Blueprint innovation: 16 interviews with international architects

Odile Decq

Odile Decq. Photo: Markus DeutschmannOdile Decq. Photo: Markus Deutschmann

Odile Decq’s architecture marries the high-tech with the sensual. Serendipitous collisions of geometry and colour typify her work, from Rome to Nanjing. Awarded the Jane Drew Prize in 2016 for promoting the role of women in architecture, the citation described Decq as ‘a creative powerhouse, spirited breaker of rules and advocate of equality’.

Teaching has become a cornerstone of her practice, and here she has proved herself a revolutionary: after five years as dean of the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris, she resigned in 2012 and, in 2014, founded (and self-funded) a new architecture school, the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture, in Lyon. It promotes multidisciplinarity and collaboration, combining architectural theory and practice with physics, neuroscience and sociology.

2015 Blueprint Award-winning Saint Ange Residency, France. Photo: Roland Halbe
2015 Blueprint Award-winning Saint Ange Residency, France. Photo: Roland Halbe

Innovation is very important because we need to think about what could be: what can we bring for the future, for a better life, for better conditions? For me, it’s important to innovate, whatever the field.

Everything we do is intended to increase our capacity and provide something that is better. In every project we try to find a way to innovate in some area. It’s not a question of shapes. It’s the way we organise the space for people to give them more than what is expected in the beginning.

FRAC Bretagne Museum in Rennes, France. Photo: Roland Halbe
FRAC Bretagne Museum in Rennes, France. Photo: Roland Halbe

As architects we have to invent something every time; invention and innovation are quite similar to me. This creativeness, in a way, is really my everyday life. That means that whatever I do I try to find solutions. The more I research that, the more interesting my life is. I find myself every day needing to find solutions. I see this as the task of an architect.

We are problem solvers, we are assessing many problems in a day. To find the solution, we have to invent something. For me it works like that: to do something that is not the usual way of doing it. I always try to push further with my architecture, not having my building as just a normal building. I try to find solutions that prove I can do it, regardless of constraints.

I set up my architecture school because too often, today, architects are educated as professionals - just to answer questions. For me an architect is a thinker, someone who is able to… synthesise the difficulties they’re facing and find a solution.

I want my students to be curious about the world, to understand what happens in the world, and be able to see that the world is [collaborative, multidisciplinary], and it will become… even more that way. I think it’s very important for architects to have prospective visions for the world. This is why I enjoy my students.

The discussions we have are fantastic. We are not focusing on the usual disciplines that we study in architecture - planning or design. It is much wider than that: biology, mobility, communication. We want to understand the research and where it is going.

FRAC Bretagne Museum in Rennes, France. Photo: Roland Halbe
FRAC Bretagne Museum in Rennes, France. Photo: Roland Halbe

I think that today - and especially for tomorrow - young people will be facing the question of [how] to reinvent for a different society. To make people live in a different way with much more participation, collaboration, open sources, sharing everything, but at the same time being able to reinvent. [It’s important] not to have a fear of progress, of technical progress, to have the courage to take risks. I think that today the architects who we talk about are much more able to propose risk in terms of form and shaping and whatever. But for me… it’s not about the form, the object; it’s the content, and the relationships and how buildings support the way people can live.

Planning bureaucracy is still the enemy of innovation in France. I think that there are countries that do it much more fluently or in a more democratic way. I remember going for a building permit in Holland - we had to discuss with all the people involved and negotiate together. It’s not like in France, where you send in 20 dossiers to the city [planners] and later you get some letter saying no: you missed that, you missed this. There is no discussion, no debate, no negotiation. I think that we are nearly the champion of the world in that kind of bureaucracy.

As for goals for my practice: I don’t do strategy. I don’t say: I want to do this tomorrow, or I want to work in that country. I’m only interested in what I can discover when I go there. I am much more an adventuresse. VS

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