The Nemausus social housing project has, since it was completed in 1987, become so well know that it is difficult to put its radical qualities into proper perspective. The use of industrial materials (concertina garage doors for balconies, metalwork decking, aluminum open stairs) is indeed radical, but does not derive from any intention to shock or to be radical for its own sake.
Among the key questions was the definition of a “good apartment”; a good apartment was, quite simply, as big an apartment as possible. A good apartment was flexible, changeable. And a good apartment was inexpensive. That is the democratic aspect.
Next comes the question of the site. Nimes is a town near the Mediterranean, with a good weather for much of the year and a tradition of living outdoors. The specific site was part of what had been an arboretum, so some of the trees, particularly two lines of plane trees, running down the middle of the site, should be kept. The surrounding townscape is a mixture of low-level housing and light industry. That is the contextual aspect.
Maximum apartment size was provided for by minimizing communal spaces such as stairways and halls. Flexibility was created by dividing seventeen different modules for apartment layouts (one-room studio, split-level, tri-level, etc…) mixed into the 114 apartments contained in the two blocks. The low cost requirement was met by using prefabricated industrial elements for interior and exterior fittings (the building shell is thin concrete cased in aluminium sheeting). The balconies provide outdoor living to the full: full-depth concertina doors allow the balcony to be completely integrated with the main living space.
Conway Lloyd Morgan, extract from Jean Nouvel : Les éléments de l’architecture, Adam Biro, 1999