One of the factors that make the French banlieues such bad places to live quite obviously is the architecture of the building, and the structure of those quarters. The buildings are brutal, mass produced slabs of concrete, meant to serve as silos for their human contents. The leading inpiration for this kind of architecture came from Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, called ‘ Le Corbusier’:
Le Corbusier is without doubt the most influential, most admired, and most maligned architect of the twentieth century. Through his writing and his buildings, he is the main player in the Modernist story, his visions of homes and cities as innovative as they are influential. Many of his ideas on urban living became the blueprint for post-war reconstruction, and the many failures of his would-be imitators led to Le Corbusier being blamed for the problems of western cities in the 1960s and 1970s.
Like Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and other architects of his generation, Le Corbusier had little architectural training. But he did have a strong conviction that the twentieth century would be an age of progress: an age when engineering and technological advances, and new ways of living, would change the world for good. …
A House Is A Machine For Living In
By 1918, Corbusier’s ideas on how architecture should meet the demands of the machine age led him to develop, in collaboration with the artist Amédée Ozenfant, a new theory: Purism. Purist rules would lead the architect always to refine and simplify design, dispensing with ornamentation. Architecture would be as efficient as a factory assembly line. Soon, Le Corbusier was developing standardised housing ‘types’ like the ‘Immeuble-villa’ (made real with the Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau of 1925), and the Maison Citrohan (a play on words suggesting the building industry should adopt the methods of the mass production automobile industry), which he hoped would solve the chronic housing problems of industrialised countries.
The first of his grand urban plans was the Ville Contemporaine of 1922. This proposed city of three million would be divided into functional zones: twenty-four glass towers in the centre would form the commercial district, separated from the industrial and residential districts by expansive green belts. In 1925, Corbusier’s ambitious Plan Voisin for Paris envisioned the destruction of virtually the entire north bank of the Seine to incorporate a mini version of the Ville Contemporaine. Understandably, it remained only a plan.
See also this.
While his ideas never were set into practice quite as envisioned, Le Corbusier influenced whole generations of French architects, who went on to errect houses, in the suburbs of major cities, that indeed were nothing but machines to live in, and machines that serve their intended purpose very badly, at that. The layout and geometry of the individual apartments frequently is eccentric to the point of weirdness, and the lack of of right angles downright maddening. Building like this will inflict all kinds of psychological deformities and neuroses on their inhabitants, and the layout of the banlieus compounds the damage – nothing that could serve as a kind of community center, no services, not even any kind of distraction, like cinemas ect.
The lack of privacy in these quarters – paper-thin walls, and no protection from the looks of countless people outside your appartment, also prevents the development of anything that could be called a middle-calls mentality. In fact, lack of privacy enhances the ‘territorial imperative’ so that the formation of gangs fighting over turf follows almost automatically.
One of the first steps to finally integrate Muslim minorities into French society will have to be the razing of this style of building, and the restructuring of the suburbs.
Update: Please also see my new post above, as an answer to some questions in the comments.