n°5

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Editorial
Sébastien Marot
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”Anyone who knows anything about the in-crowd which has made the ownership of cultural matters their exclusive preserve knows full well they all despise one another and every one of them bores all the others. This state of affairs is endemic with them. Nobody tries to disguise the fact, it is perfectly clear to everybody: it is even the very first thing they all talk about at the start of every conversation. Why do they put up with it? Evidently because they are incapable of sustaining any mutually agreed project. Each one of them recognises in all the others his own insi­gnificance and conditioning. In a nutshell, to be one of the in-crowd, he must submit to the rules of the game.”
“L’Aventure,” Internationale Situationniste, N° December 1960, p. 3.

Le Visiteur was founded nearly five years ago, with the express intention of making the visit central to cri­tical thinking on architecture, urbanism and landscape. Put like that, our aim may seem trivial — how could criticism skimp anything so fundamental? Yet contemporary architec­tural schemes are often presented in the professional Press and technical literature without any regard for the contin­gencies of the site, nor for the realities of the local situation they modify or produce. Admittedly, the investigation of built environments requires a level of commitment and investment which is not always available to professional journals constrained by their remit or their market to keep abreast of the agenda set by a given kind of “actuality.” Even when they do “go on location,” these publications rarely have the time or the means to convey any point of view other than those of the architect and his client – which is better than nothing. Meanwhile, the debates raging in the schools and in architectural circles readily hinge on very generalised ideas, pinched from here and there, and on abs­tract “positions” – each invariably vying with the others to be the most “radical.” All this adds up to the dissemination, on the one hand, of objects without any point of view and, on the other, of points of view without any object. We believe the visit offers a practical and pleasant way of resisting this divorce between ideas and realities.

A visit is a practical exercise in awareness, applied to a specific situation in order to form an idea of it. It is thinking in situ. “No ideas but in things,” as the poet William-Carlos Williams put it, “only the local is universal” – a profession of faith adopted by Le Visiteur. The four opening articles in this issue put this conviction into practice. Centred on very specific buildings and places, all develop arguments which the authors went on site to construct or to test. The first article concen­trates on the two schools — of art and of architecture – recently built in France to designs by Bernard Tschumi. Thanks to the celebrity of the architect and his talents as a propagandist, combined with the prestigious nature of these cultural commissions, both buildings were famous before they were even built. So Françoise Fromonot and David Leclerc went off to find out how much these brilliant achie­vements really illuminate the circumstances which motivated their construction and the discourse upon which they were based. Their visit will be of interest to anyone who believes an architectural adventure should be gauged not only by the sophistication of the theoretical intrigues it seeks to explore but also by its tangible consequences. The tone and argument may seem unduly forthright to readers long used to sniffing out the slightest whiff of unspoken criticism between the lines of elliptical commentaries. This forthrightness does not spring from a conviction that the visit should by its very nature be “objective,” far from it; it attempts to ensure that what is questionable really is questioned.

The second article takes us to Berlin, to consider how contemporary architecture and art can convey the memory of places and events. Describing several installations by Joseph Beuys, currently on show together in the Hamburger Bahnhof, although originally conceived in specific circum­stances as relics of architectural or urban experiences, Jean-Philippe Antoine calls into question the way the exhibi­tion has been staged: contingencies essential to the installa­tions have been erased, in favour of a “smoothness” akin to the manner the former railway station has been converted for use as a museum.

Unlike the first two visits, the two which follow are concerned not with highly prized public buildings but with technical devices generally deemed anti-urban on principle and over which, in fact, architects rarely have any control. In their studies of a traffic roundabout in the Toulouse suburbs and a well-known intersection on the Paris ring-road, Eric Alonzo and Antoine Viger-Kohler both advocate a change in outlook and a constructive attitude to these generally shunned traffic facilities, which could even lead to their being over-invested with complementary uses and projects.

However little-known he may still be in the non-English speaking countries of Europe, John Brinckerhoff Jackson [1909-1996] has played no small part in the evolution of the way we look at the landscapes produced by modern roads.

We hope the selection of essays and translations presented in the second part of this issue will encourage readers to discover the work of this peerless observer who set himself the task – as though it were a simple matter – of helping his students to become “alert and enthusiastic tourists.” Le Visiteur shares exactly the same ambition.

