His name is associated with a renewed appreciation for a subject long-snubbed by French architects: office buildings. Philippe Chiambaretta, who has built 20 or so tertiary developments (some 300,000 sqm) since founding his practice PCA in 2000, has given cachet to a domain that had been reduced to little more than a real-estate transaction, by applying ideas gathered from a think-tank set up in 2005: STREAM. Thanks to this double activity associating architectural practice and research, the studio —now called PCA-STREAM— delivers buildings that are a step ahead, where architectural quality matches intelligent organisation.
By Emmanuelle Borne
L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui: Your vision is unusual: beyond the traditional role of designer–builder, you have grafted a research lab, STREAM, onto your practice, PCA. Why this double ambition?
Philippe Chiambaretta: As a teenager I was torn in different directions: social science and literature, pure science and maths, but also artistic creation. I loved drawing, film and music attracted me. I didn’t know what to choose. Three years of scientific preparatory classes after leaving high-school marked me for ever. I experienced the exhilaration of mathematical abstraction, but above all the frustration of not thinking about the meaning of things, nor having any kind of creative output. I was admitted at the engineering school Ponts et Chaussées, which gave me access to Paul Chemetov and Jean-Louis Cohen’s lessons on architecture. As this was the only subject that interested me, I went to have a look over on Rue Bonaparte [home to the Paris-Malaquais architecture school], but was put off by the prevailing disorder. I went to Boston to do a Master of Sciences at MIT, before joining a strategy consultancy where I worked for two years. At the end of this period of being the perfect student, I threw it all in to paint, with the solid conviction of making it my life, much to my parents’ despair! I had my first exhibition in 1990, and would perhaps be an artist to this day had I not met Ricardo Bofill. He convinced me to come and manage international development in his practice, and this second encounter with architecture proved a success. Over 10 years I had the extraordinary chance to work on projects in 25 different countries. While I was doing this, I studied architecture at Paris-Belleville. In 2000 I qualified, and the next day I set up PCA. Architecture allowed me to regroup all of these interests, but the sinuous route that brought me to it probably explains this unusual practice, which is not just limited to building.
Read the full version of this interview in AA Projects special issue “PCA-STREAM, researches and developments”, available on our online shop.