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
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.