This fifth issue of le Visiteur is the first to be published with bilingual texts (with the exception of the original versions of texts we have translated into French, as these are widely available in English). We hope this new departure will not only extend our readership and our field of investigation, but will also prompt contributions from wherever new visitors may wish to record and reveal the cultures and projects which make up our living environment.

The vague idea that the information technology revolution and globalisation would dispose of the notion of situation and deprive the visit of most of its interest seems to us dubious. Indeed, we think that the very opposite is the case, for the very real incidence of these phenomena only makes the experience still more necessary and exciting. Le Visiteur has set itself no doctrinal framework apart from this sole pro­gramme – already sufficiently wide-ranging and demanding in its own right to form the basis of a shared adventure and maybe even an instrument for common sense. Proposals for articles, criticism and applications for subscriptions may be sent to the editors or by e-mail to <sfarchi@club-internet.fr>.

Translated from the French by Charlotte Ellis


Bernard Tschumi, a user’s manual
Françoise Fromonot and David Leclerc
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Beginning of the article…

Bernard Tschumi occupies an enviable place among the stars of the architectural firmament – a privileged commu­nity familiar to him since birth (he is the son of the Swiss Modernist architect Jean Tschumi). Having graduated from the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in 1969 he was a Unit Master at the London Architectural Association in 1970-79; there he was one of the enfants terribles, along with Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Liebeskind, when the school was in its heyday.

Joseph Beuys “for the present”
Jean-Philippe Antoine
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Beginning of the article…

To reach the new museum of contemporary art, Hamburger Bahnhof (or Hamburg Station), you normally go through another station, the Lehrter Bahnhof. Its proximity to the Parliament and future administrative district of Germany’s capital caused it to be chosen as the Berlin terminal of the major national and international lines.

This is not a square

Visit to the Patte-d’Oie roundabout

Éric Alonzo
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Beginning of the article…

Blagnac, on the northern outskirts of Toulouse. Near the international airport and the Airbus assembly workshops, the town continues to spread outwards, marked by rounda­bouts such as “Place de la Revolution,” “Place Marcel-Dassault,” “Place Georges-Brassens” and so on. Hiding behind these names with their implied history lie traffic roundabouts which, cluttered with symbolic constructions (pyramids, porticos, labyrinths), claim to go beyond their traffic flow function and represent urban spaces structuring the new town.

Porte de Bagnolet
Antoine Viger-Kohler
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Beginning of the article…

In the minds and imagination of contemporary city-dwellers, and despite being so well-known to most of them, large infrastructures do not blend well with the city. Considered as nuisances or as necessary evils, they are rarely considered or appreciated for what they are or could be.

Landscape, Law and habit
Luc Baboulet
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Beginning of the article…

At first glance, Jackson’s America is primarily an abstract space, a measure. It is the landscape of an Idea, and – if “every landscape is the place where one establishes ones own organization of space and time”[1] – then indeed it is even the Idea of landscape itself, in which human measurement has suspended the order of things and the course of time.

[1] “Concluding with Landscapes” in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1984, p. 156.

J. B. Jackson and human geography

The origins of the journal Landscape

Jean-Marc Besse
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Beginning of the article…

J. B. Jackson explicitly associated Landscape with the field of human geography, right from the first publication.[1] He worked on the journal for about twenty years. In this respect, the references and theoretical models he used to present the journal’s intentions, as well as its subtitle – Human Geography of the Southwest – are revealing. So is his prelimi­nary request for contributions: “Landscape is interested in original articles of not more than 4,000 words dealing with aspects of the human geography of the Southwest, particu­larly those suited to illustration by aerial photographs. Articles should be designed to appeal to the intelligent layman rather than the specialist.” These lines reveal a fully conceived intellectual project.

[1] This essay develops a presentation made on 21st of January 2000, as part of a two-day seminar devoted to Jackson’s work, which was included in both a series of lectures on History  and landscape theory organized by Georges Descombes and Alain Léveillé at the Architectural Institute of the University of Geneva, part of the D.E.S. – Diploma “Architecture and Landscape.” I would like to thank the organizers and participants, as well as Gilles Tiberghien, Sébastien Marot and Luc Baboulet for their presentations and comments.

