In his celebrated essay Eupalinos, Paul Valéry writes that in architecture, "the soul seeks beauty, the body seeks utility and everybody else seeks durability".
These three notions are still of fundamental value to contemporary architecture, in that architecture is produced after a balance is sought between them, and that none of the three may be absent without profoundly changing the nature of the architect's work.
Beauty roots architecture in the world of the arts and that which cannot be explained but loved; utility recalls the pressing need for functional utility, in the sense that a building is the product of its most modest spaces as well as its most grandiose; and finally durability strives for social utility in architecture by relating it to time, and raising the issues of its value beyond a building's creator's scope for intervention and of its relevance.
Yet what makes architecture, as Régis Debray said, "the most impure of the arts" but also perhaps the greatest, is the way these three notions are closely interlinked. The answers to the questions architects ask themselves in performing their art are often found in unexpected places, and in this game one quickly becomes quite adept at blending disciplines. Architects keep their eyes wide open, collect the elements they see and reassemble them in their own fashion. Their output incorporates the complexity of the cultural landscape and cannot be reduced merely to its economic, functional or technical aspects, even if the order they receive often asks for little more.
Thus for architects, being of their time is not enough. They must be modern, in other words a stakeholder in the perpetual transformation at play in the world they live in, and the modernity of their architecture stems from their ability to accelerate this transformation. It impacts on concepts, forms, materials, spaces, light and lifestyles.
MCP. UD Harvard
All around the world, towns and cities are spreading: old towns regenerated and enlarged, new neighbourhoods, new towns and conurbations, abandoned, neglected or destroyed towns; historic towns given protected heritage status, fossilised towns; urban areas no longer designated as towns, suburbs. World population growth and increasing living standards have made the city and urban development projects a hot topic in the early 21st century.
The talking points are contemporary in that they are related to social, economic and cultural issues, but what is new is that they are played out in a democratic forum where decisions are the result of a complex process in which architects are no longer the only players, with sole responsibility for everything, and in particular the composition of the plan and design from which everything once flowed.
Now, in their projects architects suggest a possible future for the urban space which is merely the starting point for this complex process, which involves numerous other stakeholders. The city ultimately constructed will thus be the sum of all these contributions, which are integrated into time and space, and which may differ completely or not at all from the initial concepts.
This approach to designing the urban space, far from rendering architects irrelevant, makes them essential players because of the analytical skills they deploy in the project, and the required overall design continuity, which are the only ways of projecting on to the space and ultimately crystallising on the ground the full range of desires and decisions that were voiced.
The urban architecture that we produce at the Firm is no more and no less than this art form which helps to forge the perpetually evolving city. We have implemented this art of urban design in multiple projects and in response to a range of challenges.
"Gardens in general have always fascinated me, perhaps because of the time I spent as a child in the rural south west in contact with pretty farms and agriculture. These three gardens in Toulouse, linked by corridors planted with tall plane, chestnut and sweet chestnut trees, fostered my passion for designed landscape. It was undoubtedly the endurance of these childhood images that drove me, in 1986, to enter the competition to design André-Citroën Park, in Paris, alongside landscape designer Allain Provost. I wanted to try my hand at the art of urban landscape and apply architectural layout principles to garden design. This collaboration between an architect and a landscape designer, later joined by Gilles Clément and Patrick Berger, led to the creation in Paris of the largest park built since the Second French Empire – the period, in fact, when these Toulouse gardens were created.
Thanks to this work and discussions with landscape designers, I've come to see gardens as bearers of civilising messages. (...) In all eras, city gardens have been places of artistic expression which brilliantly illustrate the Zeitgeist. (...) In Paris, La Villette Park, Bercy Park and André-Citroën Park, by virtue of their modernity, have finally re-established this grand tradition of the garden as major urban art. The planet's urbanisation highlights the need to design or modify cities incorporating the garden in all its forms as an integral component alongside the built environment, for the pleasure and well-being of residents but also as a forum for artistic, philosophical and poetic expression."
Architecte, by Jean-Paul Viguier, an extract from La Terre et l’Architecte,
Toulouse Natural History Museum, pages 83-84,
Editions Odile Jacob, 2009
Jean-Paul Viguier et Associés is an international architecture, town planning and interior design firm of around 90 professionals led by Jean Paul Viguier. It has designed and delivered projects ranging from the city scale to street furniture details, including public or private offices, housing, facilities and shops. Most of these projects are located in France, but the agency has also shown an ability to work in various other parts of the world, with projects completed in the United States, Spain, Nigeria, Malaysia, China, Morocco and Hungary.
In every project and on every scale, the Jean-Paul Viguier et Associés firm applies the same principles of innovation, durability, harmony with the environment and functional suitability. Meticulous research is carried out into materials and their use, specificity, the functioning and sequencing of spaces, light, colours and textures.
This research, entrusted to the interior design team working within the firm, informs all levels of interior design project development and delivery. Working hand-in-hand with architecture project developers guarantees delivery in accordance with the principles underlying spaces: Working inside a building requires detailed knowledge of the surrounding architecture and a close relationship with users' aspirations.