“Pioneering spaces that explore and experiment with collective processes for inhabiting the world and building new commons. Open, possible, unfinished places that create spaces of freedom to search for alternatives. Locations that are difficult to define because their main characteristic is an openness to the unexpected in order to constantly construct the future". This is how the three architects of the Encore Heureux agency, Nicola Delon, Julien Choppin and Sébastien Eymard present their “Infinite Places”, on display until 28th November 2018 at the French Pavilion of the 16th Venice International Architecture Biennale, in response to its theme: “Freespace”.
From 6B in Saint-Denis to The Hôtel Pasteur in Rennes, these infinite places experiment with all kinds of transitions: ecological, political and social. Open to transformations and modulations, they also seek to welcome everyone. Among them are centres of culture, such as la Friche la Belle-de-Mai, a former cigarette factory in Marseille, or the Centquatre-Paris, a former funeral home, which opened its central halls to artists (jugglers, dancers, actors, performers, etc.). But these also include places which welcome homeless people or asylum seekers, such as the former Tri Postal in Avignon, which has become a mixed housing centre, or Les Grands Voisins in Paris, an abandoned maternity ward which has been transformed into a temporary neighbourhood, bringing together social, artistic and economic activities.
All of these "Infinite Places" are part of the Biennale’s architectural reflections, through their desire to rehabilitate or extend the life of what are almost always abandoned or disused buildings. The transformation of wastelands, abandoned places, and squats which are slowly becoming institutions, these places are "in-finite": they are extending their existence, transforming and evolving according to the needs and desires of those who invest in them, live in them. For Nicola Delon, Julien Choppin and Sébastien Eymard, the architect “doesn’t just build buildings, but also looks to create places.”
Exhibiting the tangible
The French Pavilion was itself conceived of as an open, welcoming, dynamic space. It has been transformed into a "world pavilion", combining exhibitions, words and encounters. In the central area of the Pavilion, models of the ten “Infinite Places” are presented in the middle of a “cabinet of curiosities”, composed of exposed fragments, selected elements, taken objects, and materials hung on the walls like little scraps of the spaces that have travelled from France to Venice, bringing with them some of the locations’ souls: musical instruments, a chaise lounge, a wheelbarrow, costumes, etc. These little Proustian architectural Madeleines are accompanied by 32 testimonials from the people who live in the buildings and bring them to life, illustrated by drawings from Jochen Gerner.
The inhabitants of the ten "Infinite Places" are also invited to Venice for the duration of the Biennale to put on events there and recreation parts of their lives and projects. Thus La Ferme du Bonheur, a free community area located next to the Paris-X Nanterre University, is bringing its teams and "its fertile urban breeding ground" to Venice to encounter "the local life", from ecological farming to poetry, and the 30 inhabitants of La Convention, a communal and cooperatively restored living space in Auch, have come in their "solidarity van" to share their experience of living together with the Venetians through speeches, workshops and shared building sites.
A second life for Xavier Veilhan's "Studio Venezia"
Even when staging this “Infinite Place”s exhibit, Encore Heureux worked using principles of temporary occupancy and recycling. The wood panels were recovered from Studio Venezia by Xavier Veilhan, which occupied the French Pavilion from May to November of 2017 for the Venice Art Biennale.
The reuse of materials is part of the agency's DNA: in 2014, Julien Choppin and Nicola Delon were curators of the exhibition "Grey Matter– Materials / Reuse/ Architecture”, presenting 75 projects at the Arsenal Pavilion in Paris that have given a second life to used materials, relying on group intelligence and grey matter rather than new raw materials. In 2015, for the COP21, the agency created a "Circular Pavilion” for the Parvis de l’Hôtel de Ville in Paris, which wasn’t physically round but whose name rather illustrated the manufacturing process, which followed the principles of the circular economy. Recently, Encore Heureux designed the “Medicis Workshops", an ephemeral and collapsible structure made of wood and canvas and located on the border between Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, in preparation for the future Villa Médicis, planned for 2024, which will be a "place of residence for artists from the suburbs of the world".
Composed of some twenty architects, the Encore Heureux agency is today based in Centquatre-Paris, one of the ten "infinite places" it presented in Venice. Further proof that architecture can move, if not mountains, at least historic buildings.
With “Infinite Places”, Encore Heureux represents France at the 16th Venice International Architecture Biennale.
The French Pavilion at the Venice international art and architecture Biennales is put on by the Institut français. In 2017, the French Pavilion hosted Studio Venezia by Xavier Veilhan.
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