Grégoire Bignier: “The architecture of the future is a ‘work of reconciliation’ between the biosphere and human activity”

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The nest box project proposes to gather tourists and birds in the latter’s natural habitat – the forest. What could a cohabitation architecture look like?

Gregoire Bignier : We must first say a few words about the project managers. It is the Danish agency BIG, which occupies a very special place in the panorama, since for several years it has offered projects which are certainly spectacular, but which are far from being considered ecological. In particular, this agency was appointed to carry out the project (eventually cancelled) of Europa City, this gigantic shopping center which was to be built on fertile land north of Paris. BIG is undoubtedly part of an entrepreneurial approach to the integration of ecological issues in architecture. The nest box project around the cabin is an extension of this. I am tempted to see in it a promise similar to that of “swimming with dolphins”, reformulated in the language of the time: here the bird, the symbol of the local fauna, has replaced the figure of the dolphin as a wild animal of the world. We bring back the idea of ​​an ideal nature where the birds live in the trees. I have not a priori nothing against this project, above all because it seems to me rather anecdotal and without impact on biodiversity. What remains is that it is commendable, and even necessary, that architects take up the issue of biodiversity, that they take a new look at the spaces they take responsibility for, and in turn participate in the transformation of their look among the users of these . gap. But translating a philosophical idea into architectural terms can give rise to devices that are no more than its materialized form and have no effect on earth.

“Translating a philosophical idea into architectural terms can give rise to devices that are no more than its materialized form and have no effectiveness on the ground” Gregoire Bignier

As designed, is the birdhouse system inefficient?

This project aims less to allow a genuine coexistence between the species that populate the aforementioned forest than to try to impose a well-defined form of interaction. The nest boxes function as “invites”in the sense given to it James J. Gibson (1904-1979), the founder of the ecological view of vision: a prompt is what is perceived by the animal and constitutes for it an opportunity for interaction with its environment. Thus the same object (such as a branch of a tree) suggests different ways of using it: the gardener, the termite, the child playing in the garden, the chickadee and the crow will each have a different way of using it. . By putting in place invites, so you prefer a certain type of relationship with a certain species. You create the relationship we have with nature, when a certain caution is still necessary. We can also wonder if a tit will really settle in this type of device. The height of the cabin, perfectly placed between the canopy and the ground, is not suitable for all birds: titmice nest lower and parakeets higher. As for the jacket, it changes its way of life depending on the biotope in which it develops. ; thus a Gothic cathedral can become an ideal habitat for him. Finally, the experience of cohabitation here is limited to the bedroom-nest-box sphere. But we must identify the larger sphere that surrounds this micro-ecosystem: what is this Swedish forest? Is she on the trail? The voluntarist approach to BIG’s architecture, which perceives cohabitation as a set of relationships to be established from the position of the observer, could thus stand in opposition to what is proposed by Baptiste Morizot in That Diplomats (Wildproject, 2016): listening to the concrete practices of living beings in a territory.

What form would an architecture dealing with this shared habitat take?

Modern architecture was established by freeing itself from its environment as a constraint, then an initial ecological awareness led it to want to disappear from it, creating structures closed on itself, self-sufficient and non-emitting. But to think of an architecture that truly belongs to its environment, it should be considered one “reconciliation work”in the sense given to it by the Chinese architect Wang Shuwinner of the Pritzker Prize [considéré comme le « prix Nobel » d’architecture] in 2012. Settlement takes on a double meaning. It is above all a harmony between man and the landscape that you find in Chinese painting, where the man appears very small: the harmony invites to melt the man’s work into the balance of the landscape and to avoid any destruction. And in contrast to the generic, lukewarm and gray architecture of globalization, this architecture characterized by an ethic and a locality gives rise to a much more colorful world architecture – this is what Wang Shu is doing in China, but also Anna Heringer in Europe or Diebedo Francis Kere In Africa. It is then a reconciliation between the two senses of the concept of nature: as biosphere and as an anthropological figure. This is reflected in the idea of “third nature”which talks about Anna L. Tsing in his 2017 book The mushroom at the end of the world. The first nature is the primary nature. Second nature, theorized by Alberti, humanist and Renaissance architect, is the world as a pure artefact. The third nature is to unite the two. It allows man to be this active operator of the ecological issue: it empowers him and gives him the means to act. It is an effort on the part of man to put ethics and ingenuity into his works in order to promote coexistence.

“Reconciliation is a harmony on the one hand between man and the landscape, and on the other hand between nature-biosphere and nature-artifact” Gregoire Bignier

Doesn’t this new perception of space as a shared habitat lead to rethinking the very definition of architecture and the status of the architect?

When architecture does not bother to define itself, it becomes something else: a service, a technical demonstration, design. Today, she faces challenges that require her to renew herself, to complete a new project. The architecture of the future may have the happy idea to stop considering itself a shelter, to think of itself as an interface: with the outside world, the light, but also the local biodiversity. Understood in this way, it no longer produces buildings or works, but forms hybrid entities, between a material entity and another entity, such as nature – birds, insects, plants. Symmetrically, the architect is no longer the creator, but the conciliator. We believe that architecture is designed by architects. This was true for Paris ofHaussmann : there was the architect, the owner and the contractor. But in XXe century, and especially since the reconstruction that followed the Second World War, there is a dilution of the role of the architect: those who rebuilt the world were no longer architects, but industrialists and engineers. Taking biodiversity issues into account radicalizes this movement by giving architecture a new project, which, among other actors, must mediate this reconciliation. The saying about Vitruvian was “utility, beauty, durability” ; today we could suggest that of “conservation, coexistence, resilience”as my Mauritian students suggested.

Do you have an example of an architectural project that enables such coexistence?

I am a member of an association called Cherries and hummingbirds whose action in the valley of Montmorency (95) is on the counterpods of BIG. To deal with the issue of biodiversity, we are establishing an informal collective action to remedy certain deficiencies in the planning of public institutions. We try to reconstruct the blue frame (a continuity between the water points – ponds and rivers) and the green frame (the continuity of the vegetation) in a given territory to compensate for a certain number of harmful effects of globalization. Because it is above all from the territorial breach that a territory’s biodiversity suffers. The establishment of this network of ponds in the Val-d’Oise is first and foremost an ethical approach, which stems from an architecture aimed at land use planning. But there you can also find a certain beauty, and then we find a perception of architecture as primarily based on an aesthetic. This project is an example of a human architecture that works to increase biodiversity. This has much more efficiency and value than a cabin, even well designed as BIG knows how to do.

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