Productive City, Act II. Could Europan 15 be the avatar of Europan 14? From one session to the next, the title lives on but the competition evolves. Besides, the themes proposed were no longer quite the same (Resources – Mobility – Equity) and the results of this 15th edition emphasize the emergence of ‘process-projects’ as a response to a much-needed ‘tailor-made’ territorial planning.
Texte by Jean-Philippe Hugron
“These proposals adjust to the vital forces of the moment, they seize upon what is alive while conceiving an ensemble like a balanced ecosystem. In the past some projects may have been incredibly violent: a district was irremediably designed for the next 25 years and the calendar divided into immutable stages. Instead, the process-project sets a goal. So to speed up a territory’s mutations, the objective is to apply the terms of an experimental urbanism”, Alain Maugard, President of Europan France, points out.
This change, according to architect Marie-Hélène Badia, co-founder of architecture office Badia Berger and President of the Europan France jury for this latest session, arises from a broad new awareness. Despite the need to produce a strong and legible image in the very short time of the competition, the urban project requires understanding and attention to the urban, landscaped and human context. To do so, more flexibility proves necessary. And Alain Maugard adds: “It is imperative to go toward the living; the city itself is a living organism and in this sense it requires a form of accelerated Darwinism of the urban”. In these circumstances the urban project has to become scalable.
The advent of ‘process’ goes hand in hand with another significant change – tentatively begun two years before – concerning the scope of the intervention. Actually, this year, the issue of scale blows up in the participants’ face with even greater sharpness: most of them exceeded the limits set. “Tailor-made territorial planning wins out. Up to now Europan merged the operational scales, from the large district to the city. This fifteenth session highlighted the ‘local territory’ scale. This logic allows to connect rural and urban as well as taking the landscape into account,” Alain Maugard explains. Marie-Hélène Badia detects a way to “promote a questioning, before determining the perimeter and means of action”. She willingly explains it by ecology and the way it questions the discipline by challenging notions of spaces and forms, as well as materials and resources. “If we have to toughen up the young architects to the utmost so they are able to design, represent and build, it is also essential to create bonds with the town planners and landscapers: any political response has to involve this trio”, she claims.
Tailor-made territorial planning wins out. Up to now Europan merged the operational scales, from the large district to the city. This fifteenth session highlighted the ‘local territory’ scale.
Whereas for years the city was built in opposition to the countryside, for many municipalities and urban communities, Europan provides an opportunity to rediscover a natural as well as productive hinterland. The highly pregnant themes of ‘circular economy’ or ‘short circuits’ likely drew attention to ‘a local productive heritage’. “The candidates are not just concerned by transforming the territories. They also express the desire to heal them: repair the urban fabric, depollute the soil, encourage biodiversity, spare materials, reuse them. And propose a creative attention to places and ways of life”, Marie-Hélène Badia observes. Henceforth the challenge for the new generation is to retrieve this productive heritage. “I do not see it as a nostalgic approach. Through these proposals I see rather the importance of (re)taking roots, finding new forces in the region”, Alain Maugard claims. Rediscovering, reactivating, reinterpreting are the precepts often expressed to assert that there are no cursed regions. “Rediscovering a productive heritage through these proposals allows to counter oblivion. Bringing craft traditions back to life is an opportunity, way beyond the quest – so entirely different – for new industries. The participants grasped the worth of revealing the strengths already there. They are the very ones that can create a sense of trust”, he adds.
Did you say trust? Marie-Hélène Badia can smile. Indeed, she derides “distrust towards the architects”, a distrust that could also be extended to an entire country’s political and economic forces. “Thinking on the scale of the territories, making them attractive and appealing, leads us to re-examine together the meaning of our work”, she says.
Territorial scale means using space and landscape as supports.
Does this mean that the architect’s profession is changing, and that Europan and its prospective impetus prefigure another way of working? Those who are the most cynical will see in these fifteenth session proposals the great danger of reducing every professional architect to merely carrying out a programmer’s mission. “This is one of the drawbacks that as a teacher I show my students who see in this exercise the means of a fake generosity. The territory is not asking to think up a programmatic juxtaposition. Instead its scale means using space and landscape as supports. I see it as the means to rebound, find sustenance, make a discipline evolve. Europan shows what could be a vital research direction for architecture,” Marie-Hélène Badia claims.
The territorial logics or productive heritage themes arose from a proposal first aimed at reflecting on the productive city. Alain Maugard draws from this evolution the competition’s logical sequel, its next session’s theme being ‘Living City’. A theme that is reminiscent of the title of his latest book co-signed with Émeline Bailly and Dorothée Marchand, Urban biodiversity, for a living city. “Urban authoritarianism does not work today, he concludes. Biodiversity is an immense library for our society – and a lot of Europan 15 proposals understood this. Destroying it would be the most terrible book-burning.”