“l’Entorse” associationby Julien Carrel
Julien Carrel, president of the association Entorse explains the process behind the collaboration with AZC as part of the proposal Water Invaders.
Hermann Lugan and I founded L’Entorse in 2006 in Lille, with the aim of forging links between the worlds of art and sport, two worlds whose functions and followings too frequently remain compartmentalised.
Today, nearly 30,000 people visit some 40 municipalities in Lille and across the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of north-eastern France that host the biennial festival of exhibitions, shows and participatory projects exploring the world of sport.
At the end of 2012, in response to our call for projects for the 2014 festival, AZC proposed Water Invaders. Their proposal came with several site options: in areas of natural water within the Lille conglomeration, or in the Salengro swimming pool in Bruay-la-Buissière, 30 miles south-east of Lille – one of the most beautiful Art Deco open-air swimming pools still in use in France. These different options fitted well, and with some degree of pertinence, with local public strategy for promoting the heritage and leisure activities of these areas of water.
Water Invaders appealed to us because in the image of the L’Entorse festival, which unites sports fans and arts enthusiasts, it brings together ideas that are apparently contradictory, or at least disjointed: visual impact and sports recreation, monumentality and simplicity, an original take on familiar references – Space Invaders, trampoline.
In terms of relational and participative aesthetics, this piece reminds us just what rich and fertile sources of inspiration areas of natural water, and swimming pools, can be for contemporary designers, artists and architects. Among many other projects, we might be reminded of Daniel Buren and Pauline Fondevila’s range of striped sails, Franck Bölter’s giant paper boat building performance, or the installation ‘Les Thermes’, by arts collective Amicale de Production. Perhaps it is because water games and water sports are, from early childhood, particularly joyful and memorable experiences, giving rise to powerful images and feelings?
Water Invaders is a sort of Proust’s madeleine in a swimsuit, drawing as it does on nostalgia for a classic video game and the childish joy of bouncing off a trampoline into water. It remains our intention to find partners, in and around Lille, who are ready to take the plunge in creating the conditions for the production and use of this installation.
Activities and Offices: The Big Bets of Active Livingby
How to respond to the evolution of a sector in constant renewal while being in agreement with the development challenges of the metropolises of our time? AZC Architects presents its vision of this topic.
The globalization of national economies, which adopt the same principles of production, is reflected in an identical urban modeling of world cities. The territories of Paris, Montreal, Brussels, Sydney or Tokyo undergo the same phenomena of spreading, deconcentrations or urban polarizations.
Dans la région parisienne, l’ensemble de l’organisation métropolitaine reflète l’organisation des marchés immobiliers de bureaux, tant les enjeux financiers qu’ils représentent, sont déterminants. Le phénomène est largement expliqué par l’économiste et sociologue Saskia Sassen, dans ‘Global City’.
Today Paris is the French region in which the 'metropolitan condition' opens widely the field of possibilities in the architecture of activities. With renovations of anonymous or iconic buildings, new buildings on islands and wasteland, Paris reinforces its polarities in neighborhoods like La Défense and continues actively spreading to the peripheries, following the trend.
The City also supports the construction of offices and business premises at favorable rates, designed to facilitate the creation of young businesses: business hotels, nurseries, workshops.
Other, more traditional, public players are also starting to create new types of activity buildings: fablabs, innovation centers … University campuses and research centers with land, want today open their scientific and experimental activities to new, more dynamic and inclusive economies.
An evolutionary architecture
At the time of a vibrant culture, space must be designed for evolution and change.
The evolution of buildings is for us a recurring concern. Subject to change of ownership, changing standards or simply a desire for renewal, each construction should, ideally, be able to play new roles whenever necessary.
The structure as a guarantee of coherence
Most often, the structure is a way of considering buildings in their evolution capacity. The precise analysis of the structures and the operating diagrams makes it possible to decide finely on the transformation of each one. The structure is a means of scheduling that can guarantee consistency throughout the life of a building.
In urban areas, transformation is more than ever a fundamental subject that allows recycling and upgrading of existing heritage by bringing the building up to general standards. Paris has many buildings built during the growth cycles of the 1970s to 2000, which have the potential to be transformed into qualitative spaces and economically very profitable. The idea is not to make neutral shells ready to be "filled", but to design spaces that could free uses.
Designing an attractive city for residentsby AZC Architectes
With the stakes of our time AZC Architects tries to design a city that remains attractive to its inhabitants.
The political project of Greater Paris has the effect, urban densification of municipalities in Ile de France.
New housing, business premises, equipment and public transport, will reorganize the scattered territory that is now formed by individual houses, small industries and wastelands. The urban challenges are enormous, to propose a soft, pleasant, benevolent urbanism in which inhabitants and nature will share the territory of Greater Paris. We know that the house is a model that can no longer meet the need to densify, but should we already assert this break in density, without taking into account the context? Soft densification is a solution that aims to reinvent and mix, transition typologies, drawing their DNA in existing fabrics - pavilions, industries, large ensembles of the seventies. If densification is to make us agree to no longer live in single-family houses with private gardens, we can however claim to live in the big city by inviting nature to take an important place in the urban environment.
This amounts to freeing space on the ground, creating gardens, meeting places, culture, breathing, so that the density becomes acceptable to all inhabitants. It is in this spirit that we intend to design projects whose quality begins with the city, the neighborhood.
This amounts to freeing space on the ground, creating gardens, meeting places, culture, breathing, so that the density becomes acceptable to all inhabitants. It is in this spirit that we intend to design projects whose quality begins with the city, the neighborhood.
A new look is needed to first design dwellings and not anonymous bars and towers. In the middle of the gardens, they will be given to read as coherent assemblages which make the cohabitation pleasant. Villages of large villas, in which the unit width of each dwelling is perceptible. This width, which is reminiscent of the historical dwelling of the pavilions, corresponds today to the constructive framework and can be revealed in the architecture of the buildings. At the same time by slight shifts in plan and by a variety in the épannelages which operate on this rhythm. The villas buildings can contain a wealth of units and express as many ways to live, in the form of housing that share common circulation or small individual duplexes, accessible directly from the gardens. Most new housing programs organize social mix on the same site, which is a good thing. For the cohabitation between seniors, students, social housing and those in accession, is likely to succeed, we must find the right measure between intimacy and sharing common spaces.
The distribution of housing units in built-up complexes is an act that requires equity and balance. Everyone aspires to a good orientation, a qualitative view towards the outsides, even in the conditions of a denser dwelling. The fine job is to preserve the privacy of each home. For cohabitation to be well lived, it is important to let everyone have the opportunity if they wish to be at home and not to mix. All of the above makes sense when every unit, every dwelling, without exception, has been designed to ensure the simplest operation and to guarantee the highest quality of the spaces that compose it. From Q3, all dwellings are traversing or double oriented, which implies a larger number of staircases. For the common areas, the halls, the stairs and the spaces in front of the elevators are all lit naturally.
The day and night spaces are clearly defined and each has its private outdoor space with dimensions allowing real use. Inside, the rooms all have dimensions that can be furnished, simple shapes, a generous amount of natural light, a kitchen with window, without imposing the facade fully glazed for all. Architecture and the choice of materials are closely linked to uses and wear. Thus, durable and easy-care assemblies are placed where they are directly accessible by the inhabitant, where there is wear: the common areas, the interior of the balconies, the glazed frames, the blinds, the guard -body, the ground floor of facades. Elsewhere, in inaccessible places, the focus is on aging quality, a beautiful patina.
Reconciling inhabitants with nature by creating strong links between housing and the landscape around it, contributes to the attractiveness of the dense city. The organization of the site is essential for the preservation of good sunshine, the fight against heat islands, the storage and recovery of water, the protection of biodiversity. The distances between buildings, the percentage of space in the ground due to parking, the development of mineral passages, have an impact on the quality of life in the dense city. The massive presence of nature, encourages interactions between neighbors. Some outdoor spaces will receive more specific functions. Large clearings are areas of biodiversity, private gardens are outdoor extensions of housing, the passages allow everyone to walk through the island and to go to his home. Finally, the spaces designated for sharing, are equipped with playgrounds, the meal places petanque.
