In pursuit of architecture


“The physical reality of what surrounds us, architecture, is the built memory of human action. The building is the first element onto which life is grafted.”
Aldo Rossi

Architecture is not an end in itself: it is, rather, at the beginning of something, of the shared history of a place and those who inhabit it. Herein lies the difference between architecture and the visual arts: architectural projects are used, inhabited, experienced, and this condition is an integral part of the strategy that founds the very identity of an architectural project.

The EDF Archives is a borderline example of this assertion, which in fact raises a fundamental question: Can one produce architecture that has a function but is hardly used? Is a box that gets opened every five years, and is watched over by a dozen people at the very most, still architecture?

We have tried to answer this question in the affirmative: the guiding principle of our quest was to enlarge its “radius of action” as far as possible, to detach the architecture from its immediate physical vicinity and place it in a wider surround. Hence the basic concept of a “meta-area”, which led us to design the casing as a means of visually reinventing the landscape, optically reconnecting the components thereof, above and beyond their physical proximity and the use of similar materials.

As we put it in our submission to EDF, “Since it seems impossible to us to integrate such a massive and disproportionate volume into the landscape in a gentle and effective way, we’ll let the landscape into the volume instead and let nature spontaneously partake of the life and experience of the Archives Centre.” In this spirit, the casing of our “meta-area” building incorporates and embraces elements of the landscape: afforestations, prairies, earthworks, ponds, sky. So it contains more or less explicit evocations, familiar and recognizable motifs, of the Meuse region of France.

This integration process involves moving from the two-dimensional flatness of a façade and casing to the creation of a three-dimensional world in which light, shadows and nature all participate in defining a unique visual experience. The guiding principle is to extend the landscape so as to create the illusion that the building belongs to that geography, breaking its voluminous mass up into multiple fragments. The building is not only for a handful of people who have access to it, but for all who, for whatever reason, actually perceive it. Given the expanse and geography of the environs, there are many such people.

The landscaping of the site takes up that approach as well: the grounds are no longer just a composition, an arrangement of colors and shapes, but a superimposing of recognizable, once again identifiable and familiar elements. In the manner of an Impressionist painter who paints outdoors to render more than just an image, but a whole area on his canvass, the aim of our work was to reveal, though without imitating it, the Meuse countryside at the chosen site, to paint a three-dimensional picture, at once faithful and subjective, of its natural surroundings.

In fine, the Archives Centre can be apprehended in the same manner as the tomb of Adolf Loos: “If we find a mound six feet long and three feet wide in the forest, formed into a pyramid, shaped by a shovel, we become serious and something in us says, ‘someone lies buried here.’ That is architecture.”




LOG N°29, AUTUMN 2013