In Paris, the Concours d'Architecture investigates the contemporary between collectivity and cultural cross-pollination

Can a prize that has its roots in the Prix de Rome and the Sun King era outline the contemporary frontiers of architectural practice? We discussed it with the people who curated it for the Académie des beaux-arts.

At the end of 2023, the Académie des Beaux-Arts – one of the 5 souls of the Institut de France –has awarded the prize of its reborn Concours d'Architecture to a project by Sophie Dars and Carlo Menon – practitioners and researchers, founders of Accattone journal – titled Magasin/Magazine, the transformation of a rural building into a “lieu à écrire”, a place to be written and where to write, translating into a physical space the diverse sensibilities, knowledge, and materials that are usually the vital matter of a magazine.

We can define this news as the front view of a reality that, once put into perspective, reveals to us a depth in time to be measured not in years, but in centuries. “In the spirit of the Prix de Rome”, the award declaration reads, where the Prix de Rome is an institution dating back to 1663, to the reign of the Sun King, a scholarship awarded to artists and architects by the newly founded Académie des Beaux-Arts to spend a term at the French Academy in Rome, as the result of winning a very tough competition centered on the authorial exceptionalism of individual competitors. A history in which, throughout the years, we read names such as Charles Garnier, designer of the Paris Opéra, or Henri Labrouste, father of modern iron construction.

domus - concours d'architecture
Estelle Barriol - Studio Acte, Spolia. Concours d'Architecture 2023. Photo Salem Mostefaoui

After more than three centuries, after 1968 that disrupted the Academy in its former established nature, after a revival in the 1970s inspired by figures such as Claude Parent and Paul Andreu, the Concours d'Architecture came back in 2023, reborn from a deep study of contemporary positioning and agency of architecture: leaving behind the centrality of the author, the productive competition between individuals, Emmanuelle Chiappone-Piriou told us – in the competition's steering committee along with Benjamin Lafore and Sébastien Martinez-Barat – the practice of architecture today is composed of different collective practices, of a now undeniable cross-pollination between different knowledges, and these were the lines on which the new competition was built.

The theme was Écritures, writings, not as yet another voice to join the postmodern revival made of  fascination with linguistics, Chiappone-Piriou added, but rather as the intersection of information, materiality, code, different semiological universes, not only human: encompassing so many different ways of writing, but also of translating.

On this subject, four projects have been selected in early 2023 to be developed over the course of an entire year, followed, as would happen in a Turner Prize or a Prix Duchamp, with a view to countering overproductivism, and to reinterpreting the idea of excellence as a plurality of visions.

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CompMonks, L’attrape-rêves. Concours d'Architecture 2023

“A physical place can itself be a magazine”, say the prize winners. “A place of residence, study or celebration, a place to transmit knowledge and other ways of writing architecture, without distinction between doing and thinking”.
Estelle Barriol’s Spolia, on the other hand, is an investigation into the reuse of dismissed building components in cities as a chance to critically examine their forms, while CompMonks’ installation L'attrape-rêves translates dreams into physical and public space from data collected in the sleep of the researcher himself, and Max Turnheim’s L'usage de l'espace is a book, “a theoretical exploration of what an architecture 'that can no longer write' or that has lost its symbolic value, can do”,
An exhibition, Émulation, at the Institut de France, then formed a project of its own, to give the four researches a communicable form through spatial and visual means.

Opening image:  Sophie Dars & Carlo Menon (Accattone), Magasin/Magazine, 2023. Photo Salem Mostefaoui

The Émulations exhibition is open for a finissage visit with curators and finalists on January 31, 2024 .

Prize :
Prix Charles Abella - Concours d'Architecture de l'Académie des Beaux-Arts
Marc Barani, Bernard Desmoulin, Anne Démians, Pierre-Antoine Gatier, Dominique Perrault, Alain Charles Perrot, Jacques Rougerie, Aymeric Zublena, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Philippe Trétiack, Francis Rambert
Steering committee - curatorial team:
Emmanuelle Chiappone-Piriou, Benjamin Lafore, Sébastien Martinez-Barat

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