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FF2 - Cerau: A Long Term Global Vision

by Francoise SACCHI

FF5:Created in 1968, CERAU (*) is involved in projects from the original conception, through managing the construction works, to delivery and reception of the building. Alongside this its competence extends to all the analyses, enquiries and developments in the domain of town planning.

Indispensable Regulations

FF5:According to J. Vandevoorde (Director of CERAU): "The rapid evolution of planning procedures within Brussels is a consequence of the obsolescence of the previous 'sector' plans and their replacement by the Brussels Regional Development Plan (PRAS). This indispensable plan has the particular merit of removing some of the uncertainties and of giving the Region the legal security it needs to take investment and location decisions."

At the same time, these major guidelines will now allow us to move from a town planning régime which was essentially legalistic to a consideration of projects in terms of their volume, to a proper treatment of public areas and to a relationship between one building and another, in other words to the practical aspects of planning. And although it may be true that this new regulatory framework may sometimes be at odds with the city's development history, it nevertheless allows for a great deal of flexibility in interpretation, provided the consultation process is respected. It was without doubt due to the length of modification procedures contained within the old 'sector' plans, together with their principles of derogation, (you can't build a city by derogation), that these old plans were at fault. All planning procedures are slow and therefore come into conflict with political and material considerations demanding rapid responses. It is also inevitable that such processes stigmatise 'thick-skinned ecological' reactions. The risks do not however  lie in this type of opposition, which indeed contributes to the dynamics of the city. It would by contrast be damaging to see the urban fabric become diluted due to a lack of physical or financial accessibility (a phenomenon which is being seen in the emigration of companies and inhabitants towards the periphery). Under these conditions the costs of collective urban infrastructure would very quickly become unprofitable, as it already is, due to an insufficient density of inhabitants.

FF3: The (Undesirable) Attraction of Gadgetry

FF5:The 'cladding' style of architecture we are witnessing today is disappointing. It is a 'non-architecture' whose insignificance, in a certain way, seems to please.

"This reality has not come about by chance. In an economic system where development constructions are more and more the norm, rather than those built for owner-occupiers, any strong architectural gesture creates ripples which are seen as unlikely to attract potential tenants. There is a risk of architecture becoming banal through standardisation and systemisation.

Whilst an architectural style dedicated to a particular owner-occupier can express its identity with a strong image, the economics of a development programme commit it to attracting the widest possible audience. In these cases identity hardly exists at all. Architectural expression can only be manifested after taking account of all the exterior constraints, not by a simple consideration of easy stereotypes, nor by merely reducing technology to the level of gadgetry. This is illustrated by the building we designed for the headquarters of the CEI (owner-occupier). It was all the constraints taken together, including the lie of the land and very difficult geometry, which defined the shape and location of the building, together with its identity, its volumes and its interior layout."

FF3:' 'Consumable' Buildings

FF5:The notion of durability currently at the forefront of thinking is a response to, amongst other things, a public reaction against constructions which have become 'consumable products'. "This notion of durability is not new, it's always been around. It is simply finding itself exacerbated by the invasion of technology and its rapid lifecycles. In itself, the integration of technology is not harmful to construction. It is a sort of useful layer or option to construction, whilst remaining easily replaceable. Of more concern is the fashionable technology which merely provides an 'image'. Very quickly out of vogue, it condemns the building to rapid obsolescence. Dismantling the mechanism of 'intelligence' in buildings in order to bring it in line with the principle of durability only makes sense, therefore, when seen in a global, long term perspective. Yet within an economic system which demands that maximum profitability is immediately attained from buildings which have a 25 year consumption period, the long term is of little interest in the eyes of investors.

A correcting of this approach will doubtless come from other sectors such as industry or hospitals. The development of these buildings is now undertaken together with the establishment of an 'operational plan' over 30 years. An analysis of management costs, maintenance and operating costs, exposed by this plan, inevitably leads to an intelligent architectural solution simply because the notion of value in time takes precedence here over the simple notion of cost/yield."

FF3:What do you think about 'Façadisme'?

FF5:This is a question of common sense. "When confronted by the idea that 'façadism' is condemned as a total absurdity, I tend to go for a more subtle attitude. It can neither be rejected en bloc nor embraced in every situation. It has to be considered on a case by case basis, and is justified when its use contributes to maintaining a landmark or a memory within the city. It is then a factor which can be inserted, without damaging anything, into the urban fabric. As for the much-heralded return to the classic triangle (architect, project manager, contractor), this seems to me to be a sensible move. On the one hand, the increasing number of participants (works manager, facilities manager, quantity surveyor etc.) takes away the homogeneity necessary for a global view of the project, and on the other hand the preoccupations - or even the interests - of these same parties are not those of the architect. Once again, it is not a matter of ignoring these skills, but of conferring upon them their correct role.

So, if the growth in the number of participants leads to increased cost for the building (the opposite of what is wanted) some types of assistance are by contrast beneficial: the conclusions of a Quality/Quantity Surveyor whose objective is to control costs can very easily help the architect to invest better, that is to say to make savings on non-essential elements so that he can re-invest this money on important elements."

(*) CERAU: Centre d'Etudes et de Recherche d'Architecture et d'Urbanisme

_ . _


D5 Bat287 p22 (photo milieu entrée)
Parliament rue de Trèves (Image AEL) Conception: AEL (Cerau - Atelier de Genval)
CEI Bat285 p49 (en bas à droite)
CEI Construct Office (2500m<V><B>2<P>) Architect: Cerau Photographer:

E-mail to Francoise Sacchi: francoise.sacchi@benefalux.be

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