# ARCHITECTURAL THEORIES /// Democratic Construction Processes by Patrick Bouchain


Photo from Construire Autrement. Actes Sud, 2006.

This is not the first time that I write an article about the remarkable creative process that Patrick Bouchain and his office Construire have been undertaking for many years now. I even fear not to write anything different from the last post about an interview he gave to Micropolitiques (see previous article). However, I think that it is useful to re-insist on the importance that the construction process he has developed and systematized through the numerous architectural projects he designed. This process is simple and easily applicable if there is a sincere will from the architects and the traditional actors of the construction to work out a democratic way to build.

His book, Construire Autrement (see this old article  in 2008 about it!) which can be translate by ‘Building Differently’, constitutes a manifesto as much by its contents as by its form. The latter, indeed, illustrates a literary style empty of complex terminology or initiated knowledge, and is divided into two parts: his writings and those of some his well-known friends, Michel Onfray (philosopher), Gilles Clement (landscape designer), Lucien Kroll (architect), Daniel Buren (artist), Antoine Nochy (philosopher), Romain Paris (urban designer) and Otar Iosseliani (film maker).

As far as the content is concerned, P. Bouchain explains through it his will to involve the ensemble of the actors concerned by the building he is designing in its creative and constructive process. In order to do so, he triggers the encounter of those actors by organizing debates on site between neighbors, local politicians and crafts(wo)men, he sets up a canteen during the construction so that local people can have meals with workers, he invites elementary schools to visit the site and educates kids (and grown-up) about the implications a building and its construction can have on the city etc. He also proposes a political strategy to implement, through each public building’s creative and constructive process, an innovative and democratic approach. Since 1936 (and systematically since 1981), French public buildings have to dedicate 1% of their construction budget to a work of art. As the latter, thanks to its status, can be created in a relative freedom, P. Bouchain envisions (and applies to his own buildings) policies that would add to this one, a “solidarity 1%” which promotes the social aspect of the construction (like for the canteen), as well as a “scientific 1%” which develops a useful research  for the building, an “education 1%” to trigger programs like the one mentioned above and an “elderly 1%” which insists on the importance of the transmission of knowledge between generations.

Such attitude is a radical rebuttal to cynics and cowards who think that quality, whichever it is, is indivisible from the elaboration of big budgets. It also gives hope to young architects who regret in the professional world the absence of ideas that used to motivate them during their time at school; through P.Bouchain’s example they might realize that the revolutionary aspect of an architecture is not necessary in its form but rather in its process. The one developed by Construire transgress the codes of both capitalism’s need for profitability and the elitist authorship of the intellectual avant garde.

As an appendix to this article, I would like to present the preface of the book and its clumsy translation that I did of it. In this text,  P.Bouchain evokes the French pavilion at Venice Biennale in 2006, I therefore attach to this appendix some photos of this architectural manifesto he achieved with his protégés, EXYZT collective (see previous articles 1 and 2) now gathered under the name 1024architecture.

PREFACE (original version in French follows):

I believe in temporariness and mobility of things, in exchange. And I work in order to create, in architecture, a situation in which construction could be achieved in another way and could produce unexpectedness, and thus enchantment. Construire autrement is using ideas that I experienced/experimented [same word in French] with a lot of delight and then kept from a construction site to another in order to reach this goal: building within the context, knowing the rule, not acting but transforming, doing the least as possible in order to give as much as possible, involving everyone, interpreting, giving some time, transmitting, never doing the same thing… In this book, just like on all my construction sites, I am inviting other people in order to enrich the collective work with their points of view and their skills, because writing alone – just like building alone – seems to me impossible, and that architecture is not something only for experts or technicians. Here, they are artists, architects, landscape designers, researchers, philosophers, filmmakers… with whom I have worked or who influenced me, who questions our habits and proposes a different look on architecture.

In the same way that architecture is something for everybody, since we are all using it, I believe that it is everywhere, in a sidewalk curb, the quality of a good acoustics, the relationship between a building and a landscape…in those “unthought” places as well, industrial wildlands or landscapes that have been abandoned by development but which are still occupied by people, and whose existence allows us to reconsiderate our way to inhabit, to share or live together. “The unthough” is a series of narratives that is proposed in this book. They base themselves on these spaces of freedom that we need in order to produce an architecture which is charged with meaning and not with norms, and that tells how we can experience/experiment other ways to build a garden, a shelter, a meeting place… Because, by considering the “small”, the “micro”, the individual, that we can understand and act on the ensemble, the “macro”, the collectivity.

