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Constructing in massive stone today

(excerpt, p. 13-15)

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.

Gilles Perraudin : autres titres

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