flâneur. One of the best parts of visiting Paris includes aimless wandering, sometimes getting lost, and all the while discovering new areas of the city, with its gorgeous Haussmannian buildings. But the 19th and 20th districts boast a patchwork of architectural styles. Former workers’ housing in the Mouzaïa area in the northeast of Paris is now a maze of tiny pedestrian streets, with charming villas and single-family houses covered in wisteria. Belleville’s previous metal shops and shoe factories, with their large glass windows, have been transformed into lofts and artists’ workshops. Much of eastern Paris is comprised of what architect Christophe Lab terms “architectural accidents”: A single street might contain many different styles and periods of buildings and houses, side by side, as you amble through it. And Lab is well placed to describe these “accidents” simply because he has contributed to them in Paris and elsewhere in France. My first encounter with his style of architecture happened shortly after I moved to the Gambetta area of the 20th district, close to the arrondissement’s mairie, or town hall. My apartment overlooked the Père-Lachaise cemetery in the rue des Rondeaux, a long quiet street that runs along the eastern perimeter of the cemetery. During one of my many ramblings in the area, I came across then-empty lots and decrepit buildings, but also a former button factory that has now been renovated into loft-style apartments. And … a stunning, modern house. A little like the zinc rooftops of those Haussmannian buildings all over Paris, this house’s façade also shines in the sun, but it’s made of aluminum and glass. Built in 1990, the rue des Rondeaux house sits snugly among older constructions, and is a large single-family home. Its forms suggest those of a style of architecture known as deconstructivism – Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation is a more extreme example – and this house also boasts a slightly fragmented look. Christophe Lab’s 1990 rue des Rondeaux house is made of aluminum and glass. Photo © Gérard Dusfresne Another house I’d noticed a few times in the area, in the Ménilmontant neighborhood north of Gambetta, was built in a similar style with the same materials. Lab constructed this micro-house in the rue de l’Ermitage on a plot of land measuring only 3.65 meters (12 feet) wide. This was in 1989, one year before the rue des Rondeaux house, and long before the “tiny house” movement. The rue de l’Ermitage house, built before the “tiny house” movement. Photo © Stéphane Couturier The 20th district is also home to another small Lab house, in the villa Etienne Marey. Built out from an existing structure, the initial project included copper panels, treated so they would patina to a gorgeous green, and plaster exterior walls that were painted black.

Lead photo credit : Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux.

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Allison Zinder is a gastronomy guide and culinary educator working in French food, culture, history, and art. A certified chef and pastry chef, she offers market tours, food history tours, food-related Study Abroad programs, and Food & Beverage courses at hospitality schools in Paris. Allison has lived in France for 25 years. She is passionate about sharing her deep cultural knowledge, and has created engaging educational experiences for over 4000 clients.