We have been building massive stone constructions—in which stone plays a structural role—for fifteen years now. We have presented and advocated the use of this material in many
lectures, conferences and seminars in France and around the world. As our presentations
are frequently met with the same questions, we decided to record the lessons of our experience
in order to provide architects and builders with some answers regarding the process
of building with massive stone. Rather than compile an exhaustive compendium, which
would be a time-consuming and tedious task, we opted to create a construction manual.
Without answering all the questions raised by the use of stone, this manual will have the
merit of serving as a guide to all those who wish to pursue this approach to construction.
Among all our completed projects, many of which have been published, we chose a recent
example that clearly demonstrates the construction process in all its detail: the Patrimonio
Wine Museum. We preferred to present this example rather than the social housing project
we designed in the Monges Croix-du-Sud mixed development zone (ZAC), on the outskirts of
Toulouse, in Cornebarrieu (...)
The Wine Museum: an exemplary project
This book is primarily a manual for massive stone construction. Its purpose is to dissect (in
the manner of a scientific dissection) all the stages in the process. For professionals, many
of these explanations will seem obvious, but we have chosen not to leave anything out.
However commonplace they may seem, the recurring questions that we face, deserve
to be answered: how do you connect a floor to a stone wall? How do you integrate piping
and cabling systems? How do you set the joinery in place? And so on (...)
Architectural strategy and environmental strategy
What are these practices?
We believe that the current environmental approach to construction is, to a large
extent, in the wrong: the method it uses incorrectly assesses the overall energy cost in
calculating how to save energy or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The obsolescence of
many materials is not properly taken into account. For instance, what is the lifetime of
insulation materials? In our work as architects, we have all come across insulation solutions
in which the actual insulation material has disappeared over time, turning it into a
shelter and larder for rodents! Make no mistake: in the future, magnificent facades with
exterior cladding will provide a special case study to analyse the return of wildlife to urban
environments! We have nothing against rodents, cockroaches and their ilk, but we know
that most manufacturers load their products with insecticides to protect against these
animals. Moreover, a recent Swiss study on synthetic coatings highlighted the link between
polluted groundwater and the washing of facades packed with insecticides. Environmental
choices are complex choices.
Far too many disastrous precedents have convinced us that the answer does not lie
in high-tech products, as we imagined in our first projects. We cannot consider technological
progress that excludes mankind to the benefit of ever-expanding industrial production
as viable, however “green” they may claim to be. Our belief is that progress will be found
in rational growth in which the humanitarian goal comes before growth rate. The constant
promotion of environmentally-friendly economic development by environmentalists is
criminal. With the destruction of resources and the endangerment of biodiversity, it is the
chain of life that is destroyed and, consequently, the human species. Why support ideas
that will lead to our demise? That is why my architectural approach has gradually broken
away from the ways of thinking and building that are championed by the media. It is based
on a few simple principles dictated by common sense.
How can we go about building in a way that is less energy consuming? What are the
most energy efficient materials in terms of their lifecycles? What are the opportunities for
reuse and recycling?
Ever since my student years, I have been inspired by vernacular architecture, which
seems to offer architectural (and not technological) responses to energy-saving issues. This
influence earned me first prize in a European competition on passive solar energy in 1980
(that was how the “eco-friendly” approach was called back then), in other words right at
the start of my career! Since then, my beliefs have not changed. In fact, they have been
reinforced to the point that I now hold the following to be self-evident: the best examples
of architecture and construction are found in societies with limited material resources
and energy. Yet, the truth of this statement was not immediately apparent to me. It was
triggered by the overlapping experiences of working on an ambitious project in Herne in
Germany and on a massive stone winery built in Vauvert. The shift that occurred in my
thinking was accompanied by a strong conviction regarding the importance of craftsmanship
and a respect for the work produced by human hands. We were on the right track.
Being awarded the Tessenow prize in 2004, a prize named after an architect of the
modern period (I deliberately emphasise this word!) who defended craftsmanship over industrial production—an attitude some critics mistakenly denounced as a nostalgic—
rewarded my commitment while confirming it. Today, these beliefs have led me to address
the vital issue of cities and their development in the same spirit. For several years now,
I have been engaged in a process of reflection on the city of the future that is inspired by
the example of pre-industrial architecture.
Why build in massive stone today?
At a time when architecture seeks to dazzle through spectacular effects, using new, “high
performance” materials supposed to liberate the architect's imagination, building in stone
may come across as quaint. My commitment to this ancestral material is based on an
appreciation of its inherent qualities. These qualities bring us back to the remarks I made
in my introduction and go along with my search for construction methods that preserve
better our living conditions on Earth. Our children's happiness depends on maintaining
or improving the living conditions on our planet. The first great virtue of stone is environmental.
This may seem paradoxical when we know how up in arms “environmentalists” get
against quarries. Once again, the reasoning is flawed.