From the editor

It is unusual today to come across encounters between built objects and critical judgments. It is also unusual to find opportunities to experience the work of practitioners who operate outside the closed circles of the media, or to admire the results of truly free thinking. In a cultural and publishing landscape that is jaded and weary of seeing the same ubiquitous architects authoring the same major projects all over the world, Le Visiteur seeks to promote achievements that are exemplary in the way they accommodate to our real behaviors and shape our towns and cities. Giving these projects their due means encouraging an intellectual effort supported nowhere else, except perhaps in the idea of professional activity understood as an act of faith.

This journal is published in a world in which general interest in architecture continues to decline, under the combined pressures of the cult of the image, regulatory excesses, and the bureaucratic separation of responsibilities in construction projects and land use planning. Yet architects do still exist who think and act in support of an architecture that is committed to honest persuasion rather than cheap seduction. In its present incarnation Le Visiteur gives voice to critical discourse, making a space in which real debate and discussion can take place, most especially about the frequently ignored subject of the meaning of architectural success. Our hope is that the journal will forge an alliance between a taste for literature and the culture of the project.

Le Visiteur was founded by the Société Française des Architectes in 1995, on the initiative of Sébastien Marot. In the past it provided a critical perspective on issues in architecture, landscape, infrastructure, and urban planning. We continue to present this perspective, while focusing now on architecture, a field currently afflicted by a variety of problematic practices. Why is it that the knowledge of plan and section, the measure of dimension and movement, is neglected in favor of the shaping of the built object? Is it possible to envisage an approach to form which immediately introduces the subject of space, rather than eliminating it? What about the status of the building’s envelope in the essential relationship between interior and exterior, whose presence means that architecture ceases to be merely something at which we look and becomes something through which we look? Why has the scale of a building become an almost forgotten element, when in fact it is the most important of all? These days, the desire for “self-expression” outweighs any concern for the characteristics of the site.

Make no mistake about it: while the current architectural landscape exhibits plenty of variety, true difference is absent. The variety of formal and conceptual expressions is designed to entertain the citizens, reducing them to mere spectators of dramatic gimmickry. It is a spuriously transgressive kind of variety, the mark of a mode of production at the mercy of the media whose coverage it seeks, with an almost total contempt for the true values of the discipline.

Invention, that triumph of the human spirit, which manipulates our ability to forget while at the same time it pays tribute to the past, which confronts the challenge of combining the extraordinary and the obvious – invention has been superseded by caprice, and what freedom of movement is still available to the project is now grossly abused.

Paradoxically, it is audacity that has deserted the field. Genuine audacity uses the program and the knowledge of construction to free architectural design from knee-jerk reactions and narrowly determinist thinking. It teaches it instead to play with the pleasures afforded by space – the pleasures of seeing, of exploring, and of pausing to admire.

Karim Basbous.