n°11

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Editorial
Karim Basbous
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Encounters between built objects and critical judgment are rare today. It is equally rare to see the work of practitioners who are independent of the media, and to be able to appreciate the achievements of free thinking. In a sleek, jaded cultural and editorial scene weary of the ubiquitous presence of the same signature projects throughout the world, Le Visiteur aims to promote exemplary projects that take our customs into account and shape our cities. To do justice to those projects is to encourage an effort of thought that nothing fosters today, with the exception of the notion of professional action conceived as a statement of faith.

In the world to which this journal is opening up once again, after a five-year interruption, general interest in architecture has been steadily declining under the combined effects of a cult of the image, hysteria over regulations, and the administrative partitioning of responsibilities in the operations of construction and regional land planning. And yet there are still some architects who think and act in favor of an architecture that is more committed to convincing than to seducing.

 

On the occasion of its rebirth, Le Visiteur wishes to provide an arena for critical discourse and for true debate, where the issue, so often skirted, of architectural success can be discussed. This journal will attempt to create an alliance between a taste for literature and the culture of the project.

Founded by the French Society of Architects in 1995 at the initiative of Sébastien Marot, Le Visiteur fostered a critical perspective on architecture, landscape, infrastructures and city planning. We will keep this stance, by focusing on the architectural field that has been challenged by practices that call for reflection and interrogation. Why should the science of plan and section, the measurement of expanse and movement, be neglected in favor of the fashioning of the object? Couldn’t we rather envisage a work on form that immediately raises the question of space instead of jettisoning it? What has the status of the envelope become in the essential relation between the interior and the exterior, whereby architecture is no longer a mere object that is gazed at, but becomes itself a gazing device? Why should the scale quality of buildings be nearly forgotten when it is the most important of them all? Today, the desire for “self-expression” prevails over the creation of place.

On today’s architectural scene, there is no difference, but only variety, and it would be a mistake to conclude otherwise. A variety of conceptual and formal moves designed to entertain citizens reduced to the status of spectators through repeated stagings, a falsely transgressive variety that in fact betrays a production subservient to the media that broadcast its image, almost contemptuous of the values of the discipline.

Invention, this tour de force that succeeds in marshalling our ability to forget while paying tribute to the past, the wager that what is singular and what is obvious can be wedded, has been replaced by the whim. The freedom still available to the project is often wasted in useless gestures.

Paradoxically, what is missing is audacity, the genuine audacity that uses the program and the knowledge of construction to free architectural design from reflexes and strictly deterministic lines of reasoning, so as to lead it towards the pleasures of space: the pleasure of seeing, of setting out to explore, and of pausing to appreciate.

 

An architectural work may occasionally retain our attention, amuse us, or even entice us. Some buildings go further: they move us. The monastery of the Santísima Trinidad de Las Condes is one of the edifices whose history we wish to share with our readers. This Benedictine church, nestling on a mountain slope, in the arid heights of the Chilean sky, has stood for fifty years opposite the Andes Cordillera. Andres Tellez devotes a monograph to it, to which we have appended the observations of Fernando Perez.[1] It relates the history of the monastery, with a particular focus on the space of the church. Hopefully, this article will become a major source of information on this masterpiece, which, strangely enough, is little known outside of Chile.

Luigi Manzione’s contribution deals with the crisis of contemporary criticism, which he explains by numerous factors, including the history of the doctrines of the second half of the twentieth century, the reckless use of philosophical notions unsuitable for shoring up the theoretical weaknesses of the discipline, the waning of the political sphere and the uncontrolled mutations of the contemporary city.

Unlike the press snapshot, which yields only visual information, photographic prints can bear witness to an exploration of the visible realm. We all think we are familiar with Ronchamp, yet the eye of Nathalie Savey enters the hollows and the folds of the building to reveal unsuspected aspects of it. Benoît Peaucelle undertakes a meticulous analysis of these photographs, comparing them with previous photographic shots, to highlight the fundamental differences in the art of looking at and interpreting the place.

Olivier Gahinet explains the common theme linking Le Corbusier’s work from the church in Ronchamp to the one in Firminy, and turns the most enigmatic edifice into an open book on the art of the project. Immediately, form departs from its silence and allows itself to be understood, speaking to us of program, light and path. Form is no longer just the representation of an idea. It also displays a method.

The books of the series “Architecture Universelle”, which feature a medley of plans, images and texts, represent the multiple aspects of the career of their founder Henri Stierlin, a historian specialized in comparative studies, as well as a photographer and editor. In an interview with Gérard Monnier, he traces the history of this unequalled series, and reflects on the signification of the photographic process and its gestures.

