If you've been to Paris you know the landscape. They're one of the few places in the world that for years, have outlawed skyscrapers. Some would say it's for the views and the heritage; but most argue it's due to the sustainability of tall buildings and their tendencies to over densify and over populate an area. Well, within the last decade, the Paris city council voted to change that 30-year-old ban. An unpopular decision for the friends of green design, but necessary according to the city's mayor at the time.

The new law makes it possible to counter Paris' shortage of affordable housing and cushion their business district. And it’s because of this law that a new urban apartment building is being built. The 7,720-square-meter building has an interesting morphology, with a sculpted fan effect and the implementation of intermediate floors that allow a sequence to emerge within the building’s volume. Retail units, porches and hallways embellish the ground floor, creating a pedestrian level volume. Transparency, depth, various perspectives and porosity enrich the town by offering a dynamism and liveliness around the perimeter of the project.

It's located at the junction of three different urban settings just northwest of Paris in the town of Gennevilliers: the Agnettes sector, the Chandon-République eco-district, and the Calmette sector. In 2015, the architecture firm Hamonic+Masson & Associés won a competition to design the project, known as Villanova Icône—a 15 floor urban apartment building.

The project is located in a pivotal position, at the intersection of the town’s different construction periods. The district the building is located in is an urban development zone on an old industrial, brownfield site. The aim is to restructure and valorize the existing urban fabric by constituting a sustainable urban system, which will create an articulation with the surrounding, existing neighborhoods and urban fabric.

“The project must be a place for life to flourish,” says Jean-Christophe Masson, co-founder and director at Hamonic+Mason & Associés. “We have provided diversity within the collective by creating multiple exterior spaces and apartments with a range of typologies, meaning the repetition inherently found in collective housing projects is offset by uniqueness, which seeks to provide a sense of belonging and identity.”


An Emblematic Architecture

What's most interesting about the building is the complex morphology of it. According to the firm, this and ensuring a true architectural richness on the façades were some of the most challenging aspects of designing this structure. The majority of the building has white painted, smooth composite aluminum panels and white aluminum metalwork throughout the project (including balustrade railings, integrated flower boxes, etc.)

“Metal is a material that enabled us to work in fine detail,” Masson says. “What’s more, metal reflects the sky and creates a luminous and elegant effect. It also means that there is a continuity between the metalwork. The metal chosen is resilient. It’s fixed using a tube structure that is fixed into the concrete.”

When it came time to implement the use of metal panels, the firm turned to trusted building information modeling and design software by Vectorworks, Inc. to properly execute the design.

The metal panels were a detail that the program enabled the firm to develop with precision. For the wall panels, the firm along with Vectorworks, were able to create simple extrusions using the push/pull tools available to model directly onto the face of the wall. The program’s intelligent cursor automatically detects surfaces and lets you model on that surface; it can be a vertical surface (used in this project) or any surface in the space.

“One thing to be mindful of when modeling is the level of detail,” says Luc Lefebvre, product marketing manager—architecture at Vectorworks. “We didn’t model the attachment system such as nuts and bolts. We simply kept the modeling to a minimum so it could be used to generate the elevation views. Details can be added in the documentation as an overlay drafting method.”

One example of this was with the design of the guardrails. The guardrails design was managed with what the design software calls “plug-in object styles” using its native fence tool. Saving the various guardrail settings is a huge help during the design process as the user can easily change one guardrail style to another by simply replacing it.


The Conception of Complex Projects

From exploring form, powerful 3D modeling tools and rendering capabilities, users can quickly access various concept diagrams to help communicate their design ideas to the client. Software such as this can also help in many ways when it comes to designing with metal panels. Metal panels were selected for their luminosity, continuity and the ease of working with the material. In the designs of this project, there’s nothing the same.

There’s a lot of customization and various shapes that are required for this design. And that’s great when it comes to working with BIM. There are plenty of tools available for users to customize their designs. When you get into the customization of metal panels or applying metal panels on a guardrail design, free form and 3D modeling tools can support that process and help the architect design as opposed to just drawing.

“We're able to simply use the wall surfaces and extrude from it the custom pattern of these metal panels,” Lefebvre says. “Everything is random on this building, there's nothing that’s modular in design, which was the architect's choice. Vectorworks was able to model on the surface of the wall and at the same time study the design. This allows us to generate the 2D documentation and elevations. When attaching data to those panels it's easier to generate material takeoffs to easily get the cost-per-square-foot for these metal panels.”

Building information modeling allows you to quantify and measure square footage and quantity take-offs such as façade materials like stamp concrete or custom metal panels. It also gives you the ability to explore design attributes and allows you to gain efficiency in managing the more complex aspects of the project. For Hamonic+Masson & Associés, there were many different aspects to manage, such as the morphology, roof terraces, guardrails, landscaping and the multi-level underground parking with a courtyard built over the structure.

With all the different aspects and the uniqueness of this project, it’s important to have a software program that allows the user to manage changes as the design evolves during the design phases.

“The fan-shaped tower creates a different floor plan on every level as opposed to a more repetitive unit style design,” says Lefebvre. “And the metal panel is random. But that is what makes great architecture.”

According to Masson, correctly managing the interior and exterior passages in detail drawing, as the project has many exterior balconies and terrace space, was another challenge for the firm, however made easier by the design software. It's not the first project they've done that has this concept behind it; but it's a new task since most firms haven’t had the chance to design taller buildings in this area.

“Vectorworks facilitates the conception and completion of complex projects,” Masson explains. “It is efficient and functions well with our architectural style and our concept development.”

The team of engineers, designers, economists and contractors have worked hard to ensure the success of the project. The development is due to be completed in early 2020.