The "Grand d'Indy", a massive eleven-storey bar, stands out above the trees, not far from the Reynerie lake. The building, erected in Y, houses 243 social housing units and must be destroyed in 2023.
Six other buildings in the district are condemned to disappear to make way for smaller ones, ranging from individual pavilions to collective buildings, following a plan supported by the national urban renewal agency.
"Even though we lack housing in Toulouse, it's an aberration!" Gets carried away by Michel Retbi, architect of the collective opposed to the project.
Toulouse, the fourth largest city in France with more than 493.000 inhabitants, is in a tight real estate zone due to insufficient supply.
The demolition of the complexes built by the architects Candilis, Josic and Woods, inspired by Le Corbusier, is no longer defensible in the current context of soaring raw material prices and the climate crisis, according to the collective.
“Demolishing and rebuilding costs three times more than rehabilitating” and “the carbon footprint of demolition is three times what rehabilitation represents”, assures Mr. Retbi.
The renovation of the district, fifteen minutes by metro from the city center, could be carried out without demolition, they insist, pleading for a moratorium on destruction and an architectural competition to imagine the Mirail of the future.
Named after composers and painters (Tintoretto, Messenger, etc.), these large ensembles "are among the rare buildings that have not moved after AZF", specifies Gilbert Pedra, another member of the collective.
The explosion of the AZF fertilizer factory in 2001 caused 30 deaths and destroyed or damaged nearly 30.000 buildings.
Those of Mirail have retained "a healthy structure", assures the architect, continuing with a burst of laughter: "luxury housing in the center of Toulouse is not as good as that, both in terms of space and quality, and c an architect tells you!
The apartments, almost all social housing, range from T2 to T6 and are "super", smiles Jacques Rovaris, 79, who has occupied a T40 on the fifth floor of the Grand d'Indy for more than 2 years.
With 66 m2, a bright living room and a large balcony from which he can see the Pyrenees in good weather, the retiree says he is "happy". He was offered relocation to "a good, but smaller apartment" but he "isn't asking to leave, just to make a few small improvements".
"We can imagine all kinds of rehabilitations," says Michel Retbi. An argument supported by the president of the national council of the order of architects, Christine Leconte, and the architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, winners of the Pritzker Prize 2021.
These buildings are seen as "rabbit cages" and suffer from a "bad image", regrets Claire Martin, member of the collective, regretting the "association made between the impoverishment of the district and the building".
Their destruction is part of the political will to transform the Mirail, undermined by drug trafficking. The authorities want to create social diversity by reducing the share of social housing to below 50%.
If the operation is expensive - the cost of the destruction alone is estimated at more than 87 million euros - Gaëtan Cognard, mayor of the district, assumes this choice: "the architects think of the buildings, I think of the inhabitants".
"It's about demolishing now for our future generations," he argues, believing that the carbon emissions of reconstruction to current standards will be offset in the long term.
As for the lack of housing, "we are not going to stop all the demolition sites, especially when" they aim to "renew and improve the living environment of the inhabitants", he believes.
A goal that struggles to believe Brigitte Touillet, 69, resident opposed to the project. She cites another sector of the Mirail where "they built little cubes everywhere".
"We are told that this has created more social diversity, but nothing has changed. When you get out of the metro, you can always buy all the herbs you want," she says, referring to the traffic in dope.