DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE MUSÉE
NATIONAL D’ART MODERNE
CENTRE DE CRÉATION INDUSTRIELLE
Does the architect still exert an influence on urban development? Do the professional domains of architecture or urbanism still cover the full range of competencies and functionality that are necessary to be able to develop a comprehensive vision and an operative model, whether it be local for large areas caught in the dynamic interaction of the functioning metropolis as a whole, or global, which would assume a privileged relationship with a unified system of governance? What does urban planning mean today? Is it about developing a model for structuring urban areas? The once predominant logic of identity management, based on directivity, coercion, functionality and representation now seems inoperative. The very idea of planning that aims to build fixed development schemes based on economics and a calendar for carrying them out, of a rigid framework for growth or reorganization, seems sorely undermined by heterogeneous development logics,
spontaneous economies that are better adapted to meeting perpetually evolving qualitative expectations.
The city gradually spreads out and recomposes itself into an open, multi-nodal system swallowing adjacent urbanized areas to become a single, continuous conurbation, an open territory, without identity, no longer determined by an edge or a limit. The issue of the metropolis, the source-city capable of gathering and concentrating centralized decision-making and governance, of remaining the focal point organizing circulation and information networks and grouping the bodies responsible for economic management, runs up against plural economies responding to social, economic and spatial demands, and to the most heterogeneous scales of temporality.
Conversely, the perception and understanding of the whole—of the metropolis as an ensemble expressing its specificity—
goes well beyond the simple addition of its parts, the generic elements that compose it.
The identity-based model of shared urban space, of spatiality as a domain of inscription, of territorial management developed in terms of built objects and of flows sustained by the structure of networks (transport, waste water, communication, etc.), is in perpetual tension between, on the one hand the appearance of meta-models for management ranging from regional integration (from the city to the metropolis, from the metropolis to the mega-city, etc.), to the globalized economy, and on the other hand by the crisis into which local specificities and systems of identity (neighborhoods, regions, nationalities, religions, etc.) are now thrown. The expansion of metropolises infinitely multiplies the effects of secularization, i.e. the loss of identity, the loss of referents, a relativism expressed through
symbolic and qualitative demands that urban management models inherited from functionalism are no longer able to cope with. Hence the interrelations between pluralism and community, between group and individual, or more directly, issues of safety and security or of environmental proximity and sustainable development.
The great models used for urban analysis are always based on quantitative parameters and mainly refer to territorial planning. One can distinguish topographical models (the map, the plan, zoning, concentric or polycentric development schemes, grid organization, etc.), sociological models (typology of occupation according to natural, industrial, and economic criteria) and kinetic models (movement, networks, mutations, etc.). Territorial identity has always been a determinant vector in managing the territory—political, historic and geographic unity—with the notion of the city encompassing the principle of identity in all its forms.
The idea of the “capital city” concentrates within it all the possible principles of evolution of this system of identity.
The most contemporary phenomena, the hyperextension of great metropolises, the appearance of spontaneous human concentrations, the interconnection of great capitals into a global network as well as the integration of territorial logic into a comprehensive information system, necessitate a rethinking of the development schemes of major metropolises along more logically adapted lines. A morphogenetic economy must take the place of the monolithic management of the expansion of global cities, going well beyond mere spatial or social planning, and integrating constantly mutating qualitative parameters, which now impose a new way of conceiving of time, history and possible sequences of development.
It is an urgent priority to get architects who have been grappling for the last thirty years
with the challenges of the great urban mutations we are witnessing to focus on the phenomena large-scale metropolises are facing. Whereas the question of “Greater Paris” was broached with a consultation designed for maximum public impact, the encounters organized by the Centre Georges Pompidou aim to provide a critical frame of reference, relying on the main approaches that have shaped the discourse on the city. If the old postmodern idea of a “factory of the city” now seems obsolete, where the architect has given way to politics and economics in the decision-making chain, the necessity of developing perspectives, of giving back a scale of comprehension to citizens, of reforming the circle of possible appropriation of urban domains, restores architecture’s capacity. Thus, gathering architects of different generations, architects rooted in different and often opposing critical traditions and highlighting the value of the diversity of these prevailing patterns of discourse and the strength of often radical proposals,
is a reaffirmation that architecture, before being developed through projects, is a reaffirmation that architecture, before being developed through projects, is first and foremost a project, a theoretical and critical vision of one’s profession, and one’s positioning, which is just as much an individual as a collective one. Modern, postmodern, structuralist, deconstructivist, environmentalist, technological, or metabolist, architecture no longer suffices with this compartmentalization of schools. The typological lessons of historicism seem to be well-stocked with images for the globalized city—yesterday’s visionary unrealism. The one of megastructures or environmentalism seems to have become the source of the operative models of tomorrow. A fresh confrontation of the wide diversity of positioning with the pragmatic reality of developing metropolises also provides the public with a sort of toponymy of possibilities, a provision for understanding the mutations to come.
Deputy Director of the Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle