L'architecture "en perruque"
by Olivier Kaeser
Translated by Kerry Shaw
Its original definition might be ‘a wig’ but according to the Petit Robert dictionary, ‘la perruque’ is also “work undertaken by a tradesman or technician, during his hours of work and for his own personal benefit, using the materials and equipment of the workplace.” The architecture of Bureau A could be considered to be ‘en perruque’.
Let’s examine the metaphor: here are two architects, Daniel Zamarbide and Léopold Banchini, young but already experienced who have been able to develop exciting projects from the heart of other architectural firms (1) – including the construction of buildings – and which have been the start of a new professional experience in creating their own structure. They know how to use the materials and tools of their trade and they have decided to find a more personal use for them, through staying in the field of architecture but proposing a hybrid approach to the discipline. One of the hallmarks of their method is to distance themselves from the building as the central architectural object. One example of this is The Maze, a labyrinth comprised entirely of elements taken from the Genevan Public transport depot, which was created as part of a multi-disciplinary project for the Antigel Festival (2). Is it about decor, signals, beacons, or facilities? Are the creators of this work playing the role of designers, set designers, artists or architects? The fact that it is so difficult to describe makes it all the more an expression of its time.
The other Bureau A projects also resist definitive categorization. Their Abri éphémère seems to be an artist installation piece for a temporary open-air exhibition. Their Clapier à Lapins is presented as a modular design object. Their île ecosystème is a rejection of scientific laboratory experiences yet integrates perfectly into an exhibition that explores the line between art and science. Their Volière appears initially as architecture, yet in production with group8 where Daniel Zamarbide first conceived it in 2008, it seemed to be a long way from any kind of built object. Everything is relative, as we all know.
Of course architectural methods that transcend the mere creation of buildings are already well developed, particularly during the decade from 1960 to 1970, most notably by Archigram in England, Superstudio in Italy, Ant Farm in the US and Yona Friedman in Israel then France, From the 1950s til the present day. In Switzerland these radical utopian currents had had little effect. Bureau A laid claim to these, at least in part, and became part of a group of architects who, today, develop hybrid explorations of architecture. They tend to work differently in the current climate. Indeed, the length of time it takes to realize an architectural project, the exorbitant cost of buildings, the necessity to recycle materials, are a few factors that encourage reflection on a lighter approach, less costly, more autonomous, but at the same time serious in terms of its research, competence and relevance.
Architecture ‘en perruque’ brings into play at least three notions. Dilettantism, because the activity seems to take place at the margins of an identifiable, codified practice, but realized through a lighter, suppler, more experimental spirit. This know-how is put to use as much within defined disciplines as it is for projects outside these. And it brings an alternative economy, since these projects function according to a faster, more autonomous mechanism than architecture, without the same controls and competition, thus they can pay for themselves.
Echoing the Bureau A method, here is a quotation from John Cage, an artist who best personifies experimentation, openness and freedom in art: “Try to organize things in such a way that the result will never be conclusive.”
Director of Centre culturel suisse - Paris
1. Daniel Zamarbide is cofounder of group8, an architectural practice he was associated with until 2011. Léopold Banchini was assistant to Harry Gugger at EPFL and was cofounder of 1to100, the agency that realized a number of their projects.
2. Antigel Festival, Geneva, Le Labyrinthe, 27 January 2013
3. Quotation from John Cage relayed by the baBel emsemble during the 100 performances put on in 2012 – 13 to mark the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth.
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