Architecture in feminine: Renée Gailhoustet, a pioneering architect

· March 8, 2024

The history of architecture has often been marked by a limited presence of female figures. The reasons for this deficiency are as broad as they are complex, reflecting certain historical barriers that women have faced when attempting to enter various professions.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, some women managed to access higher education programs, including architecture, although their presence was rare. Furthermore, it was common to relegate women to a secondary role, as mere "companion-architects," in the shadow of their partner or spouse.

In this context, to celebrate the International Women's Day we want to share the story of Renée Gailhoustet, an architect whose legacy has significantly contributed to social architecture. Her work recently came to light, thanks to the 2022 Royal Academy Architecture Prize, just a few months before her death in January 2023.

At L35 Architects, as a part of our urban transformation projects, we are carrying out the regeneration of the commercial gallery of Îlot 8 in Saint-Denis, a project by Renée Gailhoustet that has become a landmark in the architecture of communal spaces.



In these times of reevaluation of architectural models, where there is a quest to address the increasing demand to naturalize public spaces, combat climate change, reclaim outdoor terraces, and create habitable and diverse environments that blend different uses, the poetic and exceptional work of Renée Gailhoustet emerges as a beacon that has successfully shaped these ideals.

Renée Gailhoustet entered the National School of Fine Arts in the early 1950s and began working in the only workshop that allowed the participation of women at that time, led by Lods, Hermant, and Trezzini.

Influenced by figures such as Le Corbusier, Aldo Van Eyck and George Candillis, as well as the theoretical positions of Team X, Renée Gailhoustet sought to transcend the simple functionalism of the early Modern Movement.

Aalto, Scharoum, Wright, and Jacobsen, with their housing projects, were also significant influences in her spatial and functional explorations for an architecture and urbanism in the service of the community.



Renée Gailhoustet belongs to a generation of architects who dreamed of a city without social divisions, entirely walkable, mutable, and rich in urban experiences. Her focus on urban peripheries, where the less privileged classes are settled, highlights her social commitment.

Specialized in new construction projects for social housing, Renée perceived these spaces as cultural acts, moving away from simple responses to needs and exploring non-standardized ways of inhabiting, where building a home also means building a community. Her architecture always aimed to address the diverse types of users who could inhabit her projects, and her collaborative work with Jean Renaudie, her partner and 'mentor,' was 'hors norme' (beyond the norm).

While her architecture may appear to employ intricate geometries, it actually conceals simple and well-ordered foundational principles that Renée varied and composed with unique richness. These geometric forms and the extensive use of outdoor spaces, permeating domestic spaces, blur the boundary between collective and individual space.



At L35 Architects, we have the pleasure of working on one of her iconic works as part of the urban regeneration of Staint-Denis. This urban center, located north of Paris, is home to a population of 26,000 residents and is undergoing an extensive urban transformation program from 2022 to 2030, regenerating various areas of the district.

The renovation of the commercial gallery that connects and enhances the residences of Îlot 8 has provided us with the opportunity to recover Renée Gailhoustet's unique spatial vision.

The composition of divergent spaces, always connected to the city, open and permeable to the neighborhood, is reflected in our project. Drawing on a deep historical analysis of the plans and Gailhoustet's thinking, we have been able to reconstruct the original architectural intent of the commercial gallery, hidden beneath the alterations that had distorted its nature.

There are urban regeneration projects where the best strategy is to avoid adding complexity to the architecture, aiming to reveal its true essence.

In our project, the design process seeks to rescue and highlight the elements envisioned by Renée Gailhoustet for the ground floor spaces, focusing on an architecture with a simple, orderly vocabulary, and free from visual clutter.

This strategy aims to enhance the legacy of an architect whose influence endures in community building and urban planning.