Originally published in Display Magazine (Barcelona) No 13 2007
Édouard François is not your archetype architect. While many of his famous colleagues are delivering trademark buildings that try to form the identity of an Orient ignorant of its history, he is transforming the thick historical layers of Paris into contemporary icons. By letting the buildings imitate their surroundings as a form of camouflage, they become hybrids of architecture and nature, history and future.
- Architecture has to be formulated with the vocabulary of our time. Establishing the technical, economic and legal dimensions is important, but you also have to ask yourself questions like ‘What makes the world go around these days?’ Immediately when looking at two of his latest projects in Paris, Flower Tower and Hôtel Fouquet’s Barrière, the most striking characteristic of François’ architecture is revealed: Fun.
The studio located in the ground floor of an anonymous housing slab the 15th arrondissement of Paris is a strange mix of rustic plywood joinery, cheap plastic armchairs and daft fluorescent lighting. An armada of high-tech printers and 3d-carving machines help produce the tactile models and mock-ups that often become as emblematic as the final result. The fact that only about half of his young design team are architects has its reasons. - I don’t read architecture magazines, except from the ones I am in. I’m not interested in boring buildings, and when I do come across something great, what good does it do to me? In the mind of Édouard François, good architecture is formed using a sens(e)ational logic more commonly found in conceptual art. Not surprisingly, he is inspired by contemporary artists like Tadashi Kawamata and Wim Delvoye who like himself, investigate the conditions of humanity.
François gained international recognition for his housing project L’immeuble qui pousse (The sprouting building) in Montpellier in 2000 that has a façade clad with shingle inserted with seeds and fertilisers, making way for a veritable wall of weed. Shooting out of the curved building, the conspicuous balconies float on top of a forest of shrubs like tree houses painted in gold. The next step towards a total fusion of architecture and nature came with Flower Tower, a social housing project in Paris where the balconies are lined with huge pots of bamboo completely covering the concrete building structure inside. - Walking the streets of Paris I could see balconies getting more and more covered with plants. You could even say that they now served only that purpose: Filtering the city to escape it and minimising its density. At the same time I had the opportunity to realise the idea of a building as an appendage to the garden, both conceived of the same matter. As the plot was facing a park, it became natural to continue this vegetable texture onto the building.
Today, as Al Gore’s nightmare scenarios are becoming part of our awareness and we succumb to our bad consciousness, François embraces the challenge posed by our time, seeing it as continuation of his architectural work. Currently working on projects focusing on sustainability and energy-efficiency, two of his latest concepts for a greener future are under construction in Paris and Grenoble. Édouard François designs social housing in the morning and luxury hotels in the afternoon, everything with an ambition to match sexuality with sustainability. The image of a bottle of organic Champagne comes to mind: All at one stylish and fun, yet you can enjoy it with good conscience.