Example of a social and medical projectby Margot Guislain
Conversation about the realization of the residence Monconseil in the ZAC of the same name in Tours. This interview was conducted by Margot Guislain, architecture journalist, with the people involved in the design and construction of the Monconseil Retreat House in Tours.
Arlette Bosch, Deputy Mayor of Tours in charge of the elderly and solidarity, Vice-President of the communal center of social action.
Denis Guihomat, Director of the communal center of social action.
Luc Mahaut, Director of the Trois Rivières and Monconseil retirement homes
Stéphane Roy, Plee Constructions - Structural Work
Stéphane Garnier, Soriba company - architectural concrete
Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zundel, AZC - Architects
The architecture responds above all to a command, that is to say to a concrete need. Subject to the imperative of sustainability, it must be at the service of users to take into account their comfort and well-being. Working on projects in the medical field - psychiatric hospital for children, retirement home, baby mother unit, rehabilitation clinic and follow-up care, nursing home - request to approach each project with the necessary pragmatism.
Program, site and budget, are three golden rules that impose their strength, their unavoidable needs, but which, taking them with patience and creativity, are an opportunity to give the building owner and building users a " I do not know what", besides who does everything.
First, immerse yourself in the program to understand all the workings, then give it an added value by allowing other uses, through the work of details. The site dictates its laws but, in exchange, can be modeled, magnified. And the budget, which is important, which tames the project but which, by radical architectural choices, brings relief and identity. With these three parameters as guides, it is clear more than ever, that the hero of the adventure is not the architect but the project itself.
To share this experience and inform the projects, AZC invited different stakeholders - owners, users, companies to give their point of view on the realization of medical equipment in which, together, they are involved.
Where did the decision to build Monconseil retirement home come from?
AB: The home care needs of dependent elderly people and people with Alzheimer's disease were overwhelming. Hence the decision of our board of directors to immediately embark on the adventure of a fourth retirement home meeting these two expectations, we decided to keep the project management for the construction of this fourth establishment. From the beginning, we wanted this retirement home to be exemplary. We set up working groups with CCAS administrators and staff members: nurses, caregivers, social workers, cooks, psychologists, ambulance attendants … Every staff member let us know what they wanted: we wanted understand what an "ideal retirement home" might look like We managed to introduce some original program elements while entering into the budget envelope that we set ourselves so that people with modest incomes could stay in Monconseil.
What is the big challenge of this achievement?
AB: This is not an establishment realized by a large group and delivered turnkey, but of a structure which asked all the actors of the project a personal investment, made of humility before the stakes, d a healthy curiosity about innovation but also a great determination in front of administrative requirements and the follow-up of the financial commitments. This retirement home, we can say that it was the staff who made it. May he be thanked. Architects make a work of art and we want to make it inhabited. I can see now that, in terms of architecture and users, she is referring to it. Everyone is talking about the "beautiful retirement home Monconseil".
Did you have to make concessions?
DG: Indeed, when we defined our program, the field was not yet chosen, and we then worked on what we thought would be our ideal retirement home. We wanted a building at R + 1, with all the collective spaces on the ground floor and all the accommodation spaces on one floor because, as I said before, the teams work much more easily in a horizontal way than vertical. *
DG: The project has benefited from previous experiences and the mistakes have not been replicated. For example, the building has only two floors, not five as is the case for another of our retirement homes. Indeed, too many levels pose operational problems because the staff can not afford, for the safety of residents, to temporarily leave a floor. Monconseil is to this day our most successful retirement home.
What do you expect from an architect for the realization of a retirement home?
LM: The adequacy between the architecture of the building and the needs related to the care of residents: where do we sleep? In floor, on the ground floor? On how many levels? How to locate the rooms according to the pathologies? Where to place staff premises so that it can work calmly and efficiently?
The architect must first be able to respond to this type of questioning, the aesthetic comes second. Because it's up to the building to adapt to the users and not the other way around. If regulatory bodies engage with users and architects, we could change the standards in terms of room surface, adapt accessibility standards to people with disabilities depending on the context, since in this area, we in fact too much, not enough.
The architect must use his talent to integrate a whole arsenal of medical equipment in the most rational way, without producing a hospital atmosphere. For example, oxygen extractors must be easily accessible, but do not hang out in the hallways. In Monconseil, the architects managed to find this place for them.
This retirement home is one of the first buildings to come out of the ground in the Monconseil ZAC, a new eco-district in the middle of a building located north of Tours. What were the influences of urban regulation on project design?
AZC: Our first sketch in the competition phase proposed a low construction, of a single floor, displayed on the ground, pierced with patios and protected from the urban agitation. The client's specifications - the municipal center of social action - tended towards this type of architecture. The "ideal home" that they had imagined during a long phase of consultation with all the staff could be read there.
On the other hand, the planning regulations issued by the ZAC called for equipment turned towards the city, as high as possible and in perfect alignment with the street. In fact, the two documents had been drawn up independently, so we found ourselves faced with two divergent, almost contradictory requests.
How did you resolve this contradiction?
AZC: With the final sketch, it was clear that we had given up "the little house on the meadow", difficult to achieve given the constraints of urban planning, but also in terms of budget savings: everything therefore helped to guide us to the figure of the "bar". According to urban regulations, we aligned the building on the street, placed the garden entirely at the back, and gathered the rooms on two floors above the ground floor. The building then became compact. But in architecture, the memory of the first sketch never disappears altogether. The first desires resist and creep into the new project, as constrained as it is. Thus, the original small house was able to take shape with the Alzheimer unit, a small square-shaped building, entirely on the ground floor and organized around a planted patio. Through a large bay window, transparency is created that visually links the interior garden of this unit with the main one of the retirement home, which then takes the status of a large patio.
As we won the competition in front of a jury made up of CCAS members, elected officials and the chief architect of the ZAC, it is likely that our final project was able to reach consensus, that is, to reconcile the ideals of the CCAS and the realities of the ZAC Monconseil.
Bar more concrete: the association can be scary. How did the choice of concrete prevail?
An all-wood building would have caused summer comfort problems at room temperature, and this is particularly important for a retirement home. Not only does concrete have the advantage of having good thermal inertia, but it is also cheaper and more environmentally friendly than wood since, in Europe, cement plants are never far from a construction site. Moreover, in Tours, there is a real tradition of concrete: companies have a real know-how which it would be a shame not to take advantage.
And then, a great opportunity to work concrete in a very particular way came during the studies: the CCAS came to ask us for a fresco that animate the facade by evoking the lives of residents. With reason, it seemed to them necessary that the retirement home is not anonymous, but displays its identity in this new district of Tours. We seized their request, but rather than a painted decoration, we proposed to them to play with the same material of the concrete so as to reveal, by means of a sandblasting, motifs of tapestry on all the facades. This is a direct reference to the history of Tours which, as a former city of silk, supplied the kingdom of France in fabrics of all kinds. With such a finish, the concrete, even raw, becomes here velvet.
Looking back, how do you see this achievement today?
The contest was won in 2006: today, we would have held more on our belief to break the building into several plots. But in return, the linearity of the bar, more economical, allowed to implement the materials in a more noble way: the concrete facades have a very special finish thanks to this tapestry effect, the windows are aluminum, the fake ceilings are in perforated metal and not in fiber and the furniture has been chosen to measure. But what is most important in this building is the absence of overbid: there is no extraordinary lighting but generous interior spaces and everywhere bathed in natural light. Indeed, the dimensions of the windows are such that the total glazed area of the building is almost twice the minimum required by the regulations. And that's a lot ...
Architecture and technique
Do you think that architecture has fulfilled its mission here?
