Winner of the The Young Architects and Landscape Artists Contest (AJAP) in 2016, Guillaume Ramillien is part of a young generation of French architects who seek to reconcile reality and the imagination. He describes here how the environment informs the way a building is designed.
Guillaume Ramillien is forging a unique path through the French architectural landscape. Inspired by a trip to Madurai in South India during his studies, he presents an optimistic and demanding architecture that takes on all aspects of the project, whether aesthetic or environmental, from the very first lines of the sketches.
Drawings and models are at the heart of your working method. What interests you about these tools?
The drawing is important because it makes it possible to take charge of, in a single pencil line and theoretically without any hierarchy, the building materials, the landscape and users of the future building. Alongside this sketch, the model is an object which manifests in the real world. In a way, it touches on issues addressed by the building without replacing it. It is also a good way of approaching the issue of construction materials and systems.
Do you have any preferred materials?
We work a lot with wood. This is not an exclusive preference, but it perfectly embodies our commitments: to prioritise materials which have expressive or aesthetic properties, but which also convey other qualities such as the expertise of the craftsmen who use them or the ability to activate sectors encompassing fields wider than the strict framework of the building constructed. Promoting wooden architecture, for example, helps to promote the harvesting of sustainably and locally managed forests, which is not the case with more traditional concrete structures, where the material can come from anywhere. Beyond just a material, it is our ability to boost sectors, create jobs and continue to improve expertise that is at stake.
To what extent did your experience in India in 2005 shape your understanding of architecture?
This project probably influenced the way in which I approach the relationship between labour and materials. In India, labour is very cheap. A modest project of a hundred square metres may hire 300 workers. Conversely, materials remains very expensive. Where I'm from, the relationship is the opposite: skilled labour costs a great deal while we do not pay the real price of the material used. India allowed me to confront this disconnect. I see architecture as a showcase for the expertise and quality of the men and women who are committed to creating it; similarly, I do not see the material as a mere object, I want to give it back its nobility by understanding its real cost, its whole life cycle.
Does this vision imply social commitments, particularly in terms of sustainable development?
Today, questions of ecology are everywhere. I will not present this issue as our guiding force, but rather as a condition of frugality to which everyone remains subject. In this context, the choice of material raises the question of the overall impact of a building, from the production of the materials to the deconstruction of the building. From this point of view, wood has excellent qualities. Forests are CO2 traps, which improve quality of life beyond construction. With this material, it is also possible to easily envisage a deconstruction process which allows us to re-use these elements.
The eco-development La Garenne in Fourchambault is a good example of your work...
For this urban renewal project, we had to rebuild 34 housing units in a structure slightly more spread-out than apartment blocks. The presence of a hundred-year-old oak wood led us to design a project which respects the landscape in order to offer future inhabitants an exceptional living environment. It turned out that the project was also located in a flood zone. The issue of water management – from the building design to the public spaces – was crucial to the project. The water collected on the roofs supplies the park, while the landscaped areas are designed so as to be able to accommodate a flood and protect the housing. This programme, like the Limeil-Brévannes socio-cultural centre on which we worked in 2015, embodies strong social commitments. Above all, it allows us to build places to live together in the service of a shared common good.
You were one of the winners of the 2016 AJAP. What did winning this kind of award do for you?
In our field, being recognised by one’s peers remains very important. It is a way of feeling supported and, above all, of promoting our work to public or private contractors. Thanks to the AJAP, we have gained visibility. When you are approaching a developer launching a project costing several million euros, being a young architect remains an obstacle. This prize is therefore a guarantee of trust and recognition. It also promotes particularly valuable international exchanges. Sometimes, architecture can be confined within national borders. As such, it is an incredible advantage to be able to meet professionals from around the world. I am currently working on a trip to Iraq with my students to meet young with Kurds and discuss issues of land construction and promotion of heritage, thanks to discussions which developed after the prize.
What do you think are the major challenges for today’s architecture?
Firstly, on a personal level, I believe that we must continue to include social and environmental commitments in our work. Architectural culture remains relatively closed-off, probably largely because we as architects sometimes barricade ourselves into a particular position, as if we were the only defenders of these broad interests in the face of people who prefer not to listen to anything we have to say. This is a mistake. Today, these issues are so important that we must be able to respond to them collectively. In this way, we will meet the challenge of sharing this commitment with as many people as possible.
The Institut français is a partner of the The Young Architects and Landscape Artists Contest (AJAP).
An exhibition presenting the profiles and projects of the 20 winners of the 2016 AJAP is touring around the world with the support of the Institut français. Learn more about the exhibition
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