This is what the future used to look like. The Grands Ensembles, France’s answer to an increasingly urban population in the postwar years, were designed to meet all the comfort needs of modern man. The material of choice was concrete, the architecture was grandiose, and the mood was utopian. Decades later, many consider these massive housing projects failed experiments that reinforced social inequalities. For photographer Laurent Kronental, though, it’s more complicated than that. He visited dozens of Grands Ensembles in the Paris region to meet those who were there when the towers went up and the future looked very different. He spoke with R&K from Paris.
Roads & Kingdoms: What is the hardest part about working on this project?
Laurent Kronental: First, it’s discovering the neighborhood. Not all Grands Ensembles are the same. For example, Montigny Bretonneux, where you have the arcades on the lake, is very calm and quiet. At the Damiers, near where I live, it’s the same; you can take photos on your own without a problem. But if you go to Noisy-Le-Grand or Nanterre, you’re better off being with someone from there so that your presence isn’t suspicious. So that’s the first thing, discovering the neighborhood and contacting its residents. The second thing is meeting the seniors, which is even harder because it’s hard to go up to someone who’s 80 years old in the street. They’re very wary. On top of that, I look for people who have a specific appearance, which limits my choice. I look for people who move me, in their walk, in their face, in what they exude. And the third thing is to find new viewpoints in these neighborhoods. It’s really important for me to find something that’s new and that’s different, so I have to go into people’s homes, on their balconies, and on their roofs.