Paris, Seine River Basin, France

Toward Reparative Ecologies in the Riverine Territory.

The Parisian urban region is currently experiencing the largest urban redevelopment in Europe: a decade-long restructuring expected to project the city beyond its historical boundaries and into the 21st century through the creation of a 200 km rail mobility network (the Grand Paris Express). This inevitable transformation is reconfiguration the spatial, socio-political, and cultural relationships between the center of Paris and its periphery, but it also has larger implications beyond the urban and into the territorial – as the Seine River Basin becomes the material source and main infrastructure for the Grand Paris. While this urban project has strong socio-ecological ambitions, the processes of constructing and transitioning are highly disturbing. They entail the extraction and movement of matter, the modification of landscapes, and the alteration of systemic functioning, affecting ecological dynamics and cycles all along the Seine River Basin.

Through research and design, an investigation is conducted on the material apparatus of the Parisian urbanization process mostly looking at ecological, geological, and hydrological consequences of material extraction. A particular focus is placed on sand, aggregate, and limestone quarries used for the production of concrete, the primary element of the urban material palette. While this graduation project does not look to offer an alternative to extractive mindsets, it looks at applying a material practice of care and repair on damaged and post-extraction landscapes to re-integrate them into a larger functioning system: projecting not only the urban but the territorial into the disturbance-prone 21st century.

This project first constitutes a joint narrative between the urban project of the Grand Paris and the territorial project of the Seine watershed. This relational outlook is intended to form nonlinear and dynamic links between the city and the territory, between land and water, and between culture and matter, to uncover the uneven and exploitative practices occurring in and around the river system.

This project then follows urban matter – materials associated with the construction of the urban – through a forensic exploration, associating socio-cultural crisis with political and economic agendas and their physical manifestation beyond the conventional urban boundaries. Here, cultural and physical forces applied on matter are localized in time and space and processes of de-territorialization geologies and re-territorialization them into agents of change are exposed.

Finally, this thesis formulates a territorial vision proposing a design towards repair in La Bassée, the last remaining upstream wetland in the Seine River, and embedding a new material cycle in the larger watershed. This vision reintegrates damaged and exhausted sites into a functioning ecological and hydrological system towards the establishment of multi-species and adaptable riverine landscapes. While the creation of the urban usually entails the destruction of the territorial, this design project proposes ways to create a co-beneficial construction process – where externalities become possibilities adapted to the New Climatic Regime.


Key Words: Urban development, Territorial dynamics, Urban matter, Urban politics, Reparative design

One Cubic Meter of Urban Matter. What would a conceptual cubic meter of the urban designer’s material palette look like? Concrete, composed of water, sand, aggregates, and cement, is the predominant material of the 21st century urban project. This cube is shaped by anthropogenic forces (cultural, political, and economic) which have been applied onto the material: de-territorializing geologies and transforming them into agents of social change within the city and environmental change beyond the urban boundary.
Confronting the Grand Paris Urban Project to the Seine River Basin.
Socio-ecological and physical apparatus of The Grand Paris urban transition. Image 1: La Tour Eiffel. Sols Paysage (2020). Image 2: Largest European Underground Quarry in Paris. Didier Raux (2019).
Stitching back La Bassée. This site is the last remaining alluvial forest along the Seine River, it is the largest alluvial sediment reserve of the Ile-de-France Region, and a protected Natura 2000 zone. Surface quarrying begun in the area in the 1960s, during the post-colonial era where immigration increased the population of the Parisian region from 7 to 10 million. This site has experienced significant damage, to which only a superficial site restoration strategy has been applied. A reparative design approach – linking sites to a larger functioning system - allows to activate landscape dynamics encouraging the embedded ecological reparative systems to unfold. Here the urban designer takes up the role of facilitator of repair as opposed to suppressors of possibilities.
Territorial Transect of the Seine River Basin. Reparative interventions, when applied to all damaged post-extraction sites along the river system can fundamentally impact the ecological and hydrological functioning of the larger riverine territory. By intervening at critical hydrological junctions and repairing the land and water interface, a particular control based-on care and landscape solutions is established, and a new material cycle can begin to be unfold in the entire basin – linking the inland seawards.