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2011 MA, Graphic Design, ÉSAD •Grenoble •Valence

The last year of my studies in the Ecole supérieure d'Art et Design de Valence was considered as a research year which started by the writing of my essay and was completed by the diploma work at the end.

At the beginning, there was a question, a subject which i wanted to explore: what are the relationships between the politic and the design fields? I was looking for a subject which would allow me to talk about the relationships between politics and culture. To understand what are the different conceptions of culture in France. I was looking for a way to approach this subject.
I needed a starting point. Then i realised that the object of the study was so close to me. It was the school where I used to go everyday. So i started to investigate around the installation of the ESAD Valence. It was established in one of the suburbs of Valence during a program of re-urbanisation in a period of time where the development of the culture (la culture pour tous) was a real politic project. I was interested in the representation of the involvement of the municipality in the project. How does the town council express its investment for the district?

The ESAD Valence, 1997, Fontbarlettes, France.

Architecture founds itself to be an answer to my question.
And the problematic of the architectural sign began to take shape. When I was studying the architectural form of the school
I understood that the architect has not only to deal with building specifications but also with the symbolic aspect of the building itself. The symbolic function of the architecture is not new but the concept of the building as a logo is more recent. This phenomena began to appear with the post-modernism period in architecture. A period of time in which we can observe a division between the function and value (aesthetic, politic, economic) of the object or the building. This separation focuses our attention on surfaces. These surfaces become images that have a different role/function or symbolic aspect. The architectural sign is a communication medium, like a three-dimensional logo. The formal aspect of this type of buildings reflects a strong image that can be immediately memorised as a logotype.

Coop Himmelb(l)au, Pavillon 21, 2010, Vienne, Austria and Pavillon 21 Logotype.

Considering this idea of a building as a logo i looked at one of the most famous example: the Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain. The alliance of the name of the famous architect and the astonishing architecture signature contributed to put Bilbao on the international tourism map. The economic aftermath due to the mass tourism is considerable.
The establishment of a large-scale cultural structure completely changed the historical narrative of Bilbao. In the past Bilbao have been known for its industrial harbour. The construction of the museum completely erased this historical period.
This phenomena has been called "Bilbao Effect".

Collection of Booklet on the architecture of the Guggenheim museum translated in six languages.

Following the reading of an article by Sebastian Redecke, "L'architecture marchande des signes" published in Stream 01, I started to dig into the question. After the success of Bilbao, many cities in the world tried to get the same result by copying the original pattern. At the beginning of the 21th century, new museums designed by the most famous architects are spreading. They are focusing on the cultural market which appeared in medium-sized cities looking for celebrity in a logic of urban marketing. So we can suddenly notice the emergence of art collections which we knew nothing about it before, gathered in new buildings signed by "starchitects"*. To stand out from the common architectural trends, these architects focus on the outside surface. Creating spectacular structures using abstract shapes, the architects aim to create an image which is going to give a media coverage to the city.

Typical tourist photos in front of Guggenheim Museum,Bilbao, Spain & Denver Museum, Denver, USA.

Some cities are only getting famous because of the presence of a starchitect-designed building. For example you can find a Calatrava in the middle of the Wisconsin in Milwaukee city or a Steven Holl in Kansas city. The museum is managed like a brand, with its own logotype, which often refers to the iconic character of the building. This communication program is widely mediatised and sold as a cultural product in the museum's gift-shop. Most of these new museums are first visited for their outside aspect and their content are left in the background. The phenomena of the architectural sign is a answer to the needs of permanent sensations pellicular to the cultural industries. A need of sensations based on the impact of an often superficial and ephemeral global surface.

Typical tourist photos in front of Long Island Duckling, Flanders, USA & Ontario Museum, Ontario, Canada.

*Starchitect:  It is a recent neologism used to describe famous architects turned into idols in the architecture circles but also well-known outside the field.

@pv 2013