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Enhancing the ordinary

review

Patrice Goulet, of the Institut Francais d'Architecture, has mounted the second in a series of exhibitions that he describes as 'a work in progress'. 'Rushes' is an on-going survey of new tendencies in French architecture. The seven works chosen are from diverse locations, from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais to Marseille, and consist of common categories of building commission: schools, housing blocks, factory conversions, all serving local or regional needs.

Goulet's point is that new attitudes toward architectural problem-solving can be best observed within such relatively ordinary project types. He writes: 'We see here approaches to problems that are very logical and realistic, driven, not towards loss, but, on the contrary, through their justice and precision, towards enchantment.'

Jean Nouvel is cited as precursor to this emerging generation, the link being what Goulet calls Nouvel's concern for a 'poetics of situation' as the necessary safeguard against the coagulation of style. Goulet's emphasis is thus on architecture as process. The title is borrowed from the language of film-making; rushes are the duplicates of the raw sequences of spent film to be experimented on before the final editing of the originals.

In contrast to the other three temporary exhibitions showing in the institute, Goulet has dispensed with models, plans and prints. The photographs of the buildings are in 4 x 5 transparency form and placed on light boxes. Magnifying glasses and headphones, offering comments by the architects themselves, encourage a more intimate level of engagement with these luminous fragments.

All the photography is by Philippe Ruault. In an industry which usually demands that its creations be presented in ideal conditions, immaculate and serenely distant from the disorder of everyday life, Ruault attempts to show how buildings relate to their environment. His approach has found favour with many of these younger architects, as it reflects to a greater degree the subtleties of the design process, and how the buildings form a dialogue with the immediate urban terrain as well as the global architectural scene.

The work of architects Berthelier, Fichet and Tribouillet from Chartres has appeared in both exhibitions. The present one shows their extension to a Le Corbusier-influenced 1960s high school in Nogent-le-Rotrou. It is one of four schools or colleges featured. This marks a clear difference between France and England that we could do well to nullify: in France the kind of investment required to achieve Goulet's principle of the 'enchantment of reality' is not simply reserved for high profile projects in the hearts of cities, but also regularly achieved on behalf of highly localised populations.

The Chartres firm has explored its characteristic themes of transparency and a minimalist-style play of void and solid to diminish the distinction between interior and exterior. 'When one leaves it, one asks oneself if one hasn't been dreaming,' says Goulet. This school does not containstudents, rather, it supports them in space - the achievement of immaculate neutrality for the learning environment.

The rural gites of Edouard Francois and Duncan Lewis demonstrate a similar interest in disguising brute dimensions. These amount to an artful re- invention of that mythic origin of Modernism, the primitive hut. Here, the theory is one of the interpenetration of architecture and nature. Outwardly, the gites are enveloped invegetation and appear as little more than a structured copse.

In the case of the two colleges by Art'M (both are on the same site), rather than talking of localised users we might talk of ghettoised ones. The practice's Renoir and Rostand colleges are situated in the infamous northern suburbs of Marseille. One could not imagine a greater contrast to the permeability of the school by the Chartres firm than Art'M's textured concrete facade, transmuted with iron sulphates and copper to appear like the outcome of some extreme, seismic event. However, they are products of a similar ethos which states that architecture should provide a refineddialogue between community and the pre-existent conditions of the material environment. Both buildings begin their transformation of a given place with a meticulous process of integration.

Robin Wilson writes on architecture, art and landscape

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