Interview with Garance Champlois, winner of the 2021 Meyer Lévy Prize from the Academy of Architecture for her project «old age as a cure for decline: proposal for Dieppe».

The Acad Prizeémie d'Architecture

Each year, the Academy of Architecture’s Awards and Awards honour professionals from the world of architecture, teaching and research, from the young generation of architects just out of school. Strong recognition for those who promote architecture, urban planning and education.

If the Great Gold Medal was awarded to Dominique Coulon, one of three prizes awarded to young architects was awarded to Garance Champlois, a young architect who graduated from the Ecole Nationale d'Architecture Paris Malaquais in 2021, for his proposal in the heart of the city of Dieppe.

Relive the awards presentation in the presence of the Minister of Culture (September 2022)

La ville de Dieppe, sujet du Prix de l’Académie d’Architecture « Jeunes architectes » 2021

Dieppe, at the heart Action Coeur de Ville

Heart action city

In 2018, the government launched the national plan «Action coeur de ville», a project designed to improve the living conditions of the inhabitants of medium-sized cities and to reinforce the driving role of these cities in territorial development. Aware of the demographic and economic difficulties that these medium-sized cities may encounter, the State is striving through this ambitious plan to provide the means necessary for the development of these areas and to enrich their obvious attractiveness.

An additional €5 million will be committed for Act II of this urban rehabilitation operation between 2023 and 2026.

Dieppe

The city of Dieppe is one of 234 municipalities affected by this major public investment plan.

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Castle museum © City of Dieppe

With an extraordinary maritime history, Dieppe has always been a seaside town. Attacked regularly by the English in the Middle Ages, it became this maritime bastion in 1443 thanks to the determination of Louis XI. Starting point of many and essential explorations of the 14th century, it was the lair of many famous sailors:

  • The navigator Jean Cousin who discovered the tip of Africa and entered the Indian Ocean from Dieppe;
  • Jehan Ango, this wealthy shipowner and arms dealer who financed many expeditions (Jean Fleury to Mexico, Jean Parmentier to Newfoundland, Brazil and China);
  • The Verazano Brothers, discoverers of New York Bay and New France;
  • Jean Ribault, a navigator who tried to set up a French colony in Florida;
  • Jean Fleury, the famous privateer who besieged many Spanish galleons in the 16th century. enriching the crown at the same time;
  • Samuel Champlain and Pierre Chauvin, who set off together to New France to found Quebec.

Dieppe became a resort in the 19th century and is still active and dynamic in the 20th century, but since the 2000s, it has been experiencing a process of urban decay and decline, as have many of the medium-sized cities in France. An aging city. If it is a cause for concern, this phenomenon, which affects the medium-sized cities of France, is not perceived by everyone as an irremediable scourge or an unbearable decline. Garance Champlois, architect and project manager at Pierre Lépinay architect, brought a fresh look at Dieppois housing and an urban project that is a source of well-being.

 

Interview with Garance Champlois, architect

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You are an associate philosophy and also holder of an architecture degree, what philosophy would best define your approach to architectureture ?

I believe above all that we must be careful when we want to link philosophy and architecture. While philosophy has as its object the concept, architecture has first of all to do with sensation, and sensation on a daily basis: what do we see when we enter the entrance hall, when we leave home, how we meet our neighbors, why one prefers a particular path in one city rather than another, is it a question of light, of views, of smell, of atmosphere and of people that one encounters… This is why these two disciplines are not a priori linked. Philosophy is not useful to you as an architect to draw a plan that works or a beautiful volume. Once that is said, we can think of philosophy as a method, and here, if we think of a current like phenomenology, which starts from an observation of our way of perceiving and standing in the world (I think of someone like Merleau-Ponty), to go back to the concept of perception and sensation, then yes, we’re talking about space and body. This allows you to conceptualize the fact that our perception, below the physical world, objectionable by the scientific laws of vision etc., is primarily of the order of sensual and body moving. But again, it doesn’t help you make a nice plan—

Your project, for lequeYou have received the Prix Meyer Lévy, about the city of Dieppe in Normandy. Why this city ?

I crossed the two issues that interested me for my subject: decline and aging. As it happens, Dieppe is part of the cities in partnership with the State through the Action Cœur de ville scheme, but also of the circle of “age-friendly cities”, a global network of cities encouraging the implementation of devices for older people (transport, work, civic life).

