• Wei Shen

What can we learn from this former abattoir in Paris before planning a home interior renovation?

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

Trained as an architect, I always find my heart beats faster when talking about residential interior design and styling. This strong obsession has been proved again after the recent confinement due to the global pandemic. We need a delicately planned and decorated space for our everyday life.

Because the quality of a home interior is playing an extremely critical role in shaping our physical and mental well-being.

It is easy to understand that we need a healthy and well-designed home space. But what is considered a good residential interior environment? Are the qualities of a good home interior design the same to everyone?

I've been asked the question of "how do you come up with a concept" many times over the years of working as an architect and a designer. Today we are going to discuss how to plan your home renovation with the right concept.

So, what is a design concept?

A design concept has to solve your present dwelling problems.

Most design concepts are based on the consideration of solving practical issues, which can work as a universal guideline when it comes to planning.

Let's start by looking at an architectural example. According to Le Corbusier’s (famed Swiss-French architect and one of the pioneers of what is now called modern architecture) concept of modern architecture, what was the root of the so-called “minimalism”? After World War II, the need for housing was at an unprecedented high, Meanwhile, new breakthroughs in building materials made mass production with a low-cost possible. Under such circumstances, the concept of modern architecture which pursued efficiency, simplicity, practicality, and serving the vast majority was in form. Le Corbusier was commissioned to design a multi-family residential housing project for the people of Marseille that were dislocated after the bombings on France.

Interior views of the typical units in the Unite d’Habitation. Each unit has a two-story-high living room and a balcony, which allows abundant natural light to get in. Images from

The building Unite d’Habitation, designed as a "vertical garden city," as opposed to the construction of villas, was an innovative integration of a system of distributing goods and services that provides independent support to the dwelling unit, responds to the needs of its residents and ensures operational autonomy in relation to the outside world.

The building holds 337 apartments of 23 types, varying from bachelor apartments to such for families with 8 children, accommodating up to 1600 residents. Each apartment occupies two levels (see images above), and stretches from one side of the building to the other, with a balcony bathed in sunlight, all of which are based on the concept of serving essential human needs in a modulized unit.

Le Corbusier’s idea of this “vertical garden city” was based on bringing the villa within a larger volume that allowed for the inhabitants to have their own private spaces with a high level of living dignity, but outside of that private sector they would shop, eat, exercise, and gather together.

This is a typical example of an architectural concept. After more than half a century has passed, it still has its practicality to a certain extent in our society, especially in the fast-developing metropolitans.

Concept, should not serve for marketing purposes, nor should work as a slogan to draw attention. Its mission is simply to look for answers from our dilemmas hence finding solutions to our existing problems.

Then how to find out the problems that we need to solve? Here are some rule of thumbs:

Your activities determine the function of your home space.

Take the Parc de la Villette in Paris as an example, which was built on the site of former abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and the national wholesale meat market, designed by architect Bernard Tschumi, as part of an urban redevelopment project.

Tschumi did not design the park in a traditional mindset where landscape and nature are the predominant forces behind the design. Rather he envisioned Parc de la Villette as a place of culture where natural and artificial are forced together into a state of constant reconfiguration and discovery. For the architect, Parc de la Villette was not meant to be a picturesque park reminiscent of centuries past; it was more of an open expanse that was meant to be explored and discovered by those that visited the site. For instance, the most iconic features of this park are those red sculptural pieces called follies (see images below). Visitors view and react to those follies in a way that varies according to their different activities. A folly is a performance stage when you hold a presentation on it; it is a rain canopy when you need a shelter from a sudden rain; it also becomes a movie set if you are shooting a scene in it.

Parc de la Villette-red folly as user-defined space-deconstructive architecture