Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Place de Toscane, Val d'Europe, France

Architect: Pier Carlo Bontempi Architettura Civile & Disegno Urbano, Parma, Italy; Pier Carlo Bontempi, principal; Giuseppe Greci, project manager; Fabio Paoletti, design architect




New Design & Construction – more than 30,000 sq.ft.

Winner: Pier Carlo Bontempi Architettura Civile & Disegno Urbano

People's Piazza

By Martha McDonald

Drive a bit east of Paris, France, (or take a 45-minute metro ride) and you arrive at the town of Val d'Europe, home of Euro Disney and Place de Toscane, a new mixed-use traditionally styled development built on what was formerly an empty lot in the heart of the town.

The town itself was founded in 1987 and based on an urban plan created by Jaque Robertson of Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York City. (See Traditional Building, June 2007, page 10.) Built within a traditional framework of boulevards, streets and large and small squares and parks, the 290-acre mixed-use development features distinctly French architecture, with homes and communities built around public areas. Included are residential neighborhoods as well as commercial, cultural and institutional facilities, parking, a metro station and bus terminal and a 1.2-million-sq.ft. retail center.

Designed by Pier Carlo Bontempi Architettura Civile & Disegno Urbano of Parma, Italy, Place de Toscane fits into this plan as a new traditional urban community. It grew out of a competition sponsored by Euro Disney and EPA, the French National Urban Planning office. The program called for an urban block with a public piazza, mixed-use buildings, including residential, commercial and offices, and an architectural character inspired by the regional architecture of the Ile de France. The idea was also to create a people's piazza with no large public buildings. Other requirements of the program called for a connection to the adjoining shopping center and an opening to the soon-to-be-built town hall.

The result is a group of historically inspired, mostly three-story buildings set around an elliptical piazza with restaurants, bistros, shops and a bank on the ground floor, and apartments on the upper floors. The project incorporates approximately 175,000 sq.ft. of built space organized around a large, 35,000-sq.ft. piazza. Included are 309 apartments and approximately 26,000 sq.ft. for 13 retail units. To keep cars out of sight as much as possible, there are 288 underground parking places for residents and another 166 places reserved for retail use.

"The difficulty was the fact that there wasn't an important civic building to become the visual focus of the piazza," says Pier Carlo Bontempi, principal of Pier Carlo Bontempi Architettura Civile & Disegno Urbano. "Therefore we used the elliptical shape that doesn't place any point before the others."

"The large piazza is modeled after the Anfiteatro piazza in Lucca, Italy," notes Fabio Paoletti, design architect. "In fact, it is the same size and shape. The architecture, on the contrary, is inspired by the local architecture of the Ile-de-France and is designed with a sensitivity that is distinctly Italian."

"The Ile de France is the most central France region, where Paris is located," says Bontempi. "Its architecture has a traditional Nordic character: roofs with high slopes, simple volumes and massing with openings fairly contained. This architecture has also been influenced by Classical style even on the simplest buildings, resulting in a simple elegance, even in the more modest buildings of the region. Place Toscane follows these regional architectural characters and compositional models, by their nature already well prepared to receive a small Italian taste."

"The idea was to build a piazza showing the French taste characterizing the 'Ile-de-France' district," Bontempi explains. "We alternated simple buildings and more refined ones, creating a harmonic overall variety without repetition. The stucco details give a refined overall look to the buildings. The façades are formal with pediments and a rigid composition. The heights, colors and architecture have created the right hierarchy for the buildings. This shows that you can create beautiful public spaces using many small details."

Although it is not in the center of the elliptical piazza, the focal point of the piazza is a tall fountain in the shape of an obelisk with 12 water jets pouring water into two basins. At almost 30 ft. tall, it has become a place where people gather. Made of Massangis stone, the basin of the fountain is almost 14 ft. in dia., while its base is just over 26 ft. in dia. The piazza itself is made of Comblanchien stone and granite paving.

"The fountain is located not at the center of the piazza with respect to the ellipse, but it is at the heart of the life of the piazza," says Bontempi. He explains that the fountain was designed to keep the visual focus completely within Place de Toscane. "This was successful, thanks to the excellent quality of the fountain itself."

The main entry to the piazza is at the northeast end of the ellipse, facing the corner of the block and the town square with a new Modernist town hall. The entry is designated by two larger buildings. "They are similar to the other buildings, but the scale and massing are different to show that they are the main anchor to the piazza," says Paoletti.

Opposite the main entry, on the southern end of the piazza, is an entry to the glass-covered shopping arcade. It features stone pillars and glass doors to give a formal entry point and to coordinate with the look of the shopping area.

In addition to the doorways to the shopping area and the main entry, the piazza also has two large passageways leading to smaller, more private courtyards on either side. These courtyards provide access to the street as well. Although the piazza is the center of the project, the homes and buildings of Place de Toscane can be entered either from the street, from the piazza or through one of the smaller courtyards. The presentation of the piazza carries over to the street, where the facades of the buildings continue the historical appearance.

Construction on Place de Toscane began in the spring of 2004 and it was completed by the end of 2006. All of the materials and the workers came from France. The developer was Nexity Fereal of Paris and the general contractors were Legendre of Juvisy, and Val d'Oise Paysage of Pierrelaye. Architectural moldings and columns were supplied by Haddonstone, Paris, and windows were built and installed by Oxxo of Ivry Sur Seine. Doors came from Sedib, Ivry Sue Seine, and roofing tile from LaFarge Couverture, Paris.

"It has been a vibrant public space from the beginning," says Paoletti. "For example, schoolchildren often bring their lunches and come to eat here. We could not have foreseen that." He adds that the apartments sold out quickly during the construction and that the values have increased by about 30% each year, "due to the building quality and the pleasant environment."

"I think that Place de Toscane is really a success," says Bontempi. "The busy life going on around it is the proof. I think it can represent a pattern for future developments." And indeed, this just might be the case. Bontempi is working on other similar mixed-use projects, "but the elliptical piazza remains, at the moment, a unique case."  



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