Philippe Trétiack: “Buildings chatting”

For L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui Nr424 issue, journalist Philippe Trétiack presents his vision on new urban interventions, compared to an over era when they were automatically part of a logic existing continuity.

ZAC Clichy-Batignolles © Guilhem Vellut
ZAC Clichy-Batignolles © Guilhem Vellut

Duplicating the hum of the art world where, seized by an allencompassing frenzy, artworks “talk to each other”, architecture now seems to have fallen prey to a passion for discussion, chat and exchange. Like paintings, sculptures or hatboxes arranged to look at one other, buildings no longer face each other but huddle together, stuffing themselves with polite words, discussing on and on. At nightfall one can hardly sleep for the din of these buildings chatting into the small hours. One remembers a time when buildings were constructed, admittedly in a slightly restricted and confined manner, with the aim of extending the street, creating the illusion of a continuum. Others went up in solitude, sometimes in adversity, daring to deliberately criticise a retrograde past in their assertion of a sculptural volume, a structure or a showy envelope. Thin steel panels usurped stone cladding; concrete, blinded by the lustrous glare of reflective façades, began to look decidedly haggard.

But chance has it that, if developers, architects and other specialists of the urban cause are to be believed, the rigid discipline of architecture is being succeeded by a way of doing things that adheres to the etiquette of the drawing-room, or even a formal drinks do. The assertion of styles and egos is being succeeded by a humbler version of the profession, where architects, keen to enter into fruitful discussion with their colleagues, find themselves bombarded with Socrates on Sustainable Development or Plato dressed up in Ductal. Like ventriloquists, they clad their buildings in a respectable speech impediment.

So what do these architectures talk about? Impertinent question! It’s the dialogue that matters, and as long as the buildings aren’t breaking anything, at least… they’re talking.

An opinion column by Philippe Trétiack.