The work of Jean Prouvé demands, more than any other, perhaps, the investigation of the historian, for it does not consist so much in constructed works as in multiple dispersed devices, most of which are representations. Raphaël Labrunye’s article gives us the means to apprehend not only the ambition of this lonely builder aspiring to prompt industry to invent procedures and to combine the economies of project and construction, but also the terrible stumbling blocks he met all along the way.

There is in the architecture of Sanaa a freshness that is due not only to its physical whiteness, but also to the numerous perspectives on matter and space that the works of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa have endeavored to open up. Emmanuel Doutriaux presents a view on the singularity of the Louvre project in Lens, through the reinvention of the relationship to construction, program, landscape and art works.

 

[1] These passages by Fernando Perez accompany some illustrations, but they have not been translated. We refer the reader to the main (French) section of the journal.


Image, seduction, promotion

For an architectural critique beyond entertainment

Luigi Manzione
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“In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was once lived immediately has receded into representation.”
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Beginning of the article…

Contemporary architectural critique is undergoing a crisis. Is this a statement of fact or a slogan? The idea of a crisis of critique – that is, of architecture and of the wider contextual conditions (social, economic, political conditions) in which both crisis and critique unfold – doesn’t only concern merely the present. It rather represents a shaping element of architectural praxis and thought from the onset of the twentieth century, starting with the “creative destruction” advocated by the historical avant-gardes.[1] Dealing with the crisis of critique today means addressing the crisis of architecture itself, in its present state, the modes of the project and its production, communication and reception.

Crisis and critique: breaks in disciplinary continuity. 

The figure of crisis has been a long-standing topos in architecture, in practice as well as in theory. Since the gradual waning of the principles of the modern movement – within the successive conventions of CIAM (Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne) from 1949 to 1956 – the word crisis regularly appears in the lexicon of the critic and the theoretician as a justification of a state of disorientation and “loss of the center.”

[1] On the image of “creative destruction” as the essential strategy of modernity, where the present is created by/on the negation of the past, see the “angel of history” in the lithography by Paul Klee, Angelus novus and the commentary by Walter Benjamin in his “Geschichtsphilosophische Thesen und Briefe” in Schriften, Suhrkamp, 1955 (English translation by Harry Zohn, “On the Concept of History” in Illuminations and re-published in 2003 by Belknap Harvard University Press in Selected Writings, Volume 4. 1938-1940, pp. 389-400.)

Photographing Ronchamp
Benoît Peaucelle
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In homage to Lucien Hervé

« Je ne veux plus me poser
Voler à la vitesse du temps
Croire ainsi un instant
Mon attente immobile. »
Philippe Jacottet, Birds, flowers and fruits, Airs, 1967

Beginning of the article…

Has anyone not photographed Ronchamp? Out of the thousands of shots that have sought to capture this building, the photographs of Jacqueline Salmon stand out clearly.[1] But, most importantly, there was a little book with photographs by Lucien Hervé, who died last July, which Le Corbusier, just fifty years ago, wanted published.[2] The very week of his death the Strasbourg photographer Nathalie Savey happened to be in Ronchamp. This text, a homage to the gaze of these photographers, is an attempt to ascertain what each of them shows us.

It may well seem that we are seeking to celebrate an anniversary at all cost. We should, however, recall that Oscar Niemeyer was one of those people who thought and said that Le Corbusier’s work was baroque.[3] This so outraged Le Corbusier that he responded vehemently in the preface of his 1957 book: “This little chapel of pilgrimage here in Ronchamp is not a pennant marked ‘baroque’. You have understood, reader. I hate this term, and I have never liked, looked at, nor been able to admit baroque art.” The photographers do justice to Le Corbusier, illustrating how outlandish Niemeyer’s assertion is.

[1] Jacqueline Salmon photographed the work of Le Corbusier from 1987 to 1997: her photos are available in Ronchamp and at the Le Corbusier Foundation.
[2] Le Corbusier, Ronchamp, Stuttgart, Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1957, reprinted in 1991. The page references are to this edition.
[3] The statement was validated by Farès el-Dahdah at his lecture, Oscar Niemeyer et l’architecture contemporaine given to the Société Française des Architectes on September 17th, 2007.

Firminy: the critical project of the project
Olivier Gahinet
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In memory of Sylvie Dumas

“Temples erected in honour of religion are in fact a tribute to architecture.”
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity

Don Juan reveals a shapeless shade wherein forms can be perceived which, for once and only once, touch the nocturnal, mystical, astral world. We feel the animation of these great prehistorical beings of the human dream, time, desire, fear, death. Intent on prowling at the lyrical frontier of the darkness, he ended up brushing up against them. Slowly, the leather of their skins creaking, they stood up. Whence our uneasiness. We wonder if he conjured those brontosaurs, if he was even aware that they were breathing down his neck.”
Jacques Audiberti, Molière

Beginning of the article…

History and type.

