The Lormont housing development in Bordeaux

Jean Nouvel and Mia Hägg team up again in France

Habiter Autrement joins the French Pritzker-prize winner in an award-winning social housing development

It's not unusual for small architecture firms to collaborate with the big boys, but it's rare that they get to be the lead architect. This has happened not once but three times for Habiter Autrement. Set up by Swedish architect Mia Hägg, the Paris and Locarno-based practice has led on a series of social housing projects, in partnership with Ateliers Jean Nouvel.

"He's one of the few 'star' architects interested in the question of social housing," says Hägg. Hägg was actually in Nouvel's employ from 1998-2001, (and on the staff at Herzog & de Meuron from 2002-2007), before founding her own firm. "When you work in these highly competitive, high-performing offices, the average age is low, and if you want to develop your own thinking, you have to move on," she explains.



Habiter Autrement has concentrated on rethinking the common assumptions of housing, looking for ways to go beyond the standard solutions often imposed by clients and construction companies."The field of public housing is characterised by legislative constraints and limited budgets, frequently leading to compromised designs," Hägg says. 

So for the Lormont housing estate in Bordeaux, Habiter Autrement and Nouvel have pushed to give residents more space. "When you look at public housing today, you have this strict brief that you need an entrance hall, a corridor, a separate kitchen and eating area. Everything becomes compartmentalised," says Hägg. Her solution was to have open lofts and to think up new ways of dividing the space. As a result, these flats are 50 per cent larger than usual.



This concentration on space means that materials are often simple or industrial, such as the corrugated iron-style cladding and the chipboard storage systems. But Hägg seems to thrive on an austere, bare-basics aesthetic, and squeezing the most out of a brief, a site, and a client. And it pays off; the development picked up the Bordeaux Agora Architecture Prize recently. To find out more, go here, to see some of  Habiter Autrement's other projects, notably its Colina de Deportes project and for Stockholm Energy Systems, (a pavilion commissioned in 2009) check out the wonderful Vitamin Green.  

And, last nut not least, for more on excellence in today's built environment, please consider our Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture, which draws together the best buildings that have broken ground since 2000.