For a start, this is no ordinary apartment block. The windows of the Tours Aillaud, a huge social housing project in Paris, are of very different shapes and forms: round, square, cat’s eye-shaped. In each photograph Kronental positions the window at the centre of each image so that our view is drawn simultaneously inside and out.
Through the window lies the vast cityscape with its distant sparkling lights. Inside: the intimacy of everyday life.
In this series of striking and pure images, Laurent Kronental forces us to look and think about the relationship between inside and outside.
In each image he contrasts the sense of human scale, human needs and tastes of the interior, with the cosmic, wide open, high-rise view beyond. Life inside, life outside: a duality of experience. Homes stacked one on top of the other, where people live their lives and appropriate the space in different ways. Small people, large buildings, high structures, big city.
The design of the windows in each of these blocks is distinctly space-agey. But also, reminiscent of 1960’s films portraying ‘life’ in the future, they are cold, tin-can environments. Removed and remote from the real world they are other worldly, and somewhat futuristically bleak.
But what makes these images particularly poignant is how the residents have treated the windows. Their personal sense of décor and what they deem ‘the right way’ to dress a window, is how they have always done it – regardless of where they live now. A window is a window and this is how to make it a feature of the room, to add privacy and soften the interior. And so they use net curtains, pelmets, drapes and poles – like in any domestic space. This is where sci-fi meets semi-detached suburbia, head on. And in this instance it very definitely shows that people need to express their own tastes, and will not be dictated to. This is their home, after all.
It is probably not quite how the architects envisaged it. But what did they think people would do?
These vast experimental housing projects are about building in a scale of quantities. And so the architecture is dominant, aggressive and yes, brutal. But inside, the inhabitants have done their best to soften the environment. The industrial-looking portholes – designed to a severe geometry – have either been disguised or ignored. Perhaps people just got used to it. Because if you live with something long enough, you stop noticing it and it become mundane.
High-rise dwelling is a unique experience. Made popular in the ’60’s as the answer to social housing to replace slums, they created other problems including social isolation and of course a heightened risk of fire. On higher levels you will certainly have a spectacular view, however this is not a home that would suit everyone. If you don’t have a choice, if this your only option, then you will have to make the most of it, and make it yours.
Le Corbusier famously stated: “A house is a machine for living in.” Here, we see a city within a city, an architect’s vision for a way of life. But what Kronental shows us is is how they occupants have turned an experimental machine into a home – through soft furnishings and wall paper. These are the things that people can control. They make their own choices and they live with it.
And so there is something quite unsettling when hi-tech meets chintz. A clash of values. A power struggle – of tastes. But in the end, we know who wins. The occupant is the one who decides what they want, and what they can live with. Their décor ( based on what they can afford and what they like) draws the room in and leaves the rest of the world outside.
Laurent Kronental spent two years working on this project. Clearly he got to know some of the residents very well and although they are not shown, we get a strong sense of who they are, from they way they live. As a photographer he creates visuals with great sensitivity. Some of the images positively shimmer with light.
Photography can change the way you see things.
It fires your creative energy and heightens your subjective sensibilities towards beauty, pathos and mood. It draws you in and captures your imagination and emotion: sustaining a feeling that stays with you. In Les Yeux des Tours Laurent Kronental tells a story; it is simple and it resonates, because it feels true.
Unfortunately I do not have permission to reproduce Laurent Kronental’s work. I have created links to his website – definitely worth checking out.