Habitat, that mantle between self and city *

At a time when the architectural profession is mobilizing nationwide against the provisions of the Elan law and its many measures that flout the public interest of architecture, certain professional networks are reminding us that housing plays an essential role in the substance of our lives and that the competition, a territory of emulation, must be defended in the construction of social housing. The government's objective is to "build more, better and cheaper". Without architects?
Ce 17 May at 5 p.m., architects, users' associations, NGOs, professional and trade union organisations, social landlords, project owners, ... call on the President of the Republic and the Government to federate citizens and stakeholders without delay in order to achieve a common ambition: the construction and development of quality and sustainable living spaces for the 21st century. For them, the Elan law (Evolution du logement et aménagement numérique) must meet everyone's expectations, promote social diversity and access for all to comfortable housing, improve everyone's daily life, enable the construction of a soft city for the needs of today's population and for future generations, enable the renovation of the built heritage, and boost the economic fabric throughout the territory. What do they fear? The consequences in terms of architectural quality and the living environment. In its current form, the law frees the social housing sector from the obligation to hold an architectural competition, exempts project owners from certain obligations under the MOP law of 1985, which governs their relations with project owners, makes the opinion of the Architectes des Bâtiments de France (ABF) consultative - and no longer binding -... Not to mention the risks linked to the excesses of property developers...
In a changing world, both in full dematerialization and in constant creation of new interfaces, we will always need a roof over our heads. Yet 4 million people in France remain poorly housed or homeless, while 12 million see their situation weakened by the housing crisis. This current context of precariousness and endemic poor housing imposes a real ambition for a housing law, driven by civic, humanist, social and cultural values, and implemented in a qualitative framework both architecturally and environmentally in order to shape the conditions for the well-being of our fellow citizens.
Then yes, there is an urgency to act together. Building, yes. Quickly, yes. But in a decent and thoughtful way, and while questioning the ways of living of tomorrow.
The Elan bill, put forward by Julien Denormandie, Secretary of State for Territorial Cohesion, examined on 15 May by the Assembly's Economic Affairs Committee, does not seem to meet these requirements. Denis Dessus, President of the National Council of the Order of Architects (Cnoa) on the occasion of the launch of the Collective "Housing Ambition" denounced the Act's lack of ambition: "Poor housing is not inevitable. The Elan law is a missed opportunity in terms of housing, a real regression. The government has not listened to anyone. We are all here today to defend the right to quality housing for all, and not just as a financial product. »
Cnoa - Poster from the Cnoa communication campaign about the bill for the evolution of housing, planning and digital (Elan)
For the Les Maisons de l'architecture Network (1), social housing is a research laboratory on the evolution of ways of living. It can and must anticipate our future lifestyles. Defending the architectural competition means defending the possible renewal of a reflection on ways of living questioned by the challenges of our time: poverty, pollution, fragile environment, urban sprawl, rural sprawl, population migration.

Against the single plan

Many of the measures in the Elan Act violate the public interest of architecture. The first of these is the removal of the MOP law for the construction of housing and public facilities by social landlords and the subsidiaries they will be able to create, and by the operators of concerted development zones.
However, the current legislative framework allows for the use of recognised and targeted independent expertise. It makes it possible to ensure that public projects, financed by public funds, are of quality, serving the "city" and not private interests. The guideline of the ELAN bill introduces the circumvention of this legislative framework.
It provides for the abolition of the obligation of assistance for social landlords, calling into question a provision acquired by the LCAP. However, has it been found better today and more adapted to the participatory context than the competition procedure to choose the project that best meets clear expectations?
The competition allows to respond in a singular way to each situation and each context against standardization, against the single plan. Whatever its dimension, each project is built with numerous actors, diverse in their skills as well as in their cultural, aesthetic, technical, normative or economic approaches. The competition is a field of collaborative work between all these actors when it is possible to take a critical look at the proposed programme.
Innovation is born in the confrontation of ideas and the competition encourages the justification of choices, the sharing of the foundations of the project with partners, decision-makers, users and inhabitants; it encourages anticipation and the creation of cohesion around the project. The competition is a formidable vector for the diffusion of architectural culture and in this sense, a factor of sustainable economies. To suppress this democratic milestone under the pretext of savings is to confiscate the debate on the mastery of the living environment and to take the risk of paying the price.
In the current standardized and over-regulated context of housing production, new forms of living are likely to create a different urbanism. The city cannot be built without questioning the new ways of living.
In Libérationthe architectural association declares that Elan represents "a leap fifty years back in time". The architectural renewal of social housing had been driven in the 1980s by social housing and the competitions it led to bring a whole generation of architects to commission, and sometimes to fame. Even if, as they say in the field, "all the regulations in the world have never prevented ugly buildings from being built", the absence of any obligation on architectural, urban or environmental quality can seriously contribute to this.

Government Reactions

They've been delayed... While the profession is organizing this 17 May a big day of mobilization to denounce the bill, to "Make housing the big permanent cause." the Minister of Culture reaffirmed, during a meeting with the winners of the 2018 class of Albums of Young Architects and Landscape Architects (AJAP), her ambition to strengthen "the desire for architecture in all citizens"...s support for the architectural profession and its commitment to the promotion of quality residential architecture. Françoise Nyssen announced the launch of two projects:
1/ A work on the "desire for architecture", the objective of which is to consolidate the influence of the profession and its recognition as a lever for cultural, economic, social and environmental development. A working group will be set up quickly and will bring together :
- Christine LECONTE, President of the Regional Council of the Order of Architects of Ile-de-France, winner of the Young Urban Planners Award 2010 ;
- Guy TAPIE, professor and author of a recent book on "the architectural culture of the French";
- Simon TEYSSOU, Senior Lecturer and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ecole nationale supérieure d'architecture de Clermont-Ferrand ;
- And will be associated with the Grand Prix National de l'Architecture and the Albums of Young Architects and Landscape Architects of the Class of 2018, as well as representatives of the world of construction and planning and national and territorial elected officials.
Marie-Christine LABOURDETTE, President of the Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine, will report on the work of this working group to the Ministry of Culture, which will ensure its follow-up in close collaboration with the National Council of the Order of Architects.
2/ A work on the contribution of architects to the quality of housing. A working group made up of actors in the production of tomorrow's housing will be led by the Interministerial Mission for the Quality of Public Buildings, under the guidance of its chairman Mr. Roland Peylet with the services of the ministries concerned.
He will be responsible for formulating proposals to enhance the role of the architect in the process of producing quality housing, and to balance the relationship between project owner and project manager, from the emergence of the project to its completion.
The Minister of Culture will receive the proposals of these two think tanks on the occasion of the next edition of the National Days of Architecture on 19, 20 and 21 October.
To be continued...
- Book " La ville rebelle " edited by Jana Revedin - Edition Alternatives - Manifestô, 2015
(1) The Maisons de l'architecture have a mission to raise awareness and disseminate architectural culture among citizens. The 32 Houses are committed to a shared and contributive culture of architecture and territories. The Network of the Houses of Architecture militates for difference, pooling, exchange and cross-fertilization of views, also in the social housing industry. Since last February, the Network of Houses of Architecture has been chaired by Anne-Sophie Kehr, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the European House of Architecture of the Upper Rhine, National Councillor of the Order of Architects and lecturer at the ENSAS.

Header photo : Nasa's vision of Habitat in the 1970s

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