À l’école des paysages

(Not translated)

J. B. Jackson
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Début de l’article…

Pendant plus de vingt ans, j’ai passé de nombreux mois à aller d’université en université pour parler des campagnes, des bourgades et des villes américaines à des groupes d’étudiants. J’avais beaucoup voyagé dans le Sud, le Midwest et le Sud-Ouest, et j’aimais bien raconter à mon auditoire — plus ou moins captif — ce que j’avais vu et comment je pensais que ces bourgades et ces campagnes étaient devenues ce qu’elles étaient. De très mauvaises diapositives servaient à illustrer mon propos. Si ma mémoire est bonne, ce fut au milieu des années cinquante, à l’université de Californie à Berkeley, que je commençai cette carrière itinérante.

Comment étudier le paysage ?

(Not translated)

J. B. Jackson
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Début de l’article…

Comme je l’ai dit plus haut, j’ai donné plusieurs années, à Harvard et à Berkeley, un cours intitulé «Histoire du paysage culturel américain». Il y était question de ces choses banales que sont les clôtures, les routes et les granges, le design des usines et des immeubles de bureaux, le tracé des villes, des exploitations agricoles, des cimetières, des parcs, des maisons ; et puis, vers la fin, j’abordais les grandes autoroutes, les strips et certaines formes nouvelles de récréation que je qualifiais de psychédéliques. Tout au long de ce cours, je montrais de nombreuses diapositives, et chaque étudiant devait rédiger un petit mémoire sur un aspect particulier du paysage américain contemporain.

Le mot lui-même

(Not translated)

J. B. Jackson
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Début de l’article…

Je me demande pourquoi nous avons tant de mal à nous accorder sur le sens du mot landscape. Le terme est relativement simple, il se rapporte à quelque chose que nous avons l’impression de connaître; et pourtant, chacun semble l’entendre à sa manière.

Idée et réalités du paysage

(Not translated)

J. B. Jackson
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Début de l’article…

Souvent, une pensée me vient, qui m’arrête et me déconcerte; c’est l’idée que tout ce que je me suis plu à imaginer, tout ce que j’ai pu dire ou écrire au cours des années passées ne concerne au fond qu’une même et unique question : comment définir (ou redéfinir) le concept de paysage. Je dis bien le concept et non le paysage comme phénomène ou comme environnement : ces aspects- là ne m’ont jamais posé de problèmes. Tout un chacun aimant à s’entendre dire que le paysage où il vit est unique en son genre et digne d’une étude attentive, il suffit de souligner cette singularité pour lui donner toute satisfaction. Or, c’est précisément là que les choses ont commencé à se compliquer pour moi d’une manière inattendue : plus je multipliais les explorations et plus les paysages me semblaient, tous, posséder des traits communs; l’essence de chacun n’était pas ce qui le rendait unique mais, ce par quoi il ressemblait à tous les autres.

Le paysage comme théâtre

(Not translated)

J. B. Jackson
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Début de l’article…

Lorsque nous parlons des «décors de notre enfance» (scenes of our childhood) ou que, paraphrasant Pope, nous décrivons le monde comme la «scène de l’homme», nous utilisons le mot scene dans un sens apparemment littéral, qui désignerait l’endroit, le lieu où quelque chose se produit. Il nous vient rarement à l’esprit que nous utilisons en fait, par métaphore, un mot emprunté au théâtre. A l’origine en effet, le mot scene désignait les tréteaux, comme il le fait toujours en français, et lorsqu’il commença à se répandre dans le langage quotidien, ce sens d’origine était toujours présent dans les esprits : nous sous-entendions que le monde était un théâtre où nous étions à la fois acteurs et spectateurs.

L’étoffe d’un sage

(Not translated)

Marc Treib
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Début de l’article…

Dans ses dernières années, John Brinckerhoff Jackson passait ses matinées à travailler comme jardinier. Il portait d’habitude un jean et un tee-shirt, en été, ou bien, en hiver, une veste de flanelle, un pantalon de cuir et un blouson. Il recherchait la compagnie et la conversation des gens qu’il rencontrait au travail ou en faisant ses courses, plutôt que celles des professeurs qui le tenaient en si haute estime. Jackson ne présentait pas vraiment l’apparence du chercheur éminent et respecté qu’il était, et beaucoup de ses amis ne comprenaient pas qu’il puisse se consacrer quotidiennement à ses travaux d’ouvrier. Sans doute ses efforts étaient-ils motivés par le besoin d’être en relation permanente d’une part avec les gens qui constituent la base de la société américaine et d’autre part avec ce paysage culturel américain dont il fut l’un des observateurs les plus attentifs.