Architecture / Interior /

This French Architect’s Cutting-Edge Take on Micro-Urbanism

Architect Jacques Ferrier, known for playful double skin facades and a thoughtful focus on micro-urbanism, is the vision behind projects such as the Hachette Livre Headquarters in Paris, the French International School in Beijing and the French Pavilion at World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. We met Ferrier during his recent solo architecture exhibition, titled “A Vision for the Sensual City”, at The Noble House in Jakarta, sponsored by the IFI French cultural center. Here’s what we learned.

Photo by Hugo Deniau, Luc Boegly and Jacques Ferrier Architecture doc.

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Why become an architect?

In the beginning, I was more interested in bridges. Getting older, I became more curious: Who designed this, who designed that? I found out that architects were the ones who made these things, so I decided to be an architect. At that time, I started to enjoy making drawings and sketches. Later I started my studies in architecture.

Why focus on micro-urbanism?

I have always been very fond of literature. I was fascinated–and still am–by the way that novels can explain the way of a society’s working in certain period of time. In my designs, I don’t only rely on the power of drawing, but also on the imagination. When you rely only on drawings, you are bound to what I call geometric-urbanism, or as other people called it macro-urbanism, which is like seeing the city from an eagle-eye view, far above the ground. As an architect, I believe that issues on the ground can only be fixed from the ground. This is how I found what micro-urbanism can do, as later I dug in into my research for “Sensual City”.

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What’s your strategy for public spaces?

We try always to design public spaces from the point of view of people who use them. That’s why, as in the film industry, we make something like a storyboard. We try to make small sketches as seen through the eyes of the imagined [users].

When working on the design guidelines for the new railway station for the new Paris Metro, my team and I proposed six different people: The tourist, the student, the early worker, the family, the disabled and women. And then we drew the same projection of the station six times, as seen by these different people at different times. This is “the manual” we gave to the architects who designed the station to be considered in their designs. The storyboard gives opportunities for the place to be used in different ways. This won’t happen if you take [the example of] your private home, or in your bedroom. You use it only one way–your way. You can’t do that in public spaces, for a single space can be interpreted differently.

How do you describe “Sensual City”?

This idea was came to mind when I was appointed to design the French Pavilion at World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, themed “Better City, Better Life”. by different people at different times. This points out a mistake in modern architecture: You can’t just dictate people to use it this way. The way we work, might not obviously designed for all situations, but at least with these characters that we have in the storyboard, we try really to give a new way of considering public space.

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What are your impressions of Jakarta?

I only spent three days here but my first feeling is the energy of the city and the people. There is potential, because you see people here are very optimistic about the city. On the other hand, the main problem is the mobility and the circulation. The city has a quite an interesting pattern. It has the old city as in Kota Tua and a majority of low-rise buildings, which are very lively and probably likely to be renovated for comfort and maintenance.

It is important to keep the scale of these buildings, even when the city builds new high-rise buildings. The city has a diversity of typology while being a large international city.

So it is about green cities and sustainable city design. Obviously there are technical issues to spare–better materials, etc., but I think as architects and urban planners, we need to give more and to think about a city where you can have pleasures, as well as a place of culture and civilization.

One way to see this is to imagine a big city with many environmental issues and potential. The way people experience this is so hard to be sensed. Like when you travel in any country, west or east, you are in office spaces that are completely closed or in a hotel room that is fully sealed. You can look the through the window, but you can’t open it. It is more about avoiding the environmental issues, because people want clean air, keeping cars and the transportation system in silence, and obviously don’t want pollution from the outside. My concern at the beginning was simply to say that why is that. If only you can open the window, you can listen to the conversations in the suburb, or the noise of the circulation, smell the air and get the ambiance. You will be more aware of what happens outside, which may trigger solutions to the issues.

The French Pavilion in Shanghai was a prototype of what I am saying in Sensual City. The criteria were literally the senses: What do you touch, smell and hear? So that’s why we proposed this idea about the city of senses, where your senses are pleased.

The roof, which was a garden, was an expression of nature. The pavilion has a double-skin facade system to protect it from the sun and temperature, as it creates shade for the building. Together with a pond at the ground level, it was an efficient way to have a cool breeze all day long, as in Shanghai it was very warm. People enjoyed being in the pavilion, and even queuing to get in. Once you entered, you would have yourself at the courtyard, surrounded by the vertical garden, which fights against pollution. It was the most visited pavilion of the expo.

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To which of your projects did you apply the skin facade system?

I applied it a first long time ago, at a very old office building project in Grenoble, France, because it is a way to make a more interesting facade. The mayor of the city asked the developer to build a building that was efficient in using energy. I proposed this system with a combination of solar panels. I created a balcony in between the skin and the building, as in France it is forbidden to smoke inside the office buildings. Thanks to this balcony, we offer external spaces where people can be nearly outside for picking up personal calls, smoking cigarettes or simply enjoying fresh air while still being “inside” the building.

Many of your designs involve gardens.

Every building has an obligation to contribute a space for nature. The current trend of vertical gardens is efficient in that it takes only the sides: It can be the facade or the roof, which we won’t count as functional space, while also performing it part of nature and being pretty. This is one of many solutions to bridge architecture and nature–or if I may say, the artificial and natural habitat.

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