Michel Serres on Architecture, Urbanism, Space

This is my translation of a short article on some comments Serres made in September at an event on architecture and urbanism in Bordeaux (the translation is rough in places, but I am just learning; comments, corrections, are of course welcome). The original French article is here:

http://objectifaquitaine.latribune.fr/politique/2014-09-15/-architectes-foutez-vous-a-poil.html

“Architects, you’re fooling yourselves naked”

Michel Serres really does not like what architecture has become in recent years. And he said it publicly with the eloquence that we know in a moment of exchange organized by Adim Southwest, a Vinci Construction France company, at the last meeting of the Bordeaux biennale of architecture, urbanism, and design. The philosopher and historian of science called on the professionals to revolt, but with a smile.

To attend a talk by Michel Serres is often the occasion to take a deep breath of fresh air in the face. The smiling philosopher takes a sly pleasure in heckling his listeners. On Friday September 12th, in front of an audience of real estate professionals and urbanists, the philosopher did it again at panel dedicated to architecture and urbanism. Highlights:

On Dwelling

“When one speaks of dwelling, one evokes three profoundly ancient memories of man. The first is that we are animals. Our habitats are the geometric skeletons of a tree. We inhabit trees. The architect builds trees! He studies energy independence, to capture sunlight, to surround his work in leaves. It is the oldest idea in the world. So much for the first memory. The second: the paleoanthropologists know that the hunter-gatherers voluntarily chose to settle the treed savanna, near a water source. Today, the dream of the richest repeats this ancient dream. Our projects are not strong insofar as they recover something deeply rooted in our memory. Regarding the third memory: the place, it is the womb. If I were rich, I would call an architect and I would say to him or her: “Make me a woman!” We seek to find, in our dwelling, in our room, in our bed, the sensations that we experienced for nine months.”

On the death of the countryside

“Note that in 1820, only 8% of mankind inhabited cities! One day, I was asked by a journalist about what event I considered to be the most important of the 20th century. In 1900 in France, 65 to 70% of people supported themselves through agriculture or related occupations. In 2000, they were 1%. For me, the most striking event of the 20th century is the desertion of rural space. The city killed the countryside.”

On suburbs

“My suburb is the 9.3. Everyone says that it is dull, poor. But come on! It is infinitely richer than the towns of Creuse or Ariège. One lives near all parts of the social ladder. Our relationship to the neighborhood is, I believe, more successful compared to these agricultural towns where hospitals and schools have disappeared.”

On space

“My address changed. It was a space with statistics and letters, Cartesian, metric. A street, a number. I cannot get any more publications. However, on my email on my phone, is where I receive my most important messages. I have changed addresses. And our relationship to space has also changed. If I call an interlocutor for a friendly meeting, the space becomes otherwise, without distance, since I can telephone from anywhere. We live now in a space without topological distances. The donkey, the horse reduced distances. Information and communication technologies have deleted them.”

On Cities

“I was struck, on my arrival in the United States, by the ugliness of American cities, which had the significance of writing. This writing invaded France in the 1970s. When we arrive in a city, we enter into screaming ugliness. These entrances become the shame of France, and they take only written form. Architecture is dead, writing has killed the building. You do not build more than screens, pages. And yet, I am a man of letters, I have written 60 books. But this one kills your job, it is shit! Take off your clothes. Architects, you’re fooling yourselves naked. Naked, the architects. The first who restores building will have saved architecture.”

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2 Responses to Michel Serres on Architecture, Urbanism, Space

  1. terenceblake says:

    Nice interview, good translation. Some remarks: the title is rather “Take it all off”. Read: “Our projects are strong ONLY insofar as they recover something deeply rooted in our memory”. Suburbs: “My suburb is the Seine-Saint-Denis (93). Everyone says that it is dull, poor. But come and see! It is infinitely richer than the villages of Creuse or Ariège. One lives there in places that are closer to the social ladder. Our relationship to the suburbs is, I believe, more successful than our relation to those agricultural villages where hospitals and schools are disappearing.” “These entrances have become the shame of France, and this is due only to writing”. “But writing is killing your profession, shit! Take off your clothes. Architects, get stark naked. Take it all off, architects. The first to restore building will have saved architecture.”

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