What does a ‘great’ agency mean today? The definition varies from country to country. In the United States and the United Kingdom, beyond the value of a significant turnover, a great agency means a staff of over one thousand people. In France, it is ten times less. In a country where the practice of architecture is still very much a solitary, artisanal activity, numerous professionals got together to form collectives from 1968. And so, the greatest French agencies of today still carry the spirit that overturns established practices, and this is true in the long term. Indeed, numerous architecture offices and practices have disappeared along with their founder; a name could not possibly erase another. In the Netherlands, on the contrary, some agencies, nearly a century old, often continue from father to son. In the United States, the initials and acronyms of architecture firms, even those including some famous family names, have remained over the years. Architecture agencies have become fully-fledged businesses.
In this context, Arte Charpentier Architectes is an exception in France. Nine years since the sad news of the death of Jean-Marie Charpentier, its founder, here is an office of more than a hundred staff, celebrating its fiftieth year in business – a half-century that has known historic personalities but also new associates. For years, Arte Charpentier has been establishing an astonishing structure which, in order to keep up with a multi-speed national and international economy, merges together all branches of design practice: architects and urban planners, but also landscape designers and interior designers. To achieve longevity, Arte Charpentier needed to ensure the transmission of its own knowledge, and people in the office are used to passing on know-how to the next generations. Moreover, to remain means to prepare for the future, and Arte Charpentier is firmly committed to predicting that future. Being a great office also requires a certain size and number of people, to be capable of leading research projects and to have a prospective vision. This special issue both describes the daily work of a flourishing business and reveals its intimate mechanisms. It will very likely find its most useful purpose at a time when the solitary practice of the architect’s profession appears to be well and truly challenged.
AA Projects « Arte Charpentier Architectes. Arts and crafts », available in bookshops since June, 64 pages, 10€, to order here.