les presses du réel


(p. 5-7)

This title was inspired by various public interpretations of the proposal for the Canopy at Les Halles in Paris, which people perceived as a form generated by some plant or animal.

The essay itself therefore goes back to basics by comparing animal architecture with early human constructions. By placing them on the same level—as similar manifestations of organic life—it emerges that the notion of economy not only does not impoverish them but, quite the contrary, is their prime resource: the optimization of materials, productive energy, and environmental advantages or constraints will yield a singular geometry—a unique pattern—for each species and each situation. Large drawings illustrate the variety of these PATTERNS.

At the same time, the this essays takes a leap in time and scale to consider the physiognomy the contemporary environment, now dominated by metropolises. How can they be visually depicted—what type of REPRESENTATION should we use? Mapping and planning no longer seem suited to the scope and pace of contemporary urban morphogenesis. The randomness of urban sprawl has notably led me to explore a computer model of this “uncontrollable” urban dynamic, composed of interactions and effects on the emergence and location of activities. Probabilities thus become a design tool for “guiding,” rather than “planning,” the forms taken by cities.

The living forms of activities and uses—the rationale behind every architectural scheme—provide a key notion toward an understanding of the processes of transformation of cities and architecture. The inanimate forms of buildings are derived from this rationale. Evolution and variations in any type of human activity produce multiple ramifications: down through history specific uses become more complex and different forms of activity emerge, some of which become autonomous even as others overlap. A map of a fictional city containing all my plans and projects would reveal a thirty-five-year history of programmatic schemes. And it would notably show that “Paris life” has always favored certain types of scheme, depending on the period. Architecture probably has no stable function, then, but rather evolves over history along with the schemes that determine the forms to be built.

Architecture is not only rational, for there is always something emotional about it. Reason and imagination are always combined. The functions of memory and anticipation are located in the same part of our brains, the one that envisages the future. Our relationship to history, mythology, and artistic imagination and free will are at work in every architectural design, generating its symbolic impact.

This essay then presents works that various commissions have spurred me to design opposite fragments of historic architecture. It begins on a Roman road, moves on to Cluny and to the Cistercian abbey of Le Thoronet, pauses in front of Chartres Cathedral and winds up, in the 1980s, at Le Palace in Paris. These architectural projects or installations were linked to events or were designed as scenarios that employ a fictional weave of various time-frames. They are multiple HISTORIES.

The book concludes with my three most recent architectural designs, which encapsulate the above themes. These three schemes (developed with Jacques Anziutti) reflect three types of scale, situation, and scheme.


The first project concerns a church in Saint-Denis, just outside Paris, which functions as a kind of architectural “theorem” because the form optimizes a social pattern, a constructional pattern, and a symbolic image.


The second design discusses the headquarters of Novartis France, which entails an architectural “system” that responds to a perceived density in the urban landscape. Sky merges with garden in a play of glass pavilions and terraces.


The third project focuses on the Canopy for Les Halles in Paris. This complex site is conceived as a gateway to Greater Paris. The notion of “environment” guided the architectural design, whose form was shaped by all the forces acting on that site.

How should architecture go about CREATING FORMS? That is the question this essay attempts to answer.
Patrick Berger : autre titre

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