Les Espaces d’Abraxas: France’s Solution to Overcrowding

Designed by Ricardo Bofill, Les Espaces d’Abraxas is a residential complex in Noisy-le-Grand, approximately 12 km (7.5 mi) from Paris, France. Its construction began in 1978 and ended in 1982, nearly 4 years later.

Les Espaces d’Abraxas consists of three different buildings: Le Palacio, Le Theatre, and L’Arch which in total have 591 apartments.

the columns of les espaces d'abraxas

Les Espaces d’Abraxas is an example of post-modernist architecture blending modernity with classic Roman and Greek motifs. At first glance, it looks like a medieval castle or a mansion due to its exterior which resembles columns.

the inside of les espaces

The building was actually one of the solutions of the French government for their population problem. Post-war France was overcrowding. The cities were urbanizing at an increased rate and emigration was at full speed. To relocate some of the population, the government started to establish new towns on the outskirts of Paris.

the interior of les espaces
Farzad Ebrahimzadeh

Bofill took on the job and he intended for the building to be a city in itself. This is the reason why Les Espaces d’Abraxas is such a high-density complex with hundreds of apartments cramped up inside an area of 12 km. Bofill’s daring attempt brought him international fame and praise.

the arch

However, the residents of Les Espaces did not really like the design of the building. After some time, many of them expressed feelings of imprisonment and isolation. The building’s small but crowded interior started to push people away.

the apartments of les espaces
Alon Siman Tov

The building gradually lost its charm and appeal so much that the French government wanted to demolish it in the early 2000s. Ironically, it was the unhappy residents who ended up saving Les Espaces. Although the building had adverse effects on their mental health, the residents did not want to leave Les Espaces and the government stopped the demolition.

the photo of the arch
Minted Spaces

One good aspect of the building’s general grim outlook was that it became a movie location. Movies such as Brazil (1985) and Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015) used Les Espaces as the building fit the directors’ visions of a post-apocalyptic architectural design.

les espaces from above

Nonetheless, it is accepted that the building needs renovation. Bofill stated in an interview that Les Espaces failed his own vision which was to mix different groups of people in an urban revival. It may be impossible to turn the building into what Bofill truly intended since he died in 2022. However, his genius imprinted into Les Espaces will continue to exist.

les espaces from bird's eye's view