bunq architectes: Blurring Boundaries

bunq architectes present in Palazzo Bembo a project which defines their unique approach to architecture, and especially the way they focus on the context and on the people who will inhabit the constructions.

In this double-voice interview, one of the founding architects of bunq architectes Julien Grisel, together with the curator of the project Frédéric Frank, give us more insights about their presentation in the exhibition, and about their collaboration with filmmaker Daphné Bengoa.


What do you believe to be the most important features which identify bunq architectes?

Frédéric Frank: One of the first things I have noticed when visiting bunq is their will of blurring the boundaries of the traditional architecture office. Preparing the exhibition and observing them working on several other projects, I have seen ideas and concepts being taken into account at the same level, coming from trainees, employees or associates.

In this perspective, the company is open towards interactions and ideas, which is also illustrated by the fact that they have decided to open their storefront to an architectural bookshop where some members of the staff work part-time. It means that during some non-confidential meetings, you would hear clients coming to buy books and sometimes giving a look at how architects are working together.

The architectural bookshop epitomises this company culture. On one hand, it gives a free access to culture to the staff members that are surrounded by books and architectural references. On the other hand, it brings culture to the people of the town where they are located, everyone who wishes to discover architecture and its vibrant culture can enter the place and discover books that will be hard to find elsewhere in our digital era.

Then, coming to architectural production, this pursuit of culture, transmission and quality is present through the different scales of their projects, from the masterplan to the constructive detail. Even in high density projects with very high exigencies on cost-effectiveness, like we can see in the Quai Vernets project presented in the exhibition in the Palazzo Bembo, they challenge investors and don’t give up on spatial and material qualities.

bunq architectes’ architectural bookshop

How do the buildings designed by bunq architectes relate to the individuals who will inhabit them?

Julien Grisel (bunq): By definition, architecture defines spaces for human beings and develops them in strong interaction with the cultural, social and physical context. Therefore, we are paying attention to the place and the people who are living there, but also to the constructive knowledge that we can find in the place where we are building. Considering it with care, we understand that this knowledge is a part of the architectural culture that participates to the people’s identity. We also learn from this vernacular knowledge because it shows respect for local building materials that shows perfect adequacy to the microclimate.

Moreover, we are interested in creating collective spaces promoting interactions towards the inhabitants: meeting, gathering and discussing creates a sense of community. For us, this sense of community is necessary to create a pleasant and sustainable place to live in. The architect is certainly not able to create good relationships between neighbours but he can create spaces that contribute to positive interactions between them.

Our projects are dealing with these questions by creating semi-public spaces. For instance, in Les Grands-Chênes in Céligny, we have designed outer courts that are widely open towards the landscape. In the project of Quai Vernets, in Geneva, we have designed inner courts where you can find the staircase but also windows in the apartments’ kitchen: these architectural elements will activate them. In another project that we have built few years ago in Lavigny, we have designed a wide garden with no fences in order to give a place for meeting to inhabitants but also to neighbours coming from other developments.

bunq architectes’ project exhibited at Palazzo Bembo. Photo credits: Federico Vespignani

The project you are exhibiting in Palazzo Bembo has been developed with the contribution of Filmmaker Daphné Bengoa, how did this collaboration come about and how did Daphné Bengoa capture your approach to architecture?

Julien Grisel (bunq): We have discovered Daphné Bengoa’s work in the Rencontre de la photographie d’Arles in 2019. How her work shows with modesty and precision the life of the inhabitants in the buildings of Fernand Pouillon in Algiers through sensitive and intimate images was very touching for us. Then, we have invited Daphné Bengoa to show her work in the Architecture School in Fribourg, where Frédéric Frank, Philippe Gloor, one of my associates, and I are teaching. After the presentation, we have asked her to do the same thing as in Algiers in our buildings in Céligny where we were wondering if the outer courts but also the loggias of the buildings were appropriated by the inhabitants. By the way she mixes her documentary images with virtual ones, Daphné Bengoa brings a critical vision of the necessarily idealistic vision of the architect conceiving a building. The “unexpected” of human relations and appropriations remains finally the richest element in every architectural project.

Frédéric Frank: We have asked two difficult questions to Daphné Bengoa in the project. The first one was to create a film that mixed real and virtual images, in relationship to the exhibition and the paradoxical idea that we had “Between reality envisaged and built dream”. Working on two screens, presented in the corner of the room – that the ECC has nicely interpreted in the Book of the exhibition as Venetian mirrors – the challenge was to create a poetic film where the reality and the project are intimately linked. Our surprise was to discover in the final version of the work of Daphné that the reality filmed in Les Grands-Chênes seemed somehow even more evocative and whimsical than the virtual images of the not-yet-built Quai Vernets.

The second difficult question that we have asked to Daphné was to film inhabitants in their flats, fascinated by her experience in Pouillon’s buildings in Algiers. Our surprise was to discover how difficult it was to enter into the private spheres of Swiss inhabitants. In Algiers, Daphné Bengoa was even invited to sleep in some flats with the families, in order to catch their first movements in the morning. But in Switzerland, the sociological context is very different: being filmed for an architectural exhibition was not admitted by most of the inhabitants. The final version of the work is very Swiss – in a way – because the only intrusion the spectator has into the private sphere is the view towards the balcony in the “reality” when, in the “dream” the virtual images gives him a total access to the future apartments. Something is set to mute in the reality and it shows, also, how difficult it is for Swiss architects to validate their hypotheses at the domestic scale after having constructed their project.

bunq architectes’ project exhibited at Palazzo Bembo. Photo credits: Federico Vespignani

Are there any upcoming projects you would like to give us a glimpse about?

bunq: We have shortly finished the extension of a 1930’s housing block in Lausanne. The goal of the owner was to change the kitchen and to update the energy concept of the building, keeping the inhabitants inside during the transformation. Therefore, we have conceived a wood structure extension with new kitchens and balconies. Once done, the old kitchens have been turned into extra bedrooms.

In the same city, we are constructing a full block for the new environmentally friendly housing development Les Plaines-du-Loup. The architectural competition that we have won in 2017 gives us the opportunity to build a mix-used building with a medical center, office spaces and 150 apartments. Our proposition was chosen for its urban morphology generating sunken courtyards where trees will grow. These outer spaces will connect the buildings’ entrances generating interactions towards the inhabitants and will provide an excellent orientation to the apartments.

Frédéric Frank: The exhibition in the ECC Palazzo Bembo was the first professional collaboration that I had with bunq architects. Working together and speaking about architects’ challenges has given us the idea to write a book on contemporary architecture in places less known or internationally published. We will work on “peripheric” places and alternative approaches towards mainstream architecture in Switzerland. This anthology will be focused on housing issues and will be published in early 2023 by Quart Verlag in Luzern.

Extension of a 1930’s housing block in Lausanne

Les Plaines-du-Loup by bunq architectes

Interview by Suzanne van der Borg, ECC Team

bunq architectes: Blurring Boundaries

bunq architectes present in Palazzo Bembo a project which defines their unique approach to architecture, and especially the way they focus on the context and on the people who will inhabit the constructions.

  • Published: 22.10.2021
  • Category: Conversation
  • Subject: Participants
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