Mining Basin

Oignies, Pas-de-Calais (62)

Three centuries of coal mining shaped the landscape of Pas de Calais, France and the company town that serviced it. Surrounding the mining pits and slag heaps you’ll find a mid-19th century model village constructed as a modern ideal of living for working citizens. As idealized as it was, the town design suffers from repetition and an exclusive focus on the grim task of mining. With the mine closed, local government was faced with a challenge: with 120,000 units, the town represented a great opportunity for housing, but extensive work was needed to turn the industrial-era cluster into a real, functioning village.

In order to do that, architects Marc Brietman and Nada Breitman Jakov set these goals:

  • Turn the monotony of the repetition of house models into more personalized homes
  • Change the orientation of the streets away from the mine and out to the city
  • Invent a new typology such as corner houses and cut smaller blocks
  • Give a new hierarchy to public spaces – places, avenues, streets, parks or gardens

The new design is a breath of fresh air for this industrial-era town. “The reconstruction of Pas de Calais successfully integrates new housing by replacing unsuitable buildings with restored units in salvageable areas, inserting new cross-streets into the overly long historic blocks.” wrote Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk about the project. “A variety of housing types with a range of income levels, including market rate and lower range subsidized housing, add to the complexity and success of this project.”

Mining Basin Pas de Calais curved buildings
The new housing matches the historic character of the region. Source: Nada Breitman.

Since beginning the project, 500 new houses and 200 new apartments have been built. The Mining Basin is defining itself into distinct districts and away from the industrial past. In 2012, the village was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“The jury admired the ambition and complexity of this project, the balance of selective preservation and new infill,” concluded Plater-Zyberk.

Top photo: A row of new houses. Source: Nada Breitman.

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