I have been invited to be the architect of the French pavilion for the 2006 Venice Biennale. Through this building, I want to show all that by occupying the field, like on all my construction sites; I want to inhabit the pavilion with my friends to welcome like at home, in joy and conviviality, all those who want to visit us. “Metacity/Metavilla – our Venetian installation – attempts to undertake this collective movement. Architectural exhibition needs to implement an idea by action. This is the opportunity to experiment an architectural conception, but mostly to measure a life ideal, not as an utopist hypothesis, but rather like a gesture to undertake. The untypical occupation as well as the opening to the public of this national pavilion is an architectural action. It is probably the only one that we can undertake in these times of securitarian tension and of subjacent war. To welcome the alien, the indomitable otherness, is more than ever something we should do. Fortunately the joyful village which unfolds itself in this pavilion exists, here and elsewhere. By introducing another time, the one of welcoming and hospitality, respect, encounters and transmission, by giving ourselves an important part of freedom, our presence translates itself in successions of experiences/experiments which illustrate the diversity of what is possible.

Bouchain Patrick. Construire Autrement. Comment Faire? Arles : Actes Sud, 2006. (translation: L.Lambert)

PREFACE (original version)

Je crois au provisoire, à la mobilité des choses, à l’échange. Et je travaille à créer, en architecture, une situation dans laquelle la construction pourra se réaliser d’une autre façon et produire de l’inattendu, donc de l’enchantement. Construire autrement reprend les idées que j’ai expérimentées avec bonheur puis retenues, d’un chantier a l’autre, pour atteindre ce but : s’inscrire dans le contexte, connaitre la règle, ne pas agir mais transformer, faire le moins possible pour donner le plus possible, entrainer tout le monde, interpréter, donner du temps, transmettre, ne jamais faire pareil… Dans ce livre, comme sur tous mes chantiers, je fais appel à d’autres pour enrichir l’œuvre commune de leurs points de vue et de leurs savoir-faire, parce que écrire seul – comme construire seul – me parait impossible, et que l’architecture n’est pas qu’affaire de spécialistes ou de techniciens. Ici, ce sont des artistes, des architectes, des paysagistes, des chercheurs, des philosophes, des cinéastes… avec lesquels j’ai travaillé ou qui m’ont influencé, qui viennent interroger nos habitudes et porter un regard différent sur l’architecture.

De même que l’architecture est l’affaire de tous, puisque nous en sommes tous les usagers, je crois qu’elle est partout, dans une bordure de trottoir, la qualité d’une acoustique, le rapport entre une construction et la paysage…dans ces lieux « impensés » aussi que sont les friches industrielles ou les territoires délaissés par l’aménagement mais occupés par les hommes, et dont l’existence nous permet de reconsidérer notre façon d’habiter, de partager ou de vivre ensemble. « L’impensé », série de récits qui s’ouvre avec cet ouvrage, s’appuie sur ces espaces de liberté dont nous avons besoin pour produire une architecture chargée de sens et non de normes, et raconte comment on peut expérimenter d’autres façons de construire un jardin, un abri, un lieu de rencontre… Car, c’est en s’attachant au « petit », au « micro », a l’individu, que l’on peut comprendre et agir sur l’ensemble, le « macro », la collectivité.

Architecte invité du pavillon de la France a la Biennale de Venise en 2006, je souhaite montrer tout cela en occupant le terrain, comme sur tous mes chantiers, c’est-a-dire en habitant le pavillon avec mes amis pour y accueillir comme chez nous, dans la joie et la convivialité, tous ceux qui nous rendraient visite. « Métacité/Métavilla –notre dispositif vénitien- s’efforce de mettre ne œuvre ce mouvement collectif. Il est à l’exposition d’architecture ce que le passage à l’acte est à l’idée, l’occasion d’éprouver une conception architecturale, mais surtout de mesurer un idéal de vie, non pas en tant qu’hypothèse utopique, mais bien comme un geste à accomplir. L’occupation atypique et l’ouverture au public de ce pavillon national est un acte d’architecture. Probablement le seul qu’il soit possible d’entreprendre en ces temps de crispation sécuritaire et de guerre sous-jacente. Recevoir l’étranger, l’irréductiblement autre, est plus que jamais à l’ordre du jour. Fort heureusement, la cité joyeuse qui se déploie dans le pavillon existe, ici et ailleurs. En introduisant un autre temps, celui de l’accueil, de l’hospitalité, du respect, de la rencontre et de la transmission, en nous donnant une grande part de liberté, notre présence se traduit en une succession d’expériences qui montrent la diversité des possibles.

Metavilla: French Pavilion Venice Biennale 2006 by P.Bouchain and EXYZT

Metavilla: French Pavilion Venice Biennale 2006 by P.Bouchain and EXYZT

Metavilla: French Pavilion Venice Biennale 2006 by P.Bouchain and EXYZT

Metavilla: French Pavilion Venice Biennale 2006 by P.Bouchain and EXYZT

Metavilla: French Pavilion Venice Biennale 2006 by P.Bouchain and EXYZT

Metavilla: French Pavilion Venice Biennale 2006 by P.Bouchain and EXYZT

Metavilla: French Pavilion Venice Biennale 2006 by P.Bouchain and EXYZT