A Forgotten Future: The Surreal High-Rises of Paris

High Rises of Paris

Laurent Kronental spent four years documenting the “Grand Ensembles” in the Parisian suburbs and the generation living within its walls.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, the French government built the high-rise housing to accommodate a rural exodus and inflow of immigrants. Today, the colossal buildings and its residents are a forgotten (and when remembered, often stigmatized) part of the city’s history. Yet despite being marginalized and disregarded, these surreal estates bear an uncanny grandeur, a mass of unapologetic concrete offering a memory of a once-promised utopia.

“For Kronental, the neglect of his human and architectural subjects are parallel concerns. But unlike some gloomy media reports, which sometimes fail to create any empathy for the individual in their hellish depictions of the projects, Kronental strove to capture a sense of humanity and poetry in his photos,” writes Jordan G. Teicher of The Washington Post.

With a 4×5 analog camera in hand, Kronental visited senior citizens still living there, people he considers the “memory of the locus.” His website reads:

These ‘monuments’, as living memories of their time, hold a fragile force: that of a younger generation that did not see itself age

View Laurent Kronental’s series, “Souvenir d’un Futur” (Memory of a Future) here.

His work will be on display at the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand from December 18, 2015 to February 2016 in Paris, France.


  • henry pae

    Wow, some of the architecture and even beyond that, the ambiance of the buildings and settings are remarkable. I can see the genuineness but failed idealism of the developers in what was built. In a vacuum, these projects would have been a great help in raising up the standard of living for those that it was designed to serve and it is a shame that in retrospect, we see how developments like these have increased the social and economic isolation of those they were meant to assist.

  • Dont understand the correlation between failure and the projects here. Everything thats not high end and pristine is considered to be in disrepair and a failure. In this case, these are massive housing facilities for lower income folks in france. Thats all they are. They are not luxurious archetypes for the bourgeoisie… they are brilliant examples of brutist architectures in the mold of L’unite d’habitacion designed by Le Corbusier. We need to quit thinking everything is perfect and appreciate the imperfections once in a while…

  • Dominik Kusak

    It reminds me of Tony Garnier ideas. You guys know what actually are those buildings from the photos?

  • John Winward

    The article gives no clue as to why they are supposed to have ‘failed’. If these buildings were in Mayfair, or some upscale bit of Surrey, they’d cost a fortune, and estate agents would be swooning over their architecture.

  • Camille Noel

    I used to live there when I was young. Seeing this brings back a wave of special memories to me. These easily recognizable buildings makes me see visions of my childhood. I find it great that someone took some time to work on this place, wich has always given me a sense of “grandeur”, as said in the post.