A former 19th-century prison will be transformed into private student accommodation in a first for France. The €4.5million  project, undertaken by developer MJ Développement in partnership with the Grasse Mairie (local government) and a Bâtiments de France architect, Gilles Giovenco, will renovate the former Maison d’Arrêt de Grasse, in service as a prison until 1992, and is expected to take between 18 and 24 months to complete.

The Néo Campus project in Grasse (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), will have 77 apartments between 14m2 and 23m2. Apartments will be spread across two buildings – one of which is the old prison, with the second to be newly constructed.

The prison’s former cells will be transformed into fully-equipped, modern living spaces, with each living space taking up the space of two cells. The property will also feature co-working spaces and communal areas.

MJ Développement president Michaël Ruel and architect Gilles Giovenco told Nice-Matin that some of the prison’s original features such as cell doors and railings would be kept, in a nod to the property’s past, however, the focus is on providing a warm and welcoming place for students.

The property will be managed by property management firm Elyade.

The new property will be a welcome addition to the city of Grasse, perfume capital of the world, and home to Grasse Campus, a regional multi-site higher education facility born out of a partnership between universities, industry and local government organisations. Grasse Campus student numbers currently sit around 1,000. However, the campus has ambitious plans to grow its student population, with a particular focus on attracting international students, many of whom come to Grasse to study perfumery.

There are around 2.7 million students in France, including an international student population of more than 400,000, a figure which is expected to rise, according to Campus France. Despite these impressive numbers, there is a significant undersupply of student accommodation with “outdated and underfunded” CROUS (a student organisation that also provides publicly-subsidised student housing) residences accounting for 56% of available beds. According to Knight Frank analysis shared at a Class Foundation conference, while the number of private PBSA beds in France has increased from 93,000 beds in 2018 to 122,000 beds in 2023, and there are an estimated 20,000 beds in the pipeline, demand continues to significantly outstrip supply, especially in Paris. As a result, there are growing calls for satellite campuses of Parisian universities to be established in regional areas to better balance the student population and demand.

To see the proposed design for former Maison d’Arrêt de Grasse, see here.