“Identically”: Philippe Trétiack’s quid

© Astrid di Crollalanza

Architect and urban planner by training, Philippe Trétiack is a journalist and writer. He has been a reporter for thirty years and collaborates with several magazines, including Vanity Fair, ELLE Décoration and Air France Magazine… As an author, he has published some twenty books including Faut-il pendre les architectes ? (Seuil, 2001), De notre envoyé spécial (Editions de l’Olivier, 2015), and L’Architecture à toute vitesse (Seuil, 2016). In AA’s pages, Philippe Trétiack decodes, with a certain sense of humour, the architectural jargon in the Quid ? column. In AA 431, he dives into “identically”.



Identically, the obscure clarity of this word spewed into our living rooms after the devastating effect of the appalling fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Suddenly, loads of experts called for gothic design. To hear them speak, national cohesion required gargoyles and lead, scalloped edges and grotesques, all smeared happily from top to bottom and even across the cathedral. We had to get moving so that Viollet-le-Duc’s spire could be recreated in a superbly similar style than that designed one hundred and sixty years ago. Suddenly, everywhere, newspaper columns and assembly benches were discussing medieval architecture! Victor Hugo was quoted liberally, abusing his texts along the way, forgetting to reproduce them identically, but no matter! The illustrious author, in declaring “this will destroy that”, was utterly wrong. He thought that the book would destroy the edifice, when in fact it’s the opposite that is true.

Under this enthusiasm, a dull terror is lurking, that of seeing the cathedral boasting a feeble copy, a poor parody or a tacky spire in the future. As the wonderful Bernard Desmoulin, the architect behind the renovation of the Cluny museum, said: “In expecting worse, the completion of an architecture of compromise, a kitsch spire that is a pastiche of the original”. In this way, yes, this identically hammered home nastily is a stopgap solution. Or an exaggeration, a smokescreen. While some good souls full of respect for cathedrals swoon in front of the embellishments of the now-lost spire, work goes on. Thus, the disastrous project to convert the Trocadéro-Ecole militaire connection cropped up secretly. Designed by the American architect and landscaper Kathryn Gustafson with Porter and Browman, this project proposes to spread a tarmac of boring lawn which will reduce it to silence. Worse still, the bitter cherry on the cake, the inane proposal wants to force upon us a row of sickly trees planted each side of the Pont d’Iéna bridge.

God forbid! Does Paris’ beauty not derive from this succession of bridges that captivate the gaze? Should we not demand an identical result here too? Of course not, for the sake of some greenery, a lawned Paris must offer flowerbeds and low walls for the dawdlers and tourists in withdrawal from relaxation and food trucks (sic and even… sick). Paris must therefore give up the splendid greyness of its stone to become green. Madam Mayor, dear romantic official, please know that there is an ecology of vision. Admittedly, unlike the other, which is composed of pistils and courgettes, this ecology demands culture, literary culture, not the cultivation ofturnips. Would Victor Hugo have wanted his city to become a caf. terrace where an expresso would reach, like a cathedral spire, unwarranted prices? Or should we understand that for Paris city hall, identically means a poor replica?

Find Philippe Trétiack’s Quid in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui Nr. 431, available here.

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