Mr Academician, Dear Claude PARENT,Mr President of the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, Dear François DE MAZIÈRES,Gentlemen Curators of the Exhibition Ladies and Gentlemen Presidents and Directors, Dear Jean NOUVEL,Ladies, Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
“Utopia of the territory”: there is, in this happy formula of Paul VIRILIO to describe his friend and accomplice Claude PARENT, a fruitful paradox, of which this exhibition – the first great retrospective dedicated to this immense architect – seems to bear witness. This paradox is the interlacing of the ideal and the real, of the imagination and the place. Now, this exhibition, by presenting both the work built and the graphic work of Claude PARENT, truly crystallizes all the energy of this creative paradox, because it sets in perspective, for the first time, the work of design in its bubbling of lines and temptations, and the solid and nevertheless inhabited realizations by all the dynamism of these sketches, these sketches, these drawings which are often already real small masterpieces. But of course, what matters, what strikes us, is the face-to-face of the architect’s brain, whose intricate and complicated features seem to trace back to us the complex and inventive system, with the constructions he has created that have greatly transformed not only our landscapes, but our way of seeing space. Of course, even the dreams left in reserve and in limbo in the laboratory, fully participate in the ability of this exhibition to make us grasp the creative gesture in its very movement and not only in the fixity of the materials. But when I speak of fixity, of course, I am not faithful to your work, whose main contribution, I know, is precisely to integrate movement and fluidity at the heart of the solid element, as a promise of humanity and the anticipation of another form of social and political existence.
«Utopia of the territory», therefore, you are, dear Claude PARENT, in your audacity to integrate utopia with stone and to instill in it the breath of life.
The magic and almost mathematical formula of this utopia at the heart of the building, which allows all the declinations of the exception, everyone knows it, and this exhibition illustrates it perfectly: this is what you call with Paul VIRILIO, the «oblique function». It animates such emblematic achievements as the church of Sainte-Bernadette de Nevers or the suspended tower of the AVICENNE Foundation of the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris, where I was just this morning, of which it is one of the most remarkable houses, legitimately classified as a «historical monument».
By a funny twist of language, the fine, asymptotic, hyperbolic functions of our mathematicians are precisely transformed into a form of «utopian function» which leaves their rightful place in the architecture to these elements as elusive as indispensable, what are the “fluidity” and the “movement” whose values you defend. The “oblique” is a conception and an economy of plans, buildings and space that makes sense through the concrete reality of things, to make happen in our psychic spaces, as in our physical spaces, a new way of seeing, to conceive and live.
The cross-path of the “oblique function” is also a path towards the other, and first, towards other artists, towards other disciplines, with which you have always been able to dialogue – and in the very word “dialogue” – in the “dia-” which is often thought to be synonymous with “two”, but which means “through”, I find precisely this “oblique function” that you defend. I am thinking of your «bijective» exchanges with Yves KLEIN, Jean TINGUELY, so many other artists, your interactions with drawing, the various aesthetic currents of plasticism and neoplasticism, your writing work, of criticism, your texts and your articles in the magazine L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, of which I welcome the recent renaissance. So many incursions, so many experimentations, so many exchanges and criticism, whose effort always runs through your work to animate and renew it.
Oblique is also the attempt to accompany with a critical and forward-looking look the major changes in modern society and especially to give a human face in the “consumer society” to this strange novelty that was the “shopping centre”, or trying to invent a design, now familiar, for these nuclear power plants that we had to learn to tame in our landscapes.
The «oblique» is therefore always the transition and sometimes also the necessary transaction between people and modernities that they invent and implant within their ecosystem. It is the humanist will to keep hold of progress, to find the equation of a new living-together, in the metropolises that create both our often blind progress and our sometimes visionary dreams. All the plans you have drawn tirelessly, dear Claude PARENT, are all efforts to find balances between the inclinations, movements, perspectives and the multiplied and communicating plans of our modern life. You help them discover mutual inclinations. This means that you are not only, as I was able to write in the very beautiful catalogue of the exhibition, a great poet of lines, but also one of the deepest designers of a new space policy. You were able to anticipate very early on this humanism with an urban face, the project of the Grand Pari(s), launched here two years ago by the President of the Republic, is bearer.
Its objective is also to put architecture back at the heart of society and politics.
This is why the choice of Jean NOUVEL – a faithful disciple who has kept his genius clean and like you, the Grand Prix national de l'architecture – to take care of the scenography of this first spatial monograph of your capital work is more than a tribute, the sign of a deep filiation between two of the greatest thinkers in space. A filiation in direct line and yet also in oblique line, which also expresses the dedication to Claude PARENT of the project of the Philharmonie de Paris, great utopia also of recent years, finally being realized...
It remains for me to warmly thank the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine and its President François DE MAZIÈRES, as well as the curators of the exhibition Francis RAMBERT and Frédéric MIGAYROU.
And now I leave you the pleasure of making your way through the Master’s laboratory and labyrinth…