Dominique Perrault:"Competitions are always synonymous with discoveries"

In the framework of the ACE-UIA International Conference on Design Competitions, ACE talked with Dominique Perrault to discuss his vision regarding architectural contests, the city of tomorrow,  the concept of groundscape and climate change.   

ACE: You will be opening the ACE-UIA International Conference on Design Competitions as a keynote speaker. In 1989, François Mitterand launched a major competition to design the new national library, drawing entries from 244 architects around the world, a major contest that you won at only thirty-six years of age. In your view, are architectural competitions still synonymous with opportunities; a platform of creativity and quality? 

Dominique Perrault: During this conference, I would like to mention a consultation that we launched for architecture schools on the theme "Chambord, unfinished". This year, the ‘Château de Chambord’ is 500 years old. Over 20 schools around the world answered the consultation in order to reinvent the Castle: students from all over the world, from Australia, Japan, South America or Europe. This competition brought together a hundred projects - so many collages, so many utopias. We developed a real creativity platform, followed by a Pecha Kucha with nearly 220 students from around the world who joined us in Chambord for the exhibition of the entries. The main difference with the National Library of France competition is in the digital approach; all communications was via the internet, which allowed a hundred students to work on this project from their countries.  Competitions are always synonymous with discoveries, innovative proposals, interesting and sometimes extremely exciting ones.  Even though public competitions have decreased in number and importance. Private procurement is less extensive than the Public procurement, which launches programmes which are of interest to the community. Private procurement order launches programmes rather linked to operations.         

ACE: You just attended the 'Monde Festival' in Paris to reflect on the city of tomorrow. How do you see this city?
Dominique Perrault: The city of tomorrow will be much more shared than the one we know today. It's about sharing more places, public or private, like Airbnb or others. One example is the Olympic Village, a project we are working on as urban planners. Cities are now more interested in building neighbourhoods that are not just neighbourhoods in themselves, but neighborhoods whose designed bears a relationship with existing environments, which can transform more or less suitable environments such as brownfields sites into new neighborhoods, more connected in terms of transportation network and uses (housing, work, services, etc.). The concept of a shared city is a constant and permanent feature of our approach, as much at the level of the urban programme as on social, cultural or economic levels.                         

ACE: With Groundscape, you explore the potential of underground Architecture. How would you describe this “epidermal” architecture and what is your relationship with the ground?
Dominique Perrault: This extends the question of the shared city, i.e. finding 'more' in the same place. More possibilities. The soil thus becomes a resource and not a place in which there are only infrastructures. Using 'the epidermis of our cities' means extending the buildings in the ground, creating roots for them, and thus a complementary network that offers more services to the 'feet' of buildings.    

ACE: Is Architecture a solution in the fight against climate change?     

Dominique Perrault: This is a key issue as the building and construction sectors are the biggest polluters. There is much work that needs to be done with architecture for a more sustainable and resilient city from the point of view of both construction and urbanism. It is a topic that is very closely linked to the vision of the city and its development in the upcoming decades. It is time to 'wake up'!     

ACE: You are currently working on the « Ile de la Cité » in Paris. What is your ambition for renovating, reusing and regenerating the architectural heritage?     

Dominique Perrault: The ‘Ile de la Cité’ is a treasure in terms of heritage; the island is a monument as a whole. In order to optimise the urban usage of these different monuments, they must be thought of as linked elements through a regenerated public space, reused, opening up these buildings onto the squares, creating a thoroughfare. This raises complex issues of security but ambitious questions to: how to pool these common spaces so that they are more welcoming to citizens, providing information, services, ... There is an important transformation of the relationship between citizens and the institutions, between the citizens and the State. The ‘Ile de la Cité’ symbolises this democratic transformation of space where  institutions are placed at the service of the community. The recent drama of Notre-Dame (the fire) reveals this island as “the heart of the heart” and which carries with it the transformation of Paris. It refers to the State and therefore to the whole country, it is a space with a national dimension.     

ACE: Next month, ACE will hold a conference in Barcelona: Perspectives:  Young Architects' Forum. How do you see the new generation and what is your advice for them?     

Dominique Perrault: I always refer to the Marxist’s culture. Lenin used to say: ‘rabota, rabota rabota’, a moto carved in the Soviet buildings and which means : “work, work, work’.    

ACE: How do you see your building aging?  

Dominique Perrault: It depends on their users. Some users maintain buildings with great care, such as the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which pays particular attention to maintenance. Just like the “Hotel du Département de la Meuse” (administrative building for the country of Meuse) built more than 25 years ago, which is still in its prime, or the velodrome and the Olympic swimming pool of Berlin.     
All these users and owners consider that the buildings have not grown old because they are ageless. Rather classical architecture does not age. It’s a long-term process, which is not influence by fashion, even if it is sometimes criticised for this reason. But classical architecture resists and is more resilient to the passage of time.   

Dominique Perrault is a French architect and urbanist.
He gained international acclaim for his design of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
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Photo credit: Alexandre Tabaste

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