Emmanuel Combarel on holistic architecture

With architecture more and more present at MIPIM and the concerns of building innovation taking on greater importance all the time, I took time out of a busy day of tweeting to meet with the French architect and MIPIM awards juror, Emmanuel Combarel.  We discussed urban development, sustainability and the joys of trainspotting.

Joanne: What are the main trends you expect to see facing architects in the not-so-distant future?

Emmanuel Combarel: Well, it really is a time of transition. There is a lot of uncertainty due to the current political and economic circumstances in Europe. We’re seeing a lot of consolidation projects right now. In a crisis, everyone takes up a more defensive position. Really, the main trend I see emerging is a concern with urban development and how to put together projects that aren’t just buildings but thought-through schemes that work for a whole neighbourhood. We are now designing urban centres, not silo tower blocks.

Joanne: How does that affect what’s going on at MIPIM?

EC: Well, our new concern with this holistic approach to development is actually where MIPIM really has added value. At MIPIM, you can talk to developers, architects, investors, local authority representatives… It’s very interesting to see the increasing importance of cities and regions at MIPIM. The stands here that are attracting the most attention are the cities: London, Paris, Lyons, Bordeaux, Manchester, Edinburgh…  During my MIPIM, I want to talk to people from those places and find out what they need and expect, since they’re who are driving development now.

Joanne: What does that imply for architects?

EC: Well, we’re no longer designing buildings but entire cityscapes. We’re not designing autonomous structures but buildings that must be part of their context. It’s not about erecting individual buildings but creating living areas. We have to integrate the complexity of a whole city into our designs. We need to think about creating spaces that support social and age diversity and feature a good mix of space uses. For example, a lot of people are now talking about sustainable development and how to make buildings green. What I’m talking about is a kind of sustainability that extends to the entire life of the building. Yes, we have to make sure it is energy efficient, and we need to think about our use of land and resources, but we also need to think about what the building brings to the area. It’s not good creating a space that has only offices in it – by night it will be empty and potentially dangerous. Not enough commerce in a business area means people have nothing to do at lunchtime. These are considerations that need to be taken into account.

Joanne: What are you working on the moment?

EC: We’re currently working on a project to revitalise the area around the TGV station in St Etienne,  France. Transit areas are fascinating subjects. We’re trying to make sure we install just the right mix on residential property, office space, shops, etc. We’re trying to make the most of the fact that the station attracts a lot of human traffic. Actually, I think that mobility will become an increasingly important structuring aspect for urban development. The most attractive towns are those that are connected – the presence of a Eurostar terminal in Lille, for example, has given it a rather special status.

Joanne: Yes, and Brussels is now a place where people go for a sightseeing weekend, when once it really wasn’t thought of that way. I can see the same effect starting to occur in Ebbsfleet, UK, too.

EC: Exactly, as energy becomes more expensive, individual modes of transport (I’m thinking of someone driving to the airport, for example) will become less feasible. Towns and cities that are part of an interconnected and high-performance railway network will really be the winners.

Read more about urban development in the “Cities” section of the MIPIMWorld blog.  

Top image credit : Photobank gallery

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