Stories behind projects: Edouard Francois - Matthew Griffin

Part 1

This is the first excerpt from my discussion with Edouard Francois in the BDA gallery on December 13th 2011. It focuses on his Fouquet's Barrière Hotel in Paris – a building that deserves the label 'Critical Reconstruction', especially when compared to Berlin's Adlon Hotel, a building perhaps better described as an 'Un-critical Pastiche'.

How did Edouard negotiate with the city and the clients to get their support for such an astounding and bold building? His quest for planning permission went directly to the French Minister of Culture.

Some of my favourite quotes:

“Architecture is decoration with holes (windows). This building separates the decoration from the holes”

“When talking with clients, never speak about architecture. Use the tonality of your voice, the content of what you are saying is irrelevant. Practice this on your dog.”

“Do your first building for a client exactly the way you want it, if he wants you again, that's OK. Many architects try a little more with each project, this never works. A client isn't a staircase, go straight to the top floor.”

Part 2

The second segment of our dialogue focuses on Edouard's 'disappearing' buildings. These projects circumvent the modernist ideology of buildings as objects. Instead they extend the landscape with their own foliage, becoming an inhabitable thicket.

We discuss the Gites Ruraux in Jupilles (1995, with Duncan Lewis), the Growing Building in Montpellier (2000), the Flower Tower in Paris (2004), and the world's first 60m high green tower currently in the works for Nantes.

“A building is an alibi to plant greenery.”

Edouard's experiments with green buildings play with specific effects to create the sensation of being in a forest. To get exactly the right plant, he collaborates with botanists.

He is currently experimenting with 'illegal' wild plants that grow in the cracks of mountains to find a species that will thrive under the extreme conditions of a 60m high tower.

Part 3

The final episode of our discussion examines three of Edouard's current 'stacked' buildings.

The Urban Collage in Chapigny-sur-Marne assembles copies of the neighbourhood's predominant building types. A tower in Grenoble is composed of a stone plinth of apartments surmounted by a vibrant mound of balcony gardens. A historically listed building on the Seine in Paris is being carefully renovated, and Edouard is adding a new layer of history which reveals a glass floor that has been buried for years.

His Urban Collage took a radical approach to the faceless Parisian suburb around it:

“I cannot do beauty, because it will make the rest look ugly, so I decided to do something very ugly, to make the rest look pretty.”

Special thanks to Architecturclips who made the video, and to the Berlin BDA and Francesca Fergusson for the BDA 1:1 Berliner Architekturdialoge series.

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