Chronicle | Will high environmental quality (HQE) kill architecture?

The recent Grand Prix of Architecture, Rudy Ricciotti, has blasted the new HQE standards, insisting that architects will be bridled in their creativity. According to him, over-insulations and removals of thermal bridges will bundle the architectural hardware in their binding and unsightly coat. Prospective chronicle of Jean Magerand.

This column was first published on CyberArchi on September 20, 2007

On the other hand, Dominique Bidou, my neighbour of rubric, demonstrates, article after article, the imperative need to revolutionize our ways of doing and our know-how, in terms of construction and development. This seems to be the only chance we have of keeping some hope of surviving on the planet. On the one hand, it is indeed irritating to see, under a vulgar thermal insulator, the treasures of ingenuity which the architects had patiently developed for more than a century. Here they have indeed succeeded to perfection, thanks to a meticulous work on light, to give to concrete (ungrateful material, grey, unsubdued and capricious) the brightness of marble. There they have, with the help of some banal colored glass plates, transcribed, on the facade, the contemporary virtuality in the architectural language. In these devices with the aesthetic effect assured, indeed, the high-performance outdoor insulation arrives like a hair on the soup. On the other hand, the argument of the obligation to radically change our habits seems inevitable. No one can argue that we are rotting the planet and that this phenomenon is accelerating exponentially. The building and the layout in general being one of the main co-responsible of the major disorders that we know in the management of the environment, we can not remain of marble in the face of this final catastrophe announced, even if it does not touch Really that future generations. Thus appears, with a doublet, a dilemma if not a total incompatibility between legitimate concerns of architectural quality on the one hand and the good sense of the survival of mankind on the other hand. Cornélienne Situation than the one which consists in choosing between living hideous or dying in all aesthetic harmony? Or maybe we should move the reasoning? Perhaps architects should become alchemists and learn how to change lead in gold? But is it not already this talent of alchemist that allows the architect to transform the hideous concrete into a sparkling mineral under the light? Is it not his primary purpose to mutate this thick fleece layer into a silky, beautiful, precious fabric? Besides, does this alchemy not already exist in nature? The unsightly layers of fat and the layers of shaggy, insulating and protective hairs of the body structures have not transformed themselves, in the heart of time and the evolution of the species, into magnificent shapes and divine coats, Glowing under the sunlight? In fact to the analysis and in view of what we have advanced in the previous articles, the problem of the additional constraints, reaching the full force of the architectural quality, appears only as the tree that hides the forest. Once again, in history, behind the pure technical imperatives camouflage new methods that human intelligence must know to identify and divert to its profit. Obviously, in confronting us with this new Gordian knot of normative constraints, we are, and it is better, condemned to questioning and inventiveness-true. High environmental quality invites us to look at the world in a different way. It invites us to register in an eco-systemic thought, that is, to insinuate itself in a virtuous way in a set of living systems in dynamic equilibrium. It suggests a ' complex thought ' operating in ' complex systems ' devices; It compels us to surpass ourselves and to develop new systemic know-how. It offers another ethic and other aesthetics based on new values. In the dynamics of such an approach, we are led today to think of architecture not only as frozen in space, but as a set of materials in transit between ecosystems. The frame is also in transit in time. The concept of recycling encourages us to experiment with new algorithmic formulas, framing, in real time, the evolution of buildings in their evolution. New technologies and their methodical universes offer us new tools to manage in real time an architecture in dynamic equilibrium and in harmony with its environment. As a complex system, with a strong analogy to the living, architecture has an internal equilibrium that it must maintain in the face of changes in internal and external conditions that affect it (changes in use, maintenance, modifications Climatic conditions according to the seasons and the days, change of the adjoining buildings…). The architecture is then defined as a dynamic system included in another dynamic system. ' Space Time movement ' and modern architecture, as we usually hear it, are no longer sufficient to master this truly complex new architecture. Other conceptual and methodical tools remain to be developed. In fact, behind the challenge of ' new technical constraints ' lurks the specificity and immensity of human thought in the world of nature. The intelligence of men has the ability to redefine the very foundation of adversity to better circumvent the difficulties, to better use it as a springboard and to extract new solutions. Reconciling what seems irreconcilable is at the root of all the great cultures and the origin of all the great civilizations, for this is what has always led the human communities to mutate the very foundations of their thoughts, to build a Prospective thinking and build a future. Far from being totally digested by a ' technical black hole ', architecture and architectural thinking are now invited not to deny themselves but to reinvent themselves. We are faced with the exciting task of having our culture and know-how intelligently mutate. This interdependence between the planet and US repositions the human species within its greatness and its weaknesses. It leads us to question ourselves again about the man with a big H. Far from being inhuman, this period obviously invites us to a new humanism revised, corrected and perhaps a little improved in all its new diversity. It is in this dynamic that, far from forcing us to a mediocre architecture, this mutation invites us to mutate in a virtuous way our know-how of architects, planners and landscapers.

John Magerand

Architect, urban planner and landscape artist, PhD in information Science and the COM, teacher at the School of Architecture of Paris-la-Villette (