ECObox is a series of self-managed projects introduced into derelict and underused spaces in Paris’ La Chapelle neighbourhood, in the 18th Arondissement, beginning in 2001.
These projects took form under the guidance of the Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (aaa – Studio for Self-Managed Architecture), a non-profit, interdisciplinary organization that conducts research and experiments in progressive, sustainable community infrastructure development.Originally constructed in the court of the Halle Pajol, ECObox was intended as a platform for community events and for engaging local residents in ‘micro-politics’ through cultivation and other activities.
ECObox projects take their form from a system of recycled shipping pallets laid out in a grid to form a series of walkways and garden plots. The shipping pallets are laid directly on the ground, two pallets deep. Voids left between them are filled with soil and used by community members as small allotment gardens. The result is a patchwork landscape of flowers and edible plants, created and tended by local community members, who thus take ownership in it. This allows for gradual expansion and upgrades of the garden by its users.
While clearly influencing the project, the founding members of aaa, architects Constantin Petcou and Doina Petrescu, insisted on remaining in the background, allowing untrained members of the community to bring their skills and experiences to the shared space. aaa remained involved in the project until 2006 after which the community successfully campaigned its continuation. This process saw the formation of the ECObox Association, which has managed the project since.
The simple construction of these gardens and their modular and mobile nature make them highly transferable to other sites. This was put to the test when the project was threatened with eviction and a new site had to be negotiated with the city in 2004 and again in 2008. The elements of the project were quickly and easily moved, minimally disrupting the continuity of the community’s activities.
Open on weekends and for special events, the current site at 8 – 10 impasse de la Chapelle hosts concerts, dances, film screenings, workshops and shared meals. It is also host to l’AMAP La Chapelle (a local association linking conscious consumers with agricultural producers) and it interacts with numerous other local entities including schools, artists, cultural centres and other gardens. Furthermore, it participates in movements such as Transition Town, Urban Orchards and others, preserving and growing the biodiversity and cultural diversity of Paris, while encouraging residents to have agency in their surroundings.