LM: The architects have created small friendly living units with a common space in the center of each floor and smaller, room-sized, traffic-oriented lounges that allow you to sit quietly within a few minutes. each. With such a gradation of the collective to the private, the intimacy of the rooms is preserved without sacrificing the meeting. For those who need to be reassured by the presence of the staff, it is even possible to keep the door of the room open without suffering noise. This possibility of isolating oneself in a community life is important for residents who, very often, suddenly move from the private world of their home to the collective one of the retirement home. Everyone needs to have both a social living space and a place to meet oneself.
The design of the unit for people with Alzheimer's disease, with rooms on the ground floor and an interior patio where they can walk safely, also contributes to a good architectural reflection.
What were the first impressions of staff and residents when they arrived?
LM: The corridors appeared to be huge and at first the staff even wanted roller skates! But finally everyone was satisfied with the organization, very rational, floors. The light gray circulations and collective spaces also raised fears: the staff felt they were in a hospitable world! But he understood this choice when the colored furniture arrived. This has all balanced and done away with this first impression! In the same way, the differences of colors on the doors and the small vestibule of entrance of each room give marks to the residents. However there is a flat to put on the red - considered too violent by many - some rooms, which have had trouble finding takers. And a flat too on the too light shade of concrete in the garden, which causes dazzling.
Concrete does not always have a good image in the eyes of users. What about here?
DG: Thanks to the motifs that run through the façades and recall the history of Tours and its former silks, it is no longer just concrete walls. The tapestry effect produced is the architectural "mark" of the establishment. It is important for residents and their families to have a beautiful building in which they can identify. He is neither sad nor old and not fragile: he is solid and contemporary.
During the development of the project, on which points did you have to reframe the architectural design?
DG: The only doubt that there has been concerns the choice of colors made by the architects. We had to find a deal by reducing the too much, and reducing the painted surfaces in the rooms. But the result, they continue to be controversial: there are those who do not like the red, too violent, others green … Sometimes, the rooms are difficult to attribute. On the other hand, in the circulations, the colors of the furniture are cheerful and pass very well.
That a shell company makes tapestry patterns is rather unexpected. How did you respond to this order?
SR: For this type of work, we work in collaboration with Soriba, a very specialized company in the realization of concretes with particular finishes: texture, relief, patterns … What was the case at Monconseil retirement home where the facades concrete are covered with a plant motif of four meters by four which is repeated to form a huge tapestry, evoking the history of Tours and its former silks. Our technical design office - Haller - first designed all the concrete panels according to their location on the facades, the size of the windows, the plans of reinforcement, particular for each of them as these panels are not laid in cladding but constitute the very supporting structure of the building.
These preliminary studies resulted in a façade layout plan from which Soriba was able to realize, one by one and very meticulously, a hundred panels, none of which are quite similar to the other. Thanks to this high level of precision, the construction company Plee Constructions has assembled the facades by assembling the panels to the nearest centimeter to ensure the continuity of the upholstery on all sides of the building. Imagine: one mistake on the study and the prefabrication of a panel and it is all the others that should have been remanufactured!
SG: We first thought to reproduce the vegetal motif of the tapestry with the technique of stamped concrete. But we proposed that of the stencil, from a stainless steel plate on which the pattern is reproduced by laser cuts.
First, we just put the steel stencil on the panel following the calepinage made in design office. In a second step, we attack the concrete by projection of sand, air and water with a machine (process called hydro sandblasting), as if we passed the panel to Kärcher. In this way, in the hollows of the stencil, the thinnest and lightest components of the cement are detached from the surface of the concrete, revealing the thickest and darkest aggregates. This results in a darker shade of the pattern reproduced on the concrete.
It is therefore by contrast between light concrete and dark concrete that the pattern is drawn. But his complete design overlapping several panels, it was necessary to position the stencil each time differently to reproduce in its entirety. This required a long and careful preparation that we carried out using a suitable software.
What satisfaction do you get from such an original realization?
SR: On most of the buildings we build, our work is not visible once the site is finished, since the masonry is usually covered with a siding or plaster. On the other hand, at Monconseil retirement home, the concrete is still there, showing a complex implementation, with a very original finish. When we pass the building, we turn our heads towards the building, happy to have participated in its construction.
SG: The requirement of the architects was very great and was granted with our technical imperatives. The prefabrication of the panels in the workshop made it possible to work quickly, cleanly, sheltered from the dust and the hazards of the building site. In addition, thanks to the use of silicone, the joints between the panels are very attenuated, and what we see first, it is therefore a facade upholstered.
Why did you choose the Zündel and Cristea project?
DG: It was the project that seemed closest to our ideal home. We wanted indeed spacious and pleasant corridors that are indoor walks. Because we must take into account that most older people leave very little outside because of mobility problems and in summer they suffer from heat. Residents must therefore want to walk inside the building, which is the case in Monconseil thanks to the small rooms that punctuate traffic, the abundance of natural light, the views of the outside …
Another important criterion: the realistic operating costs in the Zündel and Cristea project. Other projects were discarded only because they did not take them sufficiently into account. For example, the green walls: it's beautiful but it's not for us, we do not have the means to maintain them. It must be realized that this is primarily a nursing home that depends on social assistance.
What made you think that the operating costs would be acceptable in the selected project?
DG: Its architectural sobriety that does not prevent the aesthetic dimension: the facades, even if they are very original, do not require more maintenance than the usual remodelings, widely spaced in time. We also saw that to clean the glazing there would be no need to use a basket or to call a mountain climber, as is the case for another of our establishments, because of its entirely glazed facades of which the windows do not open.
It is a whole set of details like these, which one does not necessarily perceive during the contest, and which make flambé the costs of maintenance. But when we have been scalded, we pay attention. In this sense, this project was able to benefit from the realization of our three previous retirement homes. In this type of establishment, we prefer to put the means at the service of residents rather than spend our time repainting the walls and mowing the lawns …
From development, to fixing up, to driving forwardsby Jean-Pierre Charbonneau
Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, urban planner, consultant in urban and cultural policies, presents here a broad look at the evolution of our cities and the place of the human in urban policies.
If economics can have alternative policies, why not urbanism?
We have spent the last few decades fixing up parts of our towns – never actually finishing them of course, for a city can never be completed – and sometimes without much success, as our large housing projects demonstrate. Faced with deindustrialisation, out-dated housing, the pre-eminence of the car and ecological disaster, we have patched up, undoubtedly causing new problems in doing so.
However, a growing movement is mobilising brainpower to generate new ideas and practices: change of use without redevelopment; consideration of the complex needs of a community rather than applying a set of pre-fabricated, technocratic solutions; preservation wherever possible, rather than starting from scratch … Moving away from traditional considerations, this new movement deals with a new set of criteria, which includes reduced budgets, community needs, the possibility of future evolution. Rather than being a handicap, economic constraints have helped by forcing us to get straight to the basic essentials. Today’s situation promotes innovation, supports creativity and enriches projects, calling on our intelligence. We are forced to take a new look at practices and uses, to consider different ways of doing things, to think about the humanity of a place; and all this when we still find it so hard to understand community needs, and even more so to keep up with changing society.
And so following this period of ‘patching up’, will we now come to a period of harnessing our experiences to active service?
The proposed changes in practice have the benefit of mobilising local communities and projects, often bringing a real dynamic to an area. Instead of technique, materials and money, they put individuals and urban communities at the heart of the thought process. They open up possibilities through innovation, with imaginative consideration of the relationship between the project and its users, bringing about an urban environment that is more alive, more active, on the move and more reactive, a reflection of urban society.
And this is the position taken by AZC architects. Faced with a changing world, they propose solutions that are novel in their shape, use, cost and temporality. Take for example their idea for a bridge over the Seine in Paris, the Bouncing Bridge. Inflatable, easily moved, it provides not only a means of crossing the river, but also an extraordinary urban experience. It shows Paris in a whole new light, creating this most unexpected trampoline in the heart of the capital. This project, ostensibly utopian, is in fact both realistic and realisable. The architects put their intelligence and skill not into regurgitating conventional solutions, which are often unsuitable and unsatisfactory, but into inventing new ones. They have left behind the stagnant reproduction of the city and shapes of the 19th century, repetition of a past time, and moved on to building in response to our times. Is this modernity? Does this project mark a new era, as did Paris Plage in 2002, or the subsequent shifting developments along the Left Bank of the Seine?
