interviews
Interview
Architecture

Atelier Senzu, winner of the Albums des Jeunes Architectes et Paysagistes 2020

We architects, must have the courage to imagine a utopia and think hard enough to make it happen.

Founded in 2014 by David Dottelonde and Wandrille Marchais, architectural firm Atelier Senzu has made rehabilitation the core of its business. Awarded a prize as part of the Albums des Jeunes Architectes et Paysagistes 2020 (AJAP), this approach is now being deployed as part of a touring exhibition. The AJAP exhibition is touring internationally as part of the Institut français' La Collection

Updated on 26/09/2022

5 min

Image
L'Atelier Senzu
Crédits
L'Atelier Senzu © DR

Could you tell us about your background and explain how your collaboration came about?

Wandrille Marchais: We conceived our first projects together at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Paris Val-de-Seine in 2006 and since then we have never really stopped. The agency allows us to express ourselves, to experiment for ourselves by putting our concepts into practice.

Our work has recently been recognised by the Ministry of Culture AJAP 2020 (Album des Jeunes Architectes et Paysagistes), the FAIRE 2020 call for projects (City of Paris & Pavillon de l'Arsenal), the European FUTURE ARCHITECTURE PLATFORM initiative launched by the EU Creative Exchange in the New Bauhaus category and more recently by the Prix d'Encouragement de l'Académie des Beaux-Arts. 

 

Atelier Senzu gives particular importance to the notions of teaching and transmission. You claim to have a "studio culture". Can you tell us more about this?

David Dottelonde Atelier Senzu believes in a culture of the studio as a place of exchange, of putting forward the assets and skills of each person through a process of collective project making. Far from confining ourselves to traditional project management groups, we endeavour to work with anyone who can bring a complementary vision, opinion or expertise to enrich the construction of the project. This means our close collaborators are as diverse as they are complementary: designers, philosophers, historians, graphic designers, photographers, etc.

Wandrille Marchais: We also try not to come up with preconceived ideas and to adapt to each new context, before collectively choosing the best solutions. After multidisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity is the objective of our collective work. Here again, it is imperative to cross disciplines in order to invent new responses to climate issues, a point of view shared by Bruno Latour. 

 

How did this approach resonate with your project for the Le VAU Pavilion, which was selected as part of the Albums des Jeunes Architectes et Paysagistes (AJAP) - 2020 Session? 

David Dottelonde: Thanks to the City of Paris' participatory budget, we established the project with the teaching teams, notably through design workshops. This was an opportunity to analyse the architectural history of the school. Arranged in a circular format, the pavilion evokes both a tent and a hut. There are no first or last rows in this architecture designed for children, a counterpoint to the rectangular and mono-oriented classrooms of Jules Ferry, traditionally arranged to avoid the discomfort of cast shadows for right-handers. 

Wandrille Marchais: Education is the best 'material' for building a desirable future. For this, we architects must have the courage to imagine a utopia and think hard enough to make it happen. 

For us, working with what is already there is not only an ecological or economic constraint, it is an optimistic way of seeing the world and of practising the architectural profession.

The concepts of "regeneration" and "rehabilitation" often come up when we talk about your work. Could you explain what they mean to you and how they inform your most recent projects?

David Dottelonde: Our agency is called Senzu, a nod to the magic bean with extraordinary regenerative properties, which heals, repairs, soothes and satiates. From the agency's foundation we have sought to follow the path of committed rehabilitation. To consider and work with an existing building is to believe that amending is more virtuous than erasing. But for us, working with what is already there is not only an ecological or economic constraint, it is an optimistic way of seeing the world and of practising the architectural profession. 

Rehabilitation seems to us to be an opportunity rather than a constraint, it is polysemic - i.e. applicable to very different subjects, a theoretical as well as a practical issue, a necessary and exciting evolution to which we want to continue to devote ourselves fully. 

Wandrille Marchais: At the moment, we are converting offices into housing in Montreuil, which allows for high ceilings and large windows, which would be unthinkable in a new project. 

The agency is also working on the major transformation of the Chambre des Notaires in Paris, located on Place du Châtelet. A 160 year old heritage, transformed to be open to the public and to contribute to the public space. Here, rehabilitation is seen as a great way to design in a setting outside the usual standards.

These two experiences have enabled us to consider that everything that is initially a constraint can be, or even must be, an opportunity to invent, to circumvent and to go beyond the standards. 

 

You are part of a cross-disciplinary team that will be responsible for completely rethinking the identity and layout of the New Grand Palais. How do you approach this new challenge?

David Dottelonde: As part of the overall restructuring of the Grand Palais building by architect François Chatillon, we will be orchestrating the interior fittings, in tandem with French designer Samy Rio and the New York agency 2X4, experts in branding.

Atelier Senzu is coordinating an interdisciplinary team (architecture / design / signage) that has come together in an unprecedented way around an ecological approach: the sourcing of natural materials, their transformation and arrangement will be the guiding principle of the overall identity of the New Grand Palais. This joint effort will enable our team to develop cross-disciplinary systems to immerse visitors in a unique atmosphere. 

 

In 2022, Atelier Senzu is travelling as part of the AJAP (Album des Jeunes Architectes et Paysagistes 2020) exhibition produced by the Institut français. What does that represent for you?

David Dottelonde: This biannual prize gives rise to an exhibition that launched at the Cité de l'Architecture in Paris before travelling to many locations. It is a source of pride for us to be able to allow our work travel in this way, as we are very interested in the international question. It also allows us to make the problems encountered by French architects on their territory known abroad. And in return, to see how local architects can respond to these proposals and bring us ideas in turn.

The Institut français and the Atelier Senzu

The Albums des Jeunes Architectes et Paysagistes 2020 exhibition is touring internationally as part of the Institut français' La Collection

L'institut français, LAB