In the history of architecture, churches always echo other churches, their light other lights, their space other spaces whose quality trumps their use: the practice they are based on is not essential to our comprehension of form. Up to the industrial revolution, the history of architecture is, for all intents and purposes, nothing other than a history of churches and palaces. These two programs seem to bring together but at the same time to oppose most of the fundamental determinations of classical architecture: space and rooms, form and repetition, contemplation and deambulation, section and plan, and so on.

The history of architecture constitutes itself in an actual history of space through the evolution of types and of churches. The architectural type of the church has acquired such a high degree of autonomy in its evolution as to seem only tangentially concerned with the history of society. Giulio Carlo Argan considered Rainaldi’s project for Santa Maria in Campitelli as the first plan to be rigorously drawn from functional and liturgical requirements.

Jean Prouvé or the impossible industrial series
Raphaël Labrunye
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“My idea was to reach the large series. It has always been my dream, but I have never been given the opportunity to make it come true.”[1] 
Jean Prouvé

Beginning of the article…

For all of us Jean Prouvé still is the “master of metal,”[2] who, one against all, allows no overly simplistic description of himself: “not only architect, but also engineer, builder, entrepreneur, in the tradition of the great contractors … who ran up against an archaic world, cluttered with rivalries and financial stakes,” as A. Lavalou[3] writes brilliantly on the occasion of his centenary celebration. For him nothing could match the heroic era of the great Maxéville Workshops, where engineers, designers and workers came together, between 1944 and 1954, and he had never been as happy since leaving the workshop.[4]

[1] Armelle Lavalou, Jean Prouvé par lui-même, éditions du Linteau, Paris, 2001, p. 22.
[2] François Moulin, Jean Prouvé, le maître du métal, La Nuée bleue, Strasbourg, 2001.
[3] Armelle Lavalou, « L’esprit et la main », in « Jean Prouvé », Connaissance des arts, HS n°166, 2001, p. 13.
[4] Lavalou, Prouvé par lui-même, p. 84.

The photographic project: Henri Stierlin, historian, photographer and editor
An interview with Henri Stierlin by Gérard Monnier
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Beginning of the article…

In the wake of a long career devoted to the history of architecture and to photography, Henri Stierlin donated part of his archives to the Institute of Architecture of the University of Geneva. The latter held a retrospective exhibition of his work in 2005. For our readers at Le Visiteur, here are large excerpts from the interview with the historian Gérard Monnier.

The Disk and the Fan.

From Kanazawa (Japan) to Lens (France)

Emmanuel Doutriaux
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“When the smoke of tobacco smells of mouth that exhales it, the two odours unite in the infra-thin.”[1]
Marcel Duchamp

Beginning of the article…

This series of reflections on the recent work of Sanaa is based on a lived experience in Japan and on the promises of a forthcoming undertaking in France. In both cases the works under scrutiny are museums. Light is a crucial stake. This is why the two projects perhaps constitute, more than any other,[2] the very matter of sanaaien invention, that is, their ability to question architectural paradigms anew in a-modern (if not anti-modern) terms in the form of ambiance rather than space, of gas or ether rather than embodied matter, and in this case in terms of referring the experience of architecture to a denial of typology, and the experience of art to its share of intangibility.

[1] Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp du signe, Paris, Flammarion, second edition 1994, p. 274.
[2] If one compares them for example with the educations establishments of Zollverein (school of management and design, 2006) or Lausanne (Learning center of l’École polytechnique Fédérale, competition won in 2004, project forthcoming).

The Benedictine Monastery in the Santisima Trinidad de Las Condes
Andres Tellez
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“That which is done from the heart will one fine day touch the heart of people again.”[1]
Father Marie-Alain Couturier

Beginning of the article…

The church of the Benedictine Monastery in Las Condes in Santiago de Chile is one of the most important modern edifices in Latin America. Its authors, Martin Correa and Gabriel Guarda, architects and monks who have lived in the monastery since 1952[2], pulled off what is an unprecedented tour de force in Chile. Besides that, this church in situated within a particular complex, the monastery itself, whose architectural quality is just as striking. Built by four teams of architects over a period of almost fifty years, this ensemble bears witness to a remarkable effort of fidelity to the principles of austerity and purity of forms that inspired Jaime Bellalta, the architect laureate of the first competition in 1953.

[1] Marie-Alain Couturier, La Vérité blessée, Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 1984.
[2] Father Gabriel Guarda received his diploma in architecture from the Universidad Catolica de Chile (Santiago) in 1952, and won the national award of history. He is a docteur cientiae et honoris cause, historian, writer, and researcher. He was also the abbey of the monastery from 1985 to 1999. Brother Martin Correa studied architecture at the Universidad Catolica de Chile until 1952. He had entered the orders before received his licence as architect.