École nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles
Project presented @ Tuileries gardens in the heart of Paris during Jardins-Jardin, a renowned landscape festival, May-June 2018
« The city has forgotten its true nature. How to bring it back ? We offer a compressed earth column of more than one tonne that will catch the seams conveyed by wind and animals. With the time it will fall down, eroded by climate and roots, to create a garden at its base »
This earth totem is made to be installed in sterile environments such as streets but also in gardens. It creates a new vision of nature in cities and a new type of gardens.
The sculpture has a true utility creating an environment between imposition and liberty that is given to observation.
Photography by Pierre-Louis Mabire.
What promoted the project?
For the first time we had the opportunity to show our work to a very large audience (26 500 visitors) from specialists to tourists. Having the freedom to present a project that kindles reflection inspired us a lot. Art that uplifts the mind is very important to us.
That is to say not art which is a prisoner of a museum but one that helps the planet and changes mentalities.
We responded to the call for projects and were chosen. Leading such a project can seem easy but we’re dealing with materials, weight, climatic conditions, stability, security, etc. Many things come into play.
We have the privilege of studying in a school that has vibrant student associations and social structures to support us.
Furthermore, the school’s financial support emboldened us.
On site, we were next to Chanel’s pavilion where a French countryside decor had been reconstructed to present their perfumes. Everything was built out of foam and paint. Everything was factitious. Whereas we were there with our ton of dirt erected towards the sky. This contrast was very amusing.
What other projects did you look to for inspiration?
No particular projects but rather writings by landscape architects as Gilles Clément, E.Alphand or Pascal Cribier.
The exceptional site of the Tuileries in the heart of Paris echoes our workplace in the stables of the Versailles Castle. It was a garden drawn by the same Andre Le Nôtre. Of course, we also looked at artists or architects’ interventions made in this site as Fujimoto in 2013 or Ieoh Ming Pei in 1989. This place has a history and we thought that we could refer to it.
What was your work process in terms of project development?
We always begin by talking a lot. It’s primordial. It’s a back and forth between the individual and the duo. Then we draw together lots of rough sketches one on top of the other. Afterwards, we produce more precise drawings each with its own style. We trust on each other. These drawings become documents. We try to make the final documents as straightforward as possible. We don’t try to achieve a certain aesthetic just for the sake of it. It’s innate. Then we write. Because the project also lives by what we say about it. Showing and Telling. A drawing says a lot of things but never enough.
How important was the drawing as medium trough which to explore and speculate?
Drawing gives us complete freedom. We were able to imagine all the process from the making of the mold to the delivery through sketches. To a certain extent, we had already done everything before it happened. When we did it for real, we had the impression that we had already made it. This process helped us a lot : we knew where we were going. We tried to draw all the possibilities, because drawing a project is also drawing its making. It is a kind of magic. In sum, it is like writing a storyboard but for reality.
How and to what extent did the format of the landscape festival impact the design itself?
The Tuileries gardens represents an exceptional heritage both in terms of architecture and vegetation. We were very constrained regarding positioning, delivery, and setting up of the totem, which is to be expected. Those constraints are also part of the project. The site is listed a World Heritage so everything is regulated; from the size of the delivery trucks to the right of way. Consequently this limited the installation’s proportions: we used these rules to harmoniously integrate this rough and geometric piece in this French Le Nôtre garden.
Is the current development of the totem being documents? if so how?
The global development of the project still remains in the mind of many. It became a sort of Odyssey that is being told and imagined. What has left a mark and surprised us the most was the synergy surrounding the project. It became a real totem uniting us around it in a common tale.
All the students involved in helping at different steps of the development created a sort of community:
surpassing ourselves for a symbolic object.
The photographer, Pierre-Louis Mabire, accompanied us since the beginning to capture all the phases and forty-something people spontaneously gathered to support the project
Have you thought about other possible implementations of similar totems?
Whenever there will be land with no purpose, we will be ready to act. We have already been contacted by private individuals and big construction work companies. In fact, everything in the project is up-cycled. The dirt came from a building site in Versailles. This soil was there and it was a problem: no one knew what to do with it, so we transformed it. At the end of the festival, we had to dismantle it, so we brought back the soil to the Royal Vegetable Gardens in Versailles.
Our idea consists in creating a tool that can be implanted anywhere – particularly in saturated places – to awaken minds. Through those little interventions, we bring back part of nature to the cities not only physically but also metaphorically: for example, thanks to these micro-gardens we can feel the changing of seasons illustratively. An example from elsewhere, of what the city could be.
What is your take as to the relationship between nature and the contemporary city?
The actual city is suffering. We see it everyday in Paris. For a long time, nature has been forced out of the city: barriers were created, it was hidden, diverted, rivers were buried… Yet we see nature coming back like a boomerang : rats have swamped the capital, underground rivers overflow… Thankfully, things are beginning to change but the problem is that it is only advertisement, makeup.
We have to accept nature otherwise we will only get the negative sides of it.
We must regain the horizon, hidden by the hodgepodge of buildings that the city vomits.
What is for you a successful 'green city'?
The cosmetic solutions that we see flourishing are pure lures: contrivances. They would like us to believe that the green city lies in the planted walls, the organic forms and the glass facades. But these are fakes that hide an uncontrolled reality. Examples of real green cities exist. We should just be more attentive to them and stop building make-up projects. A green city is a simple city, that works in synergy with its existent surroundings. But as we used to say: « The most simple things are often the most complicated ». A successful green city is a sustainable and economical one. It’s a garden city.
We can name Chandigarh, Brasilia and Canberra : three examples which were thought as ideal cities, true green cities within their times concerns. Those three cities have incredible interconnections and represent a huge inspiration. Telmo has studied those relations and presented them a lot in a research paper made with Claire Annereau and Lorraine Kurylo called « Brasilia, Canberra, Chandigarh : Three nations, three ideals, three architects ».
Are you interested in developing this theme further?
We think that we have no other choice so we see this topic as an opportunity which makes us want to work on it!
Thinking the city through this prism is exciting. It also means that the countryside can become urban if we think that the density of nature henceforth makes the city. Inverting the story. It is when we surpass exclusively economic and environmental considerations that it gets interesting.