It is also a city where I spent many of my holidays, being small, and I was able to stay there several weeks, in different seasons, thanks to friends. We live there well, in a tour of downtown we could see the sea, the port, the market, the old fishing district where people take out their table when there is a ray of sunshine...

 

You have beaucoup reflected on these issues of urban decline. Dieppe can be considered an aging city, would you have a definition of urban decline to give ?

Urban decline can be seen, in my view, as a resource – when we talk about situations where it is not irremediable. First of all, it is simply a land resource, since it is primarily a business and housing vacancy phenomenon. And this land resource is not located anywhere: the holiday affects small and medium-sized cities where there has been a high quality of life, by the relations of proximity between the various shops, services, inhabited places, where one can move on foot, by bike. This proximity is a resource today that we cannot afford to neglect, especially since it has the merit of existing: it is up to us to find it again by reoccupying these places.

Second, it is a human resource. In declining cities, people tend to self-organize. Where I did my architectural memory field, in a small town in Denmark, the inhabitants had organized to reopen the municipal swimming pool, after it was closed by the town hall. We can believe in a reinvigoration of civic life, of associative life already alive in France, «thanks» to decline.

Your project proposes a dissemination of places of life in the heart of the built heritage, this city with its qualities and its constraints. Vwe proposez a canteen, a welfare institute, a local of the home-helpers, housing scattered in the city… Can you present it ?

The project consists of reinvesting empty ground floor (vacant commercial premises) in degraded buildings in the city center, through activities partly dedicated to seniors, and to offer adequate and comfortable accommodation on the floors for elderly people who would like to get closer to the city centre, its shops and the aids also found there. There are therefore two aspects to the project: on the one hand the urban strategy (the choice of places, and activities) and on the other hand a work of rehabilitation of vacant buildings.

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Occupation of the Rez-de-Fonds © Garance Champlois

The idea is to disseminate these places throughout the city, with the intention that each activity on the ground floor participates in the animation of the neighborhood. So, we don’t just implement any program on any street, but the idea is to pay attention to the atmospheres that exist there. In the spatial analysis of situations, we take into account the volume, the relationship to the built context and the surface area of the plots concerned: these three parameters make it possible to envisage a particular program, according to its needs in place, in light, its relationship to the street (live and open, withdrawn and more confidential etc). A communal canteen, for example, works if it is open on the street, if it invites the barge to enter and participate. It makes sense that it is on a street near the main street, and it is designed so that you can see the kitchen, the courtyard in the background, that you have in the foreground a large table where you prepare meals, to make you want to cook and eat together.

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Cantine collective © Garance Champlois

The well-being institute, with its Japanese baths, yoga room etc, needs much more privacy, hence its presence in the neighborhood at the end of the quay, already resident, if you will (all the shops have been transformed into housing). One of these hollow teeth of Dieppe was then used to draw an outer courtyard on which the institute and the apartments could open.

In front of the church of Saint-Jacques, in a typical plot of Dieppe, «gothic» as they say, that is to say, all in length with a courtyard in the center, a built on street and a at the bottom of plot and which are particularly difficult to develop according to modern comfort, We’re imagining a place for home help. It is a profession where one pays particularly dearly for the lack of proximity: they spend a crazy time on the road, going from one person to another, almost unpaid on this time; they have no place of meeting, where to meet and share the experiences and knowledge they have; finally it is very difficult physically. The idea is simply to provide a “rally” place where you meet your colleagues before you can walk or bike to help people who live in one of these downtown apartments.

The accommodation is designed in such a way as to accommodate elderly people of different profiles, whether for couples, people, old or not, who would like to share an apartment, while having a bedroom, with its dressing room and bathroom to themselves. 

Obviously, I am very pleased with this Academy Award awarded for this project. This indicates the interest of the Academy both for the city centres of medium-sized cities, and also for simple architectural projects, which do not propose stunning and sensational solutions, but which are quite concrete, and speak about everyday life.

 

The DRAC of Normandy that accompanies the city of Dieppe as part of the deployment of the Action Cœur de Ville scheme congratulates Garance Champlois for the award of this prize of the Academy of Architecture 2023.