Minister, dear Emmanuelle Wargon,

Mr. Speaker, dear Pierre-René Lemas,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased, along with the minister responsible for housing, to have this report on the quality of social housing tabled today. This is the culmination of a long work that began in the fall of 2019. I would like to congratulate all the members of the working group, representatives of the world of architecture as well as that of the contracting authority, whose mobilization has been exemplary.

The health crisis we are going through has naturally made your work a little more difficult. But it was also for you – and this is a dimension that I particularly appreciate in the text you have just given us – a subject for reflection. The lockdown we have all been forced to endure has been an opportunity for all of us to become more aware of the critical role housing plays in our balance of life – the need for our space. And in your report, you were concerned to draw all the practical consequences of this awareness.

Ladies and gentlemen, we want the world of tomorrow to be a little different from today’s: less strictly technical, more centred on the human person, more attentive to nature and history. More «habitable», in short. “To live”, I will not tell you how much this word has now returned to the taste of the day, because it meets the aspirations of the time. “Home is our corner of the world,” said Gaston Bachelard, whom you quote in the report’s overall conclusion.

But those who allow us to inhabit the world better, to feel good, are the architects.

Architecture is not a luxury: it is the condition of a dignified society, flourishing, where everyone can, literally, have his place.

As we know, this was one of the starting points of this mission, the ELAN law, which implemented an indispensable reform of the social project management, At the same time, concerns have been raised about the place that would continue to be given to the architect and his mastery of the work in the construction of our social housing. The fear of a return to the «industrial» logic of the «large ensembles» has sometimes re-emerged.

This, of course, is out of the question and this report will help – without any new legislative or regulatory changes – to reinforce the role that the architect must play in the design of social housing.

Only the architect can ensure an overall vision. To avoid the pitfall of an element-by-element construction, based solely on numerical imperatives. Of course, there is also the need to ensure spending, to rationalize costs. But never lose sight of the objective: that to provide the best possible environment for future residents.

Defining the criteria of architectural quality that we intend to defend will take us more time, but the report presented to us today shows us the way.

It shows it to us in the most pragmatic and concrete way.

From the point of view of the population, housing, social housing in particular, is now too small. Too low: in 60 years the French have grown by 7 cm while the ceiling height of the apartments has decreased by 27 cm! Not open enough to the outside. Not thought enough according to the realities (climatic) of the territory. Too far from existing public transit and job pools. Ill-suited to telework. And rarely designed taking into account the demands of the inhabitants.

From this unsatisfactory finding, you infer a certain number of quality criteria, the details of which I will not mention here.

But you’re doing even better. You’re proposing a method. You recommend that these quality criteria be tested on a large scale, on 50,000 housing units located throughout the territory. This experiment will allow us to develop a clear vision of what social housing should be today. Through the dialogue of all those involved in the construction of our social housing. The objective is ultimately that communities, social lessors, developers, developers, public institutions, companies, architects and even inhabitants, agree on the detailed process to be implemented to realize such housing.

We are taking over this experimental project.

The MIQCP (interdepartmental mission for the quality of public buildings), the PUCA (urban plan construction architecture) and the CAPA (city of architecture and heritage) will work with us in the coming months to be able to launch a call for expressions of interest this summer, with the aim of selecting the various test sites at the end of the year, and thus launching them the following spring.

The objective of this experiment, as well as the research and development work that will be conducted in parallel by combining different skills (related to design as well as sociology), is to achieve the most shared vision of what housing quality should be.

At the same time, I hope that the Ministry of Culture will work on voluntary charters of engagement with promoters and social donors, on the model of a "building, a work". These charters will make it possible to guarantee, far from uniform norms and obligations, a same quality of housing but contextualized, for each type and mode of construction and each profile of its inhabitants. This is the very meaning of the 1977 law: but it must be adapted to the new requirements and the new modes of social housing development.

We will finally launch in each region, as you recommend, an observatory of the quality of housing, involving academics and users. It could be carried out by the CAUE (architecture, urban planning and environmental councils), on the model already developed by the CAUE of Île-de-France. These structures will enable the results of this policy of developing a quality social housing to be documented and monitored over time.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been feared that the simplification measures affecting the building permit will mean a decline in the place of architects. It seems to me that they do not prevent them, in a context to be renewed, from defending their added value, which is the conception of a harmonious living environment, which is never reduced to a set of norms and material constraints to be respected.

Decisive in this regard is the major rehabilitation work. They are the ones that will allow, in the first place, the sober and sustainable production of housing in the years to come. The skills of architects and their ability to guarantee the quality of housing are all the more essential when the places concerned have not been designed for housing.

We will also ensure the continuity of the architect’s involvement in the entire construction process, from his support of communities very upstream, to the design phase of projects, to the construction phase. In particular, we are working on a decree implementing sections 1 and 3 of the 1977 Act to reaffirm these principles, which enable the architect to fully assume the public interest responsibility conferred on him by the Act. We will also ask the MIQCP to enrich its documentation so that all the missions that can be entrusted to an architect and their legal terms are specified.

The value of the architect in the production chain, and especially his capacity for innovation, must also be better recognized. We need to think about a change in the way the architect is paid, based not on a percentage of the work but on the value added to the construction process. A state-of-the-art architectural innovation will be undertaken with the help of ENSA (National Higher Schools of Architecture).  The work carried out as part of the CCI (cultural and creative industries) acceleration strategy will also make progress on intellectual protection and the enhancement of architectural innovation. The establishment of an economic observatory of the architecture sector already allows us to better understand the challenges and mechanics of this innovation sector.

The teaching of architecture in its initial training must also adapt to changes in society and the needs of the profession, as it has already been able to do in the past by integrating environmental issues and the specificities of rehabilitation. Some gaps in legal, financial and technical knowledge were identified in the report, and they will enable architects to be even better prepared for the concrete exercise of their profession, particularly as regards the implications of the energy transition.

The integration of these new teachings must of course be considered in a global vision of the evolution of pedagogy in architecture school. The issue of the impact of workload and extended lockdown on student health was clearly identified. A working group, involving elected students, directors, administrative staff and teachers of ENSA has also been launched. He has to come up with an action plan for the spring. I have also decided to launch an IGAC inspection mission on this issue that will incorporate the findings of this working group.

Dear Pierre-René Lemas, dear Marie-Hélène Badia and Hervé Fontaine, dear members of the working group, you can count on my determination to promote, alongside the Ministry in charge of housing, a pragmatic and ambitious concept, that you advocate for social housing – and I would say habitat at all. 

The first step, as I said, is the great experiment that you will be launching in the coming weeks.

See you in a few months for a first progress report. 

Thank you.