Urban planning is founded on a range of well-established ideas and creative thinking that have functioned for decades. But these notions remain anchored in the past and do not look towards the future. We continue to revere the ‘grand projet’, an ideology that brought about a conventional wisdom that the powers of the day took on as their own. The problem with these large-scale public projects, which might take up to 20 years from idea to completion, was that budgets inevitably needed topping up from the local pocket, while the economic, social and urban context of the original idea had changed utterly.
Large-scale projects suck up finance, human resources and attention; it is common for excessive attention to be given to the public spaces and overall comfort in the immediate vicinity of a major project, whereas just a few steps away out-dated street lighting flickers over pavements riddled with pot holes. This kind of compartmentalised approach siphons off local authority funding and is more about development for development’s sake than any consideration for urban well-being.
Alternative urban policies can exist. They should be based on experience, on what we already know, but freshly interpreted and not bogged down by the weight of convention that over time has paralysed evolution in line with our changing world. We need to open our minds and methods, freeing the way for new ways to emerge. A few examples follow.
Public space was long dismissed by town councils and government offices, left to abandon, unused and unloved. Today public space attracts a huge amount of attention, but often without much consideration of its role within its particular context – how it will be used and what functions it should cater for. And so, in a one-size-fits-all approach, luxurious new spaces are made, with a rich abundance of materials, furniture and planting. Sophistication and profusion plunder budgets, leaving nothing for essential sites or subjects. We are creating a surplus of over-designed spaces, which are often left empty.
Some towns have experimented and created simpler, less costly projects that align with the needs and the desires of the inhabitants. They have redeveloped only where necessary, using development as a tool that is adapted for each project. The objective is to bring life to the site. This approach calls for intelligence, sensitivity and creativity in considering the life of a specific place, rather than applying a blanket solution with no thought to context and local considerations.
Transport today is all about tramways! We have created whole new landscaped areas around them: would these sites otherwise have been left barren? But budgets are tight, so instead why not use wheel-based transport, improved bus services with dedicated lanes. Arguably they would be less efficient in a city of 7 million, the likes of Bogota, but surely they would suffice for our mid-sized towns? And why not invest in bicycles? In Copenhagen one in three journeys is by bicycle. And walking is free and efficient, then there is car-sharing … The different options are numerous, but fresh reflection is required to devise and implement an overall strategy for change, and change must come.
Different lines of thought are already being explored. Some are clumsy and naïve, often based on the idea of ‘working with the community’ (allotments in the city, art in the street); good intentions that do not meet the demands of the reality and scale of a city in motion. Others genuinely reflect on a multitude of different approaches in an attempt to define appropriate, evolutionary solutions that work. These can be found in some student projects at architecture and urbanism schools, in schemes submitted for ideas competitions, or sometimes in change-of-use applications. They often demonstrate a real understanding of the way we live, sensitively recognising different situations, both economic and ecological.
And yet the reality of urban action bears no relation to this, ideas get lost along the way, the way in which we develop cities has not evolved. The equation is simple, it is just maths: either we put money and energy into pursuing conventional processes, or we invest in reflecting on the future. Following this logic, instead of financing tangible development, shouldn’t we activate the vitality of local society and promote its creativity, openness and dynamic expression?
Happiness is the only requirementby Ségolène Pérennes-Poncet
Conversation with Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zündel around the theme: Happiness as a program. Interview by Ségolène Pérennes-Poncet on the occasion of the preface of the book "Time for Play: Why Architecture Should Take Happiness Seriously".
This book, Time for Play, is the first in a collection that will be published in 2015 and 2016… What does the title refer to?
Irina Cristea: For the last 15 years our practice has worked on projects of all sizes, which demand very different time-frames. Time is an important factor in our work. The design that emerges from each study phase is determined by the time allocated to it, from the initial ideas to going on site, through all the various intermediary stages. Some projects are completed very quickly, in a burst of concentrated energy, whereas others are real marathons and require huge endurance.
Grégoire Zündel: We have worked on many building projects, each of which has gone its own way: the intensity of the design stage, unforeseeable hold-ups, accelerations, schedules for building and the different contractors and time to talk with the client. For example, with the metro stations we are designing for the extension of line 14 in Paris or for the line B in Rennes, we have encountered a whole new idea of temporality. These major projects are planned well in advance, their technical and urban constraints have a powerful impact on the design, and their decision-making processes are complex and so much slower. On the other hand, temporary architectural projects engender an extremely rapid and concentrated way of working. There is very little time between the idea and its realisation. The studies and building of the Peace Pavilion took only six weeks before it was installed in Bethnal Green in London.
IC: These different experiences gave us the idea of presenting our work in separate books, which refer to the different lengths of time the projects need. But time intervenes in many other ways. Projects for urban installations such as Bouncing Bridge, Peace Pavilion or Water Invaders, prompted us to think, for example, about the timescale of urban intervention. How can we make a mark on a city with a project that has a small budget and, specifically, a much shorter schedule, which responds to a need within a limited time, and gives meaning to, or opens up a site without undertaking a lengthy construction or development process? Architects can and must be able to work with this reactivity, because times are changing, the expectations, the budgets, are not always those of a traditional project.
GZ: Our work is also strongly defined by the risk of obsolescence. A notion that is often given inadequate consideration is that of ‘durability’. We aspire to design timeless architecture. We can suppose that our buildings will be faced with changes in users, in use, or in environmental and energy-related expectations, but we cannot predict the future. And so it is a question of putting in place not customised buildings, but mechanisms. The intelligence of the mechanism will dictate the durability of the building.
In this first book you present projects designed within limited timeframes, either because they were for temporary and fun use, or because they were sketch design entries for competitions. What is their particularity, and in what way do they represent your work?
IC: They are snapshots, like photographs or freeze-frames of our work. Whereas a building project has to take into account maintenance, changes of use and users, installations are concerned only with the present. These projects are all about how the public will appropriate them. Because the energy we put into them is very concentrated, we choose not to restrain our imagination, but rather to take the opportunity to explore new ideas. We like to say to ourselves at the start of each new project: “Let’s do something extraordinary!”. Take the Flower Pavilion, for example, which was a design for temporary exhibition pavilions for an international garden festival in Berlin. The objective that we set ourselves was to capture people’s attention. We wanted the pavilions to both set off the park in which the exhibition was sited, and to give a sense of peace. The image of the flower speaks so powerfully of carefree days and pleasure, that we couldn’t convince ourselves to do anything else. We wanted visitors to marvel, instantly, almost naively, using the simplest of means.
GZ: This kind of project brings out the purest expression of our thinking. Like small, simple ideas that appear all by themselves. And yet our way of working remains the same: we never stop questioning what we are doing. In our building projects we are always looking for the best solution. This is how we came to design the trampoline bridge, by calling everything into question. It was this exercise in detaching ourselves from what is expected of a bridge that enabled us to stumble across another function, a wholly unexpected way of using it. A certain strength is required to find new ways.
IC: The scale and temporary nature of projects like those presented in this book give us the freedom to question the way a design might be used. Indeed when we worked on the bridge competition, we questioned the very nature of the bridge. This exercise allows us to remain open minded and fresh. Like children, we want to hold on to the feeling that anything is possible, that everything can be done differently, even radically differently, and that there are times when we can dare to do anything. There are so many subjects that we think of as closed, but in fact there is enormous potential for exploration. Changing the rules is one way of revealing the areas where things can be changed. It is a matter of finding fresh answers that open up the range of possibilities.
So is it fair to say that you use these projects for experimenting?
