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TVK, Grand Paris and the metamorphosis of empty spaces

TVK_Republique-201306©ClementGuillaume-24_HD

Observing Earth and its territories through a radically new architectural, sociological
and environmental lens, the architecture and urban design office TVK works upon projects varying greatly in scope and ambition. Currently, the office is in charge of thinking the public spaces of the future Grand Paris Express stations, of designing the Ilot fertile d’Éole, the largest group of solid stone buildings built in Paris since Haussman (19th district of Paris), and of the creation of the Media Village for the Paris Summer 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games. The founders, Pierre Alain Trévelo and Antoine Viger- Kohler, authors of the reconfiguration of the Place de la République in Paris and of the transformation of the E40 motorway into public space in Brussels, or even of the brand new housing and cultural centre of Batignolles in the 17th district of Paris, consistently enhance and add value where others cannot see it, or cannot see it yet.

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Praise of Empty Space. “In the density of the city, empty space holds the virtue of bringing together, of offering a place to be shared collectively. The streets, the squares, the gardens all form Paris in equal measure to its monuments. We pay particular attention to life which is shared in public spaces. It is the duty of elected representatives and of architects to build less in order to preserve and conceive empty space”. This radical approach to architectural priorities can be seen in practice with the subtle reconfiguration of the Place de la République in Paris, whereby the architects endeavoured to reopen the space of the square by redrawing the levelling. “The street and the ground are an inherent part of architecture. It is the job of the architect to draw them, to conceive and enhance them for what they are” explain Pierre Alain Trévelo and Antoine Viger-Kohler. Parisians may have forgotten, but before the intervention of TVK, the curved surface of the square obstructed vision from one side to the other. Today no one contests its transformation into a true shared living space and gathering place.

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Clichy-Batignolles. A balance of power between empty space and density, most recently applied to the new cultural centre Clichy-Batignolles, completed at the end of 2018. The centre boasts a multiplex cinema offering 7 screens, a cultural space, a community centre, a concert hall, a dance hall, 342 homes, a community garden and commercial establishments. Here again the aim is to generate empty open space within a hyper dense complex, situated on the edge of the Périphérique (the Parisian ring road) between Clichy and Paris. “We had to make the most of the open space in order to bring something to the city. A whole other relationship in terms of empty space and views. We created an open space and a public passageway in the heart of the complex, followed by empty spaces within the buildings themselves with terraces larger than the local average. The inhabitants benefit from these central and outward openings, enjoying rare views, a privilege of high- rise living in Paris.” This is a significant challenge for buildings combining several types of housing (social, accession, social home ownership, rental). It is met with success as all profit from more generous outside spaces than the traditional Parisian real estate operation (approximately 14m2 instead of the habitual 5/6m2).

Présentation2

The Earth as architecture, a collective response. “We don’t think that transforming the land, erecting buildings and cities is always a favourable activity. However, it is what humans have been doing for a very long time, in proportions comparable to other builder animals. This activity undeniably shapes the earth. Every human being, without needing to be an architect, modifies its shape on a daily basis as he eats, lives, moves… Earth has become a human piece of architecture, of infrastructure. A piece of architecture malleable enough to constantly accommodate new uses. The issue we must now address is the position of life on Earth and of the architect within society. We must act through an extension of the realms of architecture, of landscaping and engineering, towards the architecture of Earth and its territories per se, requiring global and collective thinking.” To transversally deal with complex subjects and apprehend each to their scale, TVK has established new work methods as well as a network of external resources: ecologists, sociologists, philosophers, geologists, geographers, writers and engineers… This broadened approach is a logical continuation of the vision of the founders. Their diploma project on the Périphérique, presented back in 1999, was brought forward by a collective of 13 students in 1999 (Tomato architectes). A singular case in the history of architecture studies.

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Places du Grand Paris. TVK is currently creating a guide book on the design of public spaces around the future Grand Paris Express stations, to be published in November 2019. It is first and fore most addressed to future creators and contractors of public spaces in order to guide the construction of these new living spaces and to guarantee an equal level of quality amongst them. « Grand Paris Express is a colossal project, unique at the moment in Europe, of the likes which Paris hasn’t seen since Haussmann or the villes nouvelles (planned cities): 200 km of tracks and 68 new stations around which new public spaces will have to be imagined and adapted to essential concerns: How to enter and exit these stations, how to circulate and use the surrounding neighbourhood on a daily basis, how to ensure these are spaces for mobility but also places to gather, to stop, supporting collective life? How to bring continuity without standardizing these public spaces?” In the the Places du Grand Paris guide, TVK offers a new look at public space, through the prism of time, ground and function. It offers a new method of conception and management attentive to ecology and the economy of public property ».

