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An open architecture kindles an
openness of the mind

Interview with Elizabeth de Portzamparc,

Can you describe the GED project? (Editor: “Grand Equipement Documentaire” in Aubervilliers)

This facility will be the first bioclimatic library and the largest social sciences and humanities library in Europe, bringing together a total of 70 libraries. The collection will reunite documents, books as well as a considerable amount of research. The GED will be the heart of the Condorcet Campus. Its interior street draws an axis that will structure the site, which will be organized around this symbolic building. The project has been conceived in an environmental and social approach. The exceptional openness, the transparency and the central location make the GED attractive and open to the students, but also to the public in general and to the unprivileged youth living around the Campus. The building is very flexible and offers architectural devices that adapt to the evolution of uses, which will allow it to last in time and to respond effectively to the different needs of the users. I hope that this project will create the desire for knowledge and gathering, which is at the foundation of all democratization and all understanding.

In which way the GED is favouring studies and research?

The GED is a federating facility, support for collective life and a natural focal meeting point. I am convinced that an open architecture, very connected to the city, to the neighbourhoods can also kindle an openness of the mind as well as a progression of knowledge. So, the creation of public spaces, also inside the buildings, reinforces this possibility of connection, emulation between different types of audiences. That’s why there are all these very open spaces on the ground floor. The co-working spaces should attract the young people in the area. It’s excellent for the students because they are in contact with the reality of the city. It’s also great for disadvantaged young people living nearby, who may not have had the idea of entering the academic system.

Education is becoming less and less stationary because of technological possibilities.
Does that also influence your work approach?

Previously, I’ve spoken of physical contact and immediately direct links. Evidently, the virtual world completes these relationships. But when I’m speaking of architecture, I want to speak of places and connections, which we can achieve through a physical place. These physical places can be various, even in certain countries – since I work a lot abroad, whether it is in Africa or Brazil – there are, for example, mobile libraries reaching out to small cities. These libraries play a fundamental role also because they create real contact between people. For me, this contact is the true agent of development in knowledge and understanding.

Is the idea of public places really new in our digital age?
Or is it just what we already know from the ancient Greek and Roman models?

The forums, the meeting places, yes, they are Greek models of democracy in the City. But my architecture is the contrary of that model, even of Greek museums and libraries. They were made for the glory of the Palace, to bolster the supremacy of Hellenic culture. It was not at all an instrument of democratization; they were reserved to a category of individuals – a false democracy! My notion is precisely the opposite: the modern conception of buildings we see now, it is openness – towards the users and the city and so it is the democratization of culture.

Elizabeth de Portzamparc is an architect and urban planner. The projects of the “Musée de la Romanité of Nîmes”, the “Grand Equipement Documentaire” of Aubervilliers and the “Gare du Bourget” were designed as “places for living” that are planned as a medium for local activities and quality of life enhancement for those who use them. Her dual sociological and architectural approach combines high standards of social, urban and ecological significance, optimum achievement of form and a coherent, comprehensible approach on every scale of her work.