IC: Yes, but it is not like experimenting with a particular material in a small project and then using it in a large project. It is more a question of experimenting with thought, widening the spectrum: being able to think freely.
GZ: We want to get better at what we do, to progress. Why bother otherwise to continue practising this profession? Small projects present huge opportunities! Mainly because of their time-scale and their size: they are small, only a few materials are used, they have a limited number of functional requirements, whereas a more traditional building project superimposes a large number of different ideas.
IC: And constraints!
GZ: Let’s say a superimposition of ideas! For each subject, an idea responds to a question. Even the functional or regulatory aspects require some imagination. In a building project, 10, 20 or 30 ideas are superimposed and so are not all immediately obvious. They are revealed through the resulting experience of occupying the building. In the projects presented in this book, these layers of ideas are much more obvious, much more conspicuous. These periods of exploration enable us to find new ideas for each one of the multiple domaines to be treated in complex projects. They are training exercises for the production of ideas; like a sportsman who, in preparation for an event, takes more intense exercise. With scale, comes the multiplication of the number of questions, each needing a response, an idea. For example, for the metro projects there are layers and layers of very different subjects, for each of which we need to provide an idea, sometimes simple, sometimes functional, sometimes very pragmatic, but in the end there must be a consistent idea. A project is a logical sequencing of ideas.
IC: Questions is the right word. The projects put forward questions that we have to resolve, all the while keeping in mind the bigger picture. There is more to a project than just piling up answers; you have to ensure its overall coherence.
Questioning the use, changing the rules, is this also a reaction to the increasing levels of regulations and consequent constraints with which you need to work on architectural programmes?
GZ: Everything is accelerating exponentially: technology, what is possible, and consequently people’s expectations. In parallel, things very quickly become obsolete. In the face of this, new regulations attempt to resolve certain problems, but they are often a bit rough and ready. They can provide clumsy responses to valid questions, or respond too quickly to questions that have not been properly formulated. Being able to digest all the information, having the necessary resilience, is difficult – there is a lot to be absorbed in one career. In the future, this information will have become second nature but for the moment the results are sometimes a bit peculiar. But if more ambitious goals are set in terms of quality of life, preservation of our natural resources, and environment, it is vital that the whole industry follows – architects, but also manufacturers, engineers, the whole way in which we think about the city or politics.
IC: Building has become highly regulated, which adds to the lengthening list of specialists and consultants. Architects, with their capacity to listen and to summarise are the real conductors of these orchestras of participants. We need to think about our role in the construction of cities.
GZ: We don’t want to become the victims of regulations. Rather than complaining, we need to be able to have a precise and sophisticated understanding of these constraints so that we can design within them, reinterpret them and, when it’s for the good of the project, even ultimately circumvent them. When we say that we question a brief, or the rules, it’s not simply to please ourselves, but to avoid being subject to them.
The detachment that you talk about is not only in relation to architectural standards; it seems to have a broader sense. For example you cite few architectural or artistic references, you don’t make any link between your projects and the utopias of the 20th century.
GZ: Which is precisely what allows us to do these projects, by approaching them without preconceptions. Of course we have our experience and our cultural references, but we want to remain spontaneous.
IC: That the whole world is now accessible via networks of communication makes for the greatest laboratory for experimentation, where one can find freedom from fixed ideas. Every day people invent things that overthrow the status quo and cross the borders between disciplines. The amateur enthusiasts’ revolution is underway, and some of their DIY creations are great!
GZ: No longer write things off as impossible! We give equal attention to each solution as an opportunity to discover new potential. Because they are born of competitions for ideas or because they are temporary, these projects are a good way of pushing the exercise to its limits.
IC: With no preconceived position, we want to give serious consideration to ideas linked to happiness. For some of them we have been guided by our children. The West Kowloon Arts Pavilion or the roller coaster at Battersea are first-hand transcriptions of our own family visits to museums. Our private life is a huge source of inspiration for us.
How do you transpose this way of working onto your building projects?
IC: At the end of the day, it’s all a question of creativity. Without being exercised, passion and creativity can slow down. We have talked about detachment as a state of mind propitious to creativity, but there is also the importance of maintaining an interest in others and in the world around us. Creativity is also expressed in our interpretation of the priorities in a project. Optimism and confidence are visible in our projects.
GZ: Take as an example the highly regulated brief for a clinic. How can we begin to express our creativity here? The various regulations amount to an unmovable equation. It might sound pretentious to say it, but here, creativity means thinking intelligently. You can be creative in the way you deal with constraints. It is combinatorial creativity. We could decide that it was all too complicated and content ourselves with simply choosing the colour of the tiling. But for us this level of detail is secondary, what interests us is the whole project, the complicated production full of opposing factions…. Our work is about giving order to these contradictions, and then taking a step beyond. That is where imagination lies!
IC: An architect’s work is very specific: it is as much about intuition as it is about very precise technical knowledge. Creativity runs right through the chain of organisation in our studio.
GZ: You need to be imaginative to free yourself. When we find ourselves confronted by the brief for a building, faced with the complexity of all the various subjects to be considered, large numbers of different team members and tight schedules, it is often impossible to be creative for each of the solutions. So the danger is to fall into always applying the same formulas, re-using solutions without re-thinking them. This is why it is so important that we have moments of independent exploration that enable us to think up new kinds of solutions. For us it is a vital exercise, and if then some of them get built, it is just a collateral consequence.
You mean to say that there is a temptation to specialise, and that it represents a risk?
GZ: We are organisms genetically made to reproduce ourselves. How does evolution work? It is a repetitive process in which the occasional bug may prove itself to be more efficient, and that will in turn be repeated. This is what evolution produces: a great mass of repetition, and suddenly something goes off on a tangent. This is also true in architecture, in the evolution of ideas. We want to contribute to the production of incidents, so that progressively new opportunities emerge.
IC: It is true that these projects show our ability to have 360° vision, to manage all the questions, all the programmes. Detachment is an exercise in giving creativity a boost of fresh energy. Taking a new route might well lead nowhere, but it is the only means of giving oneself the chance of inventing new things. It is down to us to reinvent the profession of architect, to demonstrate its raisons d’être and its possibilities.
How did the trampoline bridge come about, what were the ‘questions’ here?
IC: The competition wording was quite open, there was not really a brief, nor a site. But a bridge is a serious thing. It is a major intervention, its installation requires in-depth studies, works to the banks, modified traffic. We wanted to come up with a different scale of project, to change the timeframe, overthrow the questions of schedule, budget, material and urban impact.
GZ: We went in a completely different direction from the anticipated responses, by rethinking use. We couldn’t see the need for another crossing in Paris to connect the two banks. So our first question was: what do we need a bridge for?
IC: This provided us with the occasion to give greater thought to the notion of urban happiness. We were interested in ideas about the city, the major urban events such as the Nuit Blanche or Paris Plage, the need to occupy a site quickly, with a small budget. It was the first time that we had thought of temporary architecture, and it opened our eyes to all sorts of possibilities.
GZ: Temporary and fun architecture! We wanted to come up with a project that was dedicated purely to pleasure. We were thinking about how one gets pleasure from the city.
IC: The questions that we asked ourselves were just human: What do people like doing in town? Can you do anything other than shop? Can you behave like a child in town? In French there is a saying “le bonheur est dans le pré”, happiness is in the meadow; we wanted to make the argument that happiness could also be in the city. Contemporary architecture can be entertaining and can bring people together.
GZ: When we entered the competition, the feasibility of the project was only an intuition. We wanted to rethink received ideas about use and structure. We began talking to engineers and inflatables manufacturers, but without success. Then TP Arquitectura, a specialist in tensile and inflatable structures, got in touch with us offering to build the bridge. They work with Ramon Sastre, an architect who has spent the last 20 years working on specialised software for the production of textile structures. TP and Ramon Sastre were the dream team that enabled us to demonstrate the feasibility of the project!
In what way did working with inflatables change your approach?