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The Places du Grand Paris guide contains a theoretical section, encouraging a culture of public space, and a more operational section composed of a series of principles of conception using the pedestrian as the point of reference: valorising intermodal transport (changing from one means of transport to another during one journey) by offering public spaces which aren’t solely driven by technical considerations, but also by objectives of comfort, landscape quality and usage hospitality. The space is thought of as a continuous surface, and also one of depth – from the underground to the fresh air – which must form an environment favourable to the functions of public space. “Living elements mustn’t be regarded simply as contained and decorative. Soil will allow trees to take root, the cooling of the atmosphere in summer, the infiltration of rain water, biodiversity…”

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Another strong component of this guide book is time: “Long-term planning and phasing have become obsolete for these long projects. We can no longer solely focus on the faraway horizon of the delivery of the project. On the contrary, we must give value to its present and intermediate stages. Planning generates expectations and consequently frustrations. We project ourselves into a virtual image 10, 15 or 20 years away, forgetting that during these 20 years people will live the project, the construction sites, on a daily basis and that society will inevitably change. Public space is made to be lived in the present, from the very start of construction, each moment in time is a lived time.” Inspired by the techniques and collective work of TV series screenwriters, TVK suggest an alternative to traditional urban planning, “screenwriting”. “We propose to give an evolving shape to this metamorphosis. The screenwriters of television series depart from what they call a bible, the main direction of the greater storyline, and then build a number of short narratives upon this thread. A story is continuous, each episode is important”. “Just as with the writing of a scenario, this method is collective, transversal, accessible and open to other areas of expertise. It repositions the role of the conceiver, no longer as the master of a grand plan but as a choreographer of temporal dynamics in space. Usages should never be frozen. 20 years from now, spaces will be used differently.”

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The architect as screenwriter: The transformation of the E40 motorway in Brussels. TVK is currently redeveloping a section of the E40 motorway, one of the main entrances into Brussels from Flanders, penetrating all the way to the intermediate ring road. On this segment, the dimensions of the motorway present higher capacity levels than the current circulation needs. The agency has proposed to apply the principle of “screenwriting” to optimise the circulation of traffic and progressively transform this motorway into a genuine public space. This method, developed by the agency and inspired by the methods of screenwriters of television series, allows for rapid and light implementation of infrastructure, all the while experimenting along the way with new divisions of the space, new uses and new means of transport. Little by little, the improvement of the environment and the appropriation of this space by the inhabitants will enable to provide for the evolution of the banks of the motorway and its stronger integration in the urban fabric.

TVK-BXL SAISON 2©TVK

Road infrastructure and the Périphérique are already public space. To consider the motorway as hostile territory or the Parisian ring road, the Périphérique, as an object to be demolished is a form of prejudice swept aside by TVK ever since their founding studies on the subject (Paris, la ville du Périphérique, Tomato architectes, Moniteur editions, 2003 followed by No Limit, étude d’insertion urbaine du périphérique de Paris, Pavillon de l’Arsenal editions, 2008). The way we look at these infrastructures must be revised; future mobility will help us in this endeavour. “At the beginning of the 20th century, the car rapidly replaced the horse. It has become clear that today, the automobile world as we know it will soon disappear. Beyond small wheel vehicles (bicycles, scooters…), which will continue to develop, big wheels will become automated (connected and autonomous) and the emergence of wheel-free vehicles (flying vehicles for example) will enter into the domain of mobility and logistics. As the Parisian Périphérique is a large, flat surfaced, continuous and accessible open space, it carries within its form the seeds for its own evolution. It is a place for both collective and individual movement, driven by the force of engines or of muscle power. It is the ideal space to build, to plant and convert into gardens within the centre of Grand Paris, a place to come together, to wait, to wander, to play, to help each other, a place to practice sports, to learn and cultivate knowledge, to rest… It is a public space to be preserved, a symbol of openness, demolishing it, covering it up or building completely over it would be senseless. Beneath the incessant ballet of motor vehicles, these infrastructures are patiently waiting, anticipating their nearby destiny, such as adolescent monuments.”

TVK is currently in charge of the reconfiguration of the Porte de Montreuil (urban project and public space).

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Éole-Évangile, the largest solid stone project in Paris since Haussmann. As part of the Reinventing Paris international call for projects, TVK is building an immense 35 000 m2 joint program in the 19th district of Paris: housing, sport facilities, student accommodation, hotel, hostel, office spaces, incubator space, shops all along side a public garden supporting the project. Set to be delivered as of 2022, the four buildings will combine foundations made of cement and solid stone walls upon 10 000 m2. This unseen quantity in current times, confirms stone as part of Parisian nature. Stone contributes to the longevity and the ecological ambition of the first “Zero Carbon” ensemble.

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TVK. Pierre Alain Trévelo and Antoine Viger-Kohler are architects, urban planners and teachers. Trained in Paris and Harvard, they founded the TVK office in Paris in 2003. Authors of two books on the Parisian Périphérique, they were members of the Scientific Council of the Atelier International du Grand Paris until 2016. With close to fifty collaborators, TVK acquired international recognition as of its beginnings with the Palmarès des Jeunes Urbanistes (2005), the Nouveaux Albums des Jeunes Architectes (2006) and the reconfiguration of the Place de la République in Paris (2009-2013), followed by the Place of Lausanne station and the transformation of the E40 motorway into Brussels (under construction). Housing, offices, mixed and complex projects, road infrastructure, territories, cities, research, TVK undertakes large-scale urban projects and constructs buildings in France and Europe. Concurrently, the office is currently driving the Atelier des Places du Grand Paris and directing the team of the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic games Media Village.