THE NEXT PROTOTYPE Exclusive interview with a visionary architect : Vincent Callebaut
1 Could you sum up your studio’s attitude to architectural design?
The global attitude of my architectural design is the “Prospective Sampling”. It is a new way of creation which consists in mixing a scientifical and cultural survey with a computer programmatic approach in order to transcribe in architecture landscape distortions or ecosystem abstractions. Each architectural project at any scale, wants to anticipate through this digital hybridization, the future lifestyles by inventing new imaginary worlds. More poetic worlds. More equitable worlds. More natural worlds. More sustainable world. Actually, more humanistic worlds!
As in the contemporary art universe, a young architect must nowadays follow transversal tactics. He must be very flexible such as a free electron reforming itself in every new project according to a different structure. It is a real challenge to carry out parasite strategies which are beyond the partitioning between practices. In a global world, the prospective sampling offers infinite possibilities of interferences and opens new action plans with Sciences, Arts, Literature and Technology. The architect becomes a true Disc Jockey of the planetary information building the space by mixing and reducing the practices coming from everywhere else outside the field of architecture.
This is the great challenge to reinvent and to implement day by day the life of the worldwide citizen!
2 In which direction are your works evolving?
My principal direction of research is the association in Architecture of the Living (Bios) and the NICT (New Technologies of the Information and the Communication) to build the future green ecopolis of tomorrow. This new association untitled “Archibiotic” can reach the antique Chinese thought that always refuses to separate the nature of the humanity that nourishes itself, the body and the spirit that would not exist without it.
Parallel to the research of new architectural prototypes with positive energy and positive biodiversity, i.e. producing more energy or biodiversity that they consume, we face a global world in which the transmission of the information encounters a quasi fictional implosion. Whereas the humanity wishes a re-naturalised real world that develops itself durably, it gives itself body and soul by schizophrenic reaction in an endless virtual abyss controlling each daily gesture of the world-citizen. The civilisations are in continuous interactivity mixing themselves in new identities.
Further to the acceleration of the demographical evolution and the economical and industrial development of these last decades, the entropic activity is considered as responsible for the «global ecological crisis». On the thesis, the Ecopolis of tomorrow will build themselves durably by the possible merge of the sciences of the nature and the technologies, the projects of my Parisian agency design new innovations of green and sustainable architectures tending to a right balance of our human actions on our environment!
These intelligent and interactive buildings are called “Archibiotics” (Archi+Bio+NICT).
3 What project are you working on now?
Our last projects take strongly position according to the society’s topics of our contemporary world such as the urban pollution, the climate imbalance, the social and cultural mixing. They all bring innovative solutions that sometimes overrun irrespectfully the norms and try to anticipate the future of the urban « welfare » by decodification.
Curentlyn we are studying prrecisely the design of a passionate prototype for a floating city of 200 000 inhabitants totally autonom in energy. Forecasting the rising of water levels that will especially make disappear the atolls of the New Caledonia or the polders of the Netherlands, this aquatic city will be dedicated to accommodate the future climatic refugees. This project has been designed as a true floating island moving according to the warm sea streams as the Gulf Stream and its structural concept is inspired of the plasticity of a great lily pad.
We are also working on a programme of vertical city under the shape of a mixed tower (housing + offices + entertainment + vertical parks) in the district of La Défense in the heart of Paris. It deals with inventing a new shape of social and functional diversity so as to resolve the problems linked to the monofunctionality of this business centre.
4 When you start creating your architectural project, what do you think of first between design, structure, concept or anything else? What you have studied before getting start on each project?"
The application of the sciences and the technologies in the architectural field enables us to design new prototypes of intelligent and interactive buildings as naturally as electronically. The architecture becomes a biotechnological remedy to the global ecologic crisis, a living interface connecting the man and the nature. Our architectural projects study thus organic systems for the development of non organic or organically modified systems able to have technologic applications. They study the life with the objective of understanding the functioning mechanisms of