A research work by the artist Lara Almarcegui on the "Maisons Castors" housing complex in Villeurbanne, which originated from a collaborative self-building movement of the 1940s, through which groups of families built their dwellings by pooling their skills, reminding us that each building is a bearer of the history of a place and that its preservation or not over time is an indicator of political will as well as of social realities.
The 8 Castor Houses of Villeurbanne is a narration of the crazy adventure how 8 Castor families constructed 8 houses putting together their different knowledge: if one was an electrician, the other was a plumber, the other a bricklayer, a mason, a locksmith, a boilermaker, a draughtsman.
Initiated after an inquiry on urban transformation in Villeurbanne, in collaboration with Castor inhabitants, this narration/book is an experiment in the intersection of art, construction and city planning. The narration/book is a sharp view of the construction process and how material inscribes in the built city. Exploring the relation to land and material, much attention is given to how construction materials were recovered from near river sediments- the families excavating deep to get gravel and sand. Ashes were gained from the nearby industries to make machefer concrete.
A radiography of a place depicting how each part of the houses was built as chapters advance along the houses construction- from the search of land and how dry grounds were created from the floodplains of the river to how the houses elements were erected from walls to roof tiles placed in human chains.
The book appear now at a moment were material for construction has to be questioned urgently but more than that at a moment when the castor families are being weakened by real estate development pressure. 70 years after their heroic achievement, Castors are witness how the pace of demolitions and constructions around them is increasing, and the destruction of important buildings, whether they are individual homes or major structures can be seen on a daily basis.
Lara Almarcegui (born 1972 in Zaragoza, Spain) has built up an artistic practice around exploring the material aspects of land and urban space. She has worked in different cities, identifying abandoned, unused, or forgotten sites and examining the contemporary transformation processes brought about by social, political, and economic change. At a time of widespread urban renewal in Europe, Almarcegui has created guides to wastelands in the cities she has worked in, sometimes even instigating their legal protection. Almarcegui has also turned her attention to construction sites, in particular the composite materials used in the construction of new buildings and the cyclical relationship between land and architecture.