The ‘Banlieue Pavillonnaire’ in Toulouse (France)

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In France, the word ‘banlieue’, literally translating suburb, has a double-entendre. The ‘banlieues’ of social housings mostly constituted of high-rise buildings have a more infamous resonance especially after the events of 2005 when Paris was seen to be ‘burning’. The media are indeed often keen to paint a negative picture of these areas of deprivation. But there is another side to the suburban with the ‘banlieues pavillonaires’. ‘Pavillion’ is the name given to suburban houses. However, this is often the untold story of the humdrum of lower middle and middle classes. Unlike the suburbs of the English speaking world or the banlieues of the cités (social housing in blocks of high-rise buildings), these ‘banlieues pavillonaires’ have for instance little been a topic of interest in popular culture. Cultural representations tend to focus on either the bourgeois or increasingly the ‘bobos’ (‘Bourgeois Bohème’) living in some richly furnished apartments in city centres or the troublesome and resourceful youth of the sub-urban ‘cités’ (On representations of Paris periphery in French police TV series, see Deroide, 2012)

The demography in these suburbs remains predominantly White French and middle-class even if there are emerging evidences of a wider aspiration across the ethnic divide to move to these ‘banlieues pavillonaires’.

The divide between ‘banlieues pavillonaires’ and  ’banlieues of the cités’ is to be understood both in terms of ethnicity and in terms of class (Cartier et al, 2008). As Cartier et al (2008) point out the banlieue pavillonaire can be described as the realm of the ‘petits moyens’ or lower middle and middle income households. The suburbs of ‘desirable’ (individualised) housings in Toulouse offer a wide range of housing types from flats in ‘résidences’ (or condominiums) to large detached houses with swimming pools (a common feature of the suburban landscape in Toulouse).  This diversity is representative of a wide range of household incomes and purchase power on the middle-class spectrum. In many aspects, the ‘banlieues’ of Toulouse have greater similarities with the suburbs of the ‘Anglo-American model’ (Clapson, 2003). The suburbs of this city expand beyond a more traditional understanding of the ‘banlieues pavillonaires’ which, as an expression tends to hold a strong association with a Parisian geography. But overall and despite the architectural particularities discussed below, there are what Jacobs (2004) has referred to as ‘ increasingly standardized domestic architectural features and reflecting suburban architectural types that travel the globe through various virtual circuits’ (Jacobs, 2004, p. 169).


In this series of photographs, I am focusing on the ‘banlieues pavillonaires’ in Toulouse in the sense that I am focusing on these suburbs of lower middle and middle income households.


Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city and a fast growing urban centre benefiting from a thriving economy thanks to the presence of Airbus Industry. As a result of the city’s economic growth, the ‘banlieues pavillonaires’ have expended greatly. The price of housing in the neighbourhoods close to the city centre being usually quite high and on the constant rise, people, mostly young families, have to move further and further away from the centre. When they talk of where they live or aim to live, people often use the term of couronnes (literally translating as ‘crowns’ but more specifically referring to the ever expanding zones). The term commonly used in the ‘région parisienne’ is relatively new to the vocabulary of the inhabitants of Toulouse.

In the first instance, I am presenting a series of photographs of the suburb of Blagnac. In the North West of the city, Blagnac is a small town bordering Toulouse and as such one of its original suburbs. The photographs taken in one particular area (the ‘village nord’) translate the different ages of this suburb with more modest houses from the 1960s juxtaposing the plusher houses of the 1990s. However, even the more modest houses of the 1960s are now also being prised for by a number of young families. Blagnac is home to Airbus industry and close to the city centre and as such extremely popular for these two reasons.

In the French ‘banlieues’, the houses are usually detached (with some exceptions) and surrounded by hedges and gates. There is no open driveways or gardens at the front. As in other suburbs that I have travelled to, the houses are often architectural pastiches of more traditional styles especially more so with the houses built in the 1990s. Overall, the use of red bricks is extensive throughout the ages in order to keep it ‘toulousain’ in style, the city being known as the pink city (‘la ville rose’). The pastiche corresponds to a mix of styles from different ages but here the architecture of these houses is also a pastiche of different architectural elements that more generally hold southern characteristics (Mediterranean or ‘provençales’ features in some cases). Again, we can see how people have individualised their houses choosing for instance different colours of paint for their shutters and doors. The way they on the whole carefully arranged their gardens is another sign of individualisation as well as respectability.

Driving further out of town, we can get a greater realisation of the extent of the

housing boom in the region. The city is spreading its suburban tentacles and new estates are for instance springing up all along the ‘route de Grenade’ (in the direction of the North West). The road is bordered with advertising boards selling various attractive opportunities to become homeowners. Some of these new estates display more contemporary designs but on the majority the traditional ‘pavillons’ dominate the landscape.


This series of photographs will be followed by another focusing on the inhabitants of one of the streets in the ‘quartier des fleurs’ (Village Nord, Blagnac).




Cartier, M., Coutant, I. Masclet, O. & Siblot, Y. (2008), La France des “petits-moyens”: enquête sur la banlieue pavillonnaire’, Paris: Édition la Découverte


Clapson, M (2003), Suburban Century: social change and urban growth in England and the United States, Oxford: Berg


Deroide, I. (2012), ‘Paris plein, Paris vide. Les paysage péripheriques dans les series policières française’, Métro politiques, in


Jacobs, J. (2004), “Too many houses for a home: narrating the house in the Chinese diaspora” in in Cairns, S. (ed) (2004), Drifting: Architecture and Migrancy, London: Routledge, pp. 164-183