IC: We had never thought of working with inflatables, it came about as a solution because we wanted to span 90 metres over the Seine without altering the banks, without concrete foundations, for a project that was quick and inexpensive. We never begin our projects with a preconceived idea.
GZ: The issues surrounding the bridge related specifically to the bridge, but they introduced us to new ways of working and, above all, a new partner. TP and Ramon know their field so thoroughly that they provide a direct link between idea and production. For the Peace Pavilion the competition requested an engineering consultant on the team, so it was the perfect opportunity to explore inflatable structures. Particularly as it gave us experience not only of the material, but also of the engineering and manufacturing prowess that goes with it. It is a valuable opportunity for architects to have such a close link between design and manufacture.
IC: When we are looking for partners to work with, it is important that we sense the same enthusiasm and passion for the profession before we commit to anything. Anton and Adria Miserachs of TP are happy to go out on a limb and push back the limits of the impossible.
In this book you propose, not without humour, installing your temporary projects in different spots around the world. What are your thoughts behind this?Conversation with Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zündel around the theme: Happiness as a program. Interview by Ségolène Pérennes-Poncet on the occasion of the preface of the book "Time for Play: Why Architecture Should Take Happiness Seriously".
GZ: Although we came third in the competition, the Bouncing Bridge met with enormous success, particularly via the internet and social networks. We received multiple requests, some more serious than others, from local authorities, from private companies or from theme parks wanting to install the bridge all over the world. They asked very specific questions about weight, dimensions, cost of hire, etc.
IC: The bridge, the pavilions and the Space Invaders projects are temporary installations, lightweight and inexpensive. They can easily be transported around the world, taken to other communities. In terms of impact, there are no small projects or big projects. Architecture in general has the ability to capture people’s attention, it can embellish our lives, make our surroundings more attractive, buildings more desirable, spaces more efficient, without necessarily being expensive or permanent.
GZ: By coming into public spaces, temporary architecture creates a new cartography. Sites are revealed and take on new meaning, enabling new uses.
The projects proposed for three competitions, Battersea, Kowloon and Adidas are slightly different. They add an unexpected way of use on to the anticipated programme, for sport or for fun, based on solid architectural decisions.
IC: Our concern is people’s happiness – those who live in the cities and apartment buildings, who use public spaces and public transport, and who work in the office buildings that we design. For each and every project we think about how a building is used. The energy put into bringing a project to fruition must ensure that the building is readily flexible and transformable for changing requirements over time.
For the Bouncing Bridge project we detached ourselves from the question of the site itself, but for the Battersea project the site was primordial. The redevelopment of this vast industrial site poses questions of scale and time and the effort required to get around this gigantic building in order to ensure a pleasurable experience for everyone.
GZ: By proposing a motorised tour that revolutionises the viewpoints and the length of a visit in comparison with a walking tour, our proposal is a rewriting of the architectural promenade.
IC: It is also a means of questioning the attraction of museums. Should culture and entertainment necessarily be treated as two separate worlds? Isn’t it possible to marry the two? If the project for Battersea’s disused power station is eccentric, the project for the exhibition pavilion in Hong Kong’s new West Kowloon Cultural District is perfectly realistic. We proposed encircling the pavilion with a merry-go-round of wooden horses. The position of the site is fantastic, right on the sea-front overlooking the bay – our project allowed 360° views.
You have explained where your architecture comes from, the similarity in your approach to the design of a project like the Bouncing Bridge and a building project. However, the stylistic differences between these different types of projects are sometimes surprising. Why is that?
IC: Architecture that is too expressive, too involved in relating to its time, takes aesthetics hostage and risks creating architectural and urban dead-ends. Our cities shouldn’t be turned into architectural catalogues. We push ourselves to design buildings that are beautifully built and that are efficient and pragmatic, that create a background for unforeseen events, whether temporary or more permanent. Architecture must leave room for a bit of freedom, a degree of incompletion. Architectural gestures don’t interest us, we are more interested in, for example, an inflatable pavilion in the courtyard of a very simple building. We want to make architecture that allows for collisions, unexpected combinations, rather than imposing our mark.
GZ: The competition for the new office building for the Adidas headquarters is a perfect example of this. In truth, office buildings tend to be intentionally banal. We took our inspiration from industrial buildings, which create spaces that are luminous and very flexible in the way they can be used. But the subject of the competition was also to attract the most talented and creative spirits from around the world to the Adidas campus in Herzogenaurauch, far from a capital city. And so we imagined this ramp at the heart of the project, with perhaps a skate park and trampolines, to create a surprising spatial sequence in the way the building was used.
You have talked about three unbuilt proposals; do you think you will use this kind of installation in your built projects?
IC: At the beginning of this year we completed a project for the new headquarters of Louis Dreyful Armateurs in Suresnes, on the banks of the Seine. The project was the renovation of a late 1980s building. In one of the two new atria that help to organise the building, we have designed a long ramp that, as well as encouraging strolling, creates a spectacular space at the heart of the building; it encourages using the lifts less often, interaction between colleagues, a new way of looking the building, taking your time. It is always a question of time!
Idea competitions can open mindsby Kim Benjamin Stowe
Kim Benjamin Stowe, president and director of ArchTriumph London, demonstrates how ideas competitions are vehicles of open-mindedness and innovation, taking the example of three AZC projects in competition.
I work mainly from London, on a wide variety of arts projects. I’m a firm advocate for the ‘almost anything is possible’ and ‘make it happen’ schools of thought, I left the world of investment banking a few years ago to concentrate on my passion for art, architecture and design, and during the global recession came up with the idea of organising architectural competitions. It seemed unfair that the creative industries should pay such a heavy price for the downturn; the pressure was on for the architectural profession, which relies so heavily on the availability of financial resources. I was very aware of the fundamental role competitions and awards played in the world of architecture, and wanted to be involved in projects large and small, built and un-built – both valuable in their own rights. ArchTriumph was born: with a friend, we set out to run various architecture competitions, a mission driven by sheer passion. I had always wanted to set up a project for an intervention in a public space, like Pavilion, and ArchTriumph provided the platform.
ArchTriumph, the Triumph of Architecture and Design, is a platform for architectural exploration and presentation, a celebration of the role of architecture and design in our lives and the world around us. We provide an avenue for experimentation for architects and designers that brings them both invaluable publicity and potential financial reward. Unconventional projects, which I prefer to call innovative projects, are made public through competitions, exhibitions and installations. They capture the public’s imagination and spark discussion on the subject, the site, the structure, and the architects themselves. ArchTriumph projects, even as un-built proposals, can make a community think differently about itself. And when they are built they make a clear positive impact on the immediate community. Take the example of AZC’s 2013 Peace Pavilion for east London’s Museum Gardens. Both residents and local politicians were enormously proud of the elegant structure, welcoming the kind of project that is more often seen in the more affluent areas of the city to their neighbourhood. These projects draw attention to their sites and their sites’ potential, prompting people to use them, and to use them differently. They bring architecture and design to a place where they can resonate with a wider audience in a very direct way.
In 2012, we launched a competition to design a new, contemporary bridge over the River Seine in Paris to challenge the existing notions of bridges. We hoped for exciting and challenging ideas. AZC’s project, entitled « Saut de Seine », brought a smile to the face of every member of the competition panel. We all agreed that it was one of the best proposals for its sheer audacity. The project came third in the competition, but was widely embraced by press and public, who rechristened it the “Trampoline Bridge”. I don’t think you always expect the general public to like or approve of the decisions made by a panel, but when a risk pays off it is great.
Even though it didn’t win the competition, it is a project that remained in everyone’s mind to some degree long after the final selection.
The success of the bridge was in the marriage of project and city, which captured our imagination. Maybe the combination of innovation, romance and fun was too much for the public to resist. I think that a project like the Bouncing Bridge would transform views of Paris, casting it in the light of a city with ambition, fun, and where going out on a limb is encouraged. I could see this bridge in London on a stretch of the River Thames. Maybe we should talk to our Mayor…!
Every summer, ArchTriumph installs a pavilion in the gardens of the Museum of Childhood, an annex of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The Peace Pavilion was our first summer pavilion. The Peace Pavilion was an anonymous competition entry but I immediately had a strong suspicion that the ‘Fun Architects’, as I had dubbed Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zündel following the Bouncing Bridge competition, were behind it. The project replied to the brief, was elegant, innovative and bold, and resonated with that year’s theme of Peace. It was selected and sure enough, it was AZC.
The panel was initially concerned that the project would prove to be high maintenance, even after we had assured the Health & Safety officers that helium gas would not be used! Concerns were also expressed about the project coming in on budget and on time. But in our quest for innovation, we were quickly convinced that we needed to give it our full support, and the decision proved to be right.
The Peace Pavilion transformed the way the gardens were used, the routes people took and the numbers of visitors. It changed the way the local community saw the space and the neighbourhood – they now anticipate each year’s new project. Many expressed their wish that the Peace Pavilion be installed permanently. The pavilion was used by visiting schools for shelter during lunch breaks, short lessons and discussion following a visit to the Museum. Children played in it, families held picnics, it provided a meeting point for friends and held poetry readings and music concerts; it was used as the backdrop for photographic shoots. The Peace Pavilion was widely and enthusiastically received.
Battersea Power Station
We chose London’s iconic Battersea Power Station as the site for an ideas competition, for the installation of an architecture museum, out of frustration after yet another proposal for its redevelopment came to nothing. Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s, Battersea Power Station is an iconic structure and landmark for Londoners, even more so than its slightly later sister building at Bankside, now home to the highly successful Tate Modern after a sensitive restoration and redevelopment.
I have always loved Battersea Power Station It is a structure I passed on my train route home as a teenager, I was fascinated by its sheer volume and the size of the chimneys – it is a fantastic urban castle. Money no object, I would gladly make it my home!
Irina Cristea and Grégoire Zündel, winners of the competition, used the idea of a theme park, putting in a roller-coaster that would enable visitors to explore the power station from every angle. This entry confirmed their nickname as the ‘Fun Architects’ forever.
Ideas competitions can open minds. They are founded on creativity rather than any kind of formulaic approach, and lay open the site for all to consider – members of the public, architects, developers and politicians. Every project, architectural or political, starts with an idea, without an idea there is no starting point, no trigger for discussion, no argument for change.
Inflatable structures: the new playground for architects – Lily in the 20hby TF1
It is a monument able to rise in seconds, thanks to a simple fan. A refectory, an artist's studio or even a golf practice, the inflatable structures are rediscovering a new life. The details in picture in the video below. This topic was broadcast in the television news of 20H of 22/06/2019 presented by Anne-Claire Coudray on TF1.
Technical creativityby Anton Miserachs et Pilar Navarro
TP Architectura i Construccio Tèxtil is a company that has been exploring for 30 years the technical possibilities of inflatable and textile architectures. Companies at the origin of the manufacture of inflatable projects AZC, they tell us their evolutions and their rejection of standardized projects in favor of a "technical creativity".
TP Arquitectura i Construcció Tèxtil is a family business specialising in textile constructions. We were set up 30 years ago by Ton Miserachs and Pilar Navarro in Catalonia. Our aim has always been to offer a personalised service. By refusing to manufacture in series and turning down projects for standardised constructions, we have been free to concentrate on technical creativity, with each new project a new challenge.
We are constantly looking for new materials and technical innovations that allow us to respect architects’ and designers’ designs while proposing technical improvements. From the outset we have worked closely with Professor Ramon Sastre, PhD, Architect, and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. These relationships allowed us to benefit from the very first software for the calculation of tensile and inflatable structures, WinTess, developed by Ramon Sastre. As the software has been improved and refined, he has involved us in every stage of its development. From being a system that required new calculations for every stage of the process, WinTess has become a genuine design and construction tool (CAD/CAM) providing support for our skills.
With the benefit of experience, technical improvements and an increasingly qualified team, we have been able to diversify our activity. Now working alongside some of our children, we began developing a series of renewable energy solutions in 2009, specifically in the biogas sector under the brand Upbiogas. Once again we recognised the importance of innovation and, in collaboration with the university and Ramon Sastre, have developed the world’s first software for calculating roof structures for biogas digesters. We have managed to rationalise and reduce risk in the calculation and dimensioning of every element for the development of single- or double-membrane roofs for digesters. The software is very complete, offering calculations based on stresses, anchorage, storage volume, gas pressure and pattern-cutting for particular roof geometries.
As the company has developed, our research has particularly concentrated on managing the energy consumption of the pumps used for inflation. As a result, we have rejected stitching in favour of high-frequency welding, often double welding. A testing system currently under construction will allow us to test resistance and air-tightness before installing a roof. This process will enable us to increase the resistance and durability of the welding, but also to control internal pressure because there will no longer be any air lost via the holes made by stitching. So we are producing inflatable structures that are more or less airtight, with pressure control. Air pumps will function only when necessary. In this way, the volume of air inside the structure is not affected by external loads and tension, which is essential for withstanding wind or snow. Being able to control all these parameters means that we can precisely define coefficients and the limits of resistance and establish a security protocol. We work with textiles that are 100% recyclable, even at the end of their life. Following the establishment of the Texyloop system, even the smallest pieces can now be recycled. What motivates us at TP Arquitectura i Construcció Tèxtil is the creation of one-off pieces that are lasting and safe, the product of our long years of experience.
We originally came across pictures of the Bouncing Bridge on social media. We were really impressed with AZC’s project and naturally wanted to track them down to congratulate them and to propose our collaboration. It is unusual for people outside of the world of textile constructions to conceive a project that is striking in its design and almost entirely realisable. AZC’s reply was immediate and we quickly got to work making a first prototype at 1:10 to test the behaviour of the inflatable structure and the trampoline mesh. A second model at 1:3, produced thanks to updates to WinTess, confirmed the viability of the project.From the first picture we saw of the Bouncing Bridge we were certain that this project was realisable. There was plenty of work to do and technical issues that needed resolving before that could happen, but most importantly the design fitted with the materials to be used. The Bouncing Bridge adventure has introduced us to two architects who, in their experience and professionalism, share our attitude to life and work. They are in touch with the child in us all. They’re driven by their emotions, which allows them to listen to their craziest ideas – like the one to build a bridge for bouncing on. A trampoline bridge? Why not!
The Peace Pavilion
The Peace Pavilion benefitted greatly from the tests carried out for the Bouncing Bridge. We were already aware of the capabilities of each of the project’s participants. That allowed for a real dialogue to be established: the designs were developed as the technical team modified and checked them. This time we knew that we wouldn’t be able to make any test models. WinTess was very useful for conceiving this project. Following his experiences on the Bouncing Bridge, Ramon Sastre developed the software’s capabilities, tailoring it to requirements. Despite its apparent simplicity, the Peace Pavilion demanded a rigorous approach because the beauty of its shape stems from the infinite variety of perspectives it offers. One never knows with an inflatable structure whether one has succeeded until it is inflated. During manufacture it is little more than a pile of fabric. Once the design is defined, we have to be meticulous in the organisation at each stage of the manufacturing process. The roof of the Peace Pavilion, a surface area of 49.8 sq m, was made from 132 pieces. It was a real challenge to calculate this canopy, made in pre-tensioned PVC. The shape’s complexity required precision to the millimetre to avoid any folds. Thanks to the performance of the pattern-cutting software, the precise cutting by numerical control and the quality of the welding, we achieved the perfect dimensions. In textile architecture, pre-tensioned PVC usually deviates by 0.5%. That means that the roof needs to be 0.5% smaller than the structure so that it will attain the correct dimensions when it is under the necessary tension. Unfortunately, at the pressure required for the structure, the diameter of the tube increased by 1% and required us to modify the dimensions of the roof. Using the final dimensions, we tested various loads in order to verify rigidity and define the dimensions of the roof in pre-tensioned textile. The Peace Pavilion is a jewel. Its design is very beautiful, very simple, and very delicate. Realising it required the most advanced technologies and all the skill that comes from many years of experience.
The Flower Pavilion
The Bouncing Bridge and the Peace Pavilion are both integral objects. To build them requires the assembly of a number of different pieces but once constructed they become one single element – an inflated tube – that is both horizontal and vertical, wall and roof. The unity and apparent simplicity of the object make both these projects very appealing. The Flower Pavilion is a more architectural project. It takes its inspiration from nature – a flower – to which it adds a material dimension while maintaining the feeling of a natural shelter. Our design needed to be stable, easily disassembled and transportable. To convince the client of the project’s feasibility, we decided to make a prototype. The project’s complexity derived in part from the assembly of the vertical posts with the horizontal roof, each having a different function in terms of forces, and in part in designing the metal structures that encircle the inflatable modules of the roof. Curved structures, like the petals of the pavilion roof, require a particular level of precision because the deformation forces they are subject to are more complex. Plus we had to consider the affect of air pressure on the petals when they are inflated, particularly because the climate in Berlin would require a high-level of air pressure. In order to be able to fit the different petals together and anticipate water run-off, we had to minimise any deformation. Although the shape of the petals themselves was good for working in compression, we nonetheless planned for a thick frame to ensure minimum deformation. When we inflated the various petals, the forces were incredible and we had to reinforce the metal joints that linked the frames because they were deforming by several millimetres more than anticipated. Following adjustments to the pressure and the thickness of the frames, we were able to get the roof right.
In addition to its technical success, the project generated immediate enthusiasm. During testing near our premises, the children of the neighbouring village, intrigued by this flower, quickly came to join us. We made the most of their energy to test the solidity of the pavilion by getting them to bounce on its inflatable roof. And an engineer friend who teaches agronomy at the Institut la Garrotxa in Olot, wanted to use the project for the Temps de Flors festival, which each year fills the city of Girona with flowers.
Textile, stretched or inflatable structureby Ramon Sastre
Ramon Sastre, PhD in architecture, lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and consultant in textile structure, has been interested since the 70's in these architectures. He notably participated in the technical development of Bouncing Bridge with the software he created: Wintess.
I’ve been interested in textile structures, tensile or inflatable, ever since 1973, the year I graduated as an architect. That year, a friend from my graduating class, Francesc Albardané, translated a book about Frei Otto into Spanish. We were fascinated by the work of this German architect, and became immediately passionate about lightweight structures. In 1978 Albardané and I had the chance to work together on the design for an inflatable roof for a swimming pool in Sabadell, Spain. It was then that I understood the gaps in my technical knowledge, and I decided to pursue a doctorate in this kind of construction. While working on my thesis, which I submitted in 1981, I developed the first version of the Tess computation software, which, with the advent of Windows a few years later, became WinTess. Ever since, I have continued my research into the development of software for calculating tensile and inflatable architecture.
Bit by bit I have specialised in the design and calculation of these structures, which to start with were unusual but which have become more and more commonplace. At first I worked as an architect, designing and building my own projects. Over the years, other architects have sought me out as a consultant. WinTess, initially designed for private use, has become a piece of commercial software, so my work as a consultant has gradually taken over.
Concurrently, I teach at the architecture school at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. It is important for students to learn about these structures because they are the source of so many pieces of playful, contemporary architecture for sports or industry. We also dedicate one semester each year to lightweight structures. Few architecture schools offer this programme and I am regularly invited to teach or lead workshops at other architecture schools in Europe and the Americas.
The Bouncing Bridge
TP Arquitectura i Construcció Tèxtil, a Spanish construction company specialising in textile and inflatable structures that I have known for many years, came to see me one day to show me the Bouncing Bridge project. They had come across it on the Internet and had contacted AZC to propose making it. The architect in me was immediately seduced by the bridge’s design and I was sure it would spark a lot of interest. On the other hand, as an inflatables specialist I saw the incredible challenge such a project would pose if realised for everyday use. I had never built anything on water – it’s not an architect’s usual environment! Even less so when it’s moving water. So first of all I concentrated on static studies, saving the dynamic studies for a later stage.
The project has two key elements: firstly the ring shape, which constitutes both structure and foundations, and secondly the stretched membrane, a secondary structural element but essential to the function of the bridge. It quickly became clear that a certain number of questions could only be resolved empirically. For financial reasons and to improve analysis of the results, we made a first prototype at a scale of 1:10, approximately three metres in diameter, which we wanted to test for structural behaviour, stability on the water and feasibility of construction.
The shape is not created by simply twisting a ring, but, similar to a sewing pattern, by joining lots of different pieces that together will generate a curved, three-dimensional form. Working on a small-scale prototype created a considerable amount of extra work for us when devising the pattern. The number of pieces had to be the same as for the full-scale bridge, so that we would be able to judge the smoothness of the curves. Geometric design was very slow because we had not yet developed the necessary software. We did, however, finally manage to build the first prototype and to test it. First of all in dry conditions, testing it with different loads and under different pressures. We had to take into account the proportional relationship between the 1:10 prototype and the full-scale object, so that we could analyse manufacturing details for the object (behaviour of the materials, dimensions, joints) and the reactions to the tests (how much it would move when in use). The model’s behaviour lived up to our hopes, as WinTess had predicted. Next we tested its stability on water in a domestic swimming pool. We were satisfied with the results, but the size of the prototype did not allow us to test the impact that bouncing on the trampoline membranes would have on the bridge.
This was why we built a second prototype, this time at 1:3, measuring 10m in diameter, which would allow us to test the project’s behaviour on water but also to observe how the trampoline would work under real conditions. A swimming pool would no longer suffice, so we took the model to Banyoles Lake. The tests on the water, with several people jumping on the trampolines at the same time, were a success.
After this we were very keen to build the project full scale, 30 metres in diameter. But we also needed to evaluate the tests we’d carried out in order to improve our method. Principally in pattern cutting – I wanted to be able to put together this kind of tubular structure more efficiently. And in fact, a new project came along that allowed us to do just that!
The Peace Pavilion
The Peace Pavilion is a smaller scale project, with limited civil liability but of a more complicated design. Its beauty stems from the different perspectives afforded by the twists of the ring, a fairly complicated 3D structure.
Thanks to our experience with the Bouncing Bridge, we did not need to build a prototype, because we already knew that the principal difficulty would be in making the tube, more specifically designing the pattern. The curves for this project were more complex than those of the rings for the bridge.
Designing the pattern manually with the help of WinTess, as we had done for the bridge, would have been very laborious considering the number of pieces required by the structure. Each change to the design would have meant redesigning all the pieces. So I created a new module for the software that was able to define the tubes in 3D and to automatically set out the pattern. This was a lengthy task but the result was spectacular: we were able to create various patterns for this type of tube in seconds! This allowed us to adapt the shape of the pieces in order to optimise the amount of material used and to precisely define the curves of the final object.
Unlike the bridge, the pavilion’s structure would not have to withstand significant dynamic loads, but just carry a simple, waterproof, transparent canopy. However, it is far from straightforward designing a canopy for such a complex three-dimensional structure, requiring parametric structural modelling software rather than geometric. We were therefore able to use WinTess.
The result entirely lived up to our expectations: the images speak for themselves.
For the Peace Pavilion, the next challenge would be to design a more permanent structure. For a temporary event we were able to ignore the effects of snow or wind, the characteristics of the ground or the durability of the project. But for a permanent structure, all these considerations would be primordial. We look forward to an opportunity to prove that this is possible.
In the case of the Bouncing Bridge, we have not yet realised AZC’s project for three 30m-diameter inflatable rings. Moreover, if the project needed to be permanent or semi-permanent, its structural complexity would be greater and we would have to study the implications of different locations, a calm or fast-flowing river, a lake or a canal. However, I am certain that we could successfully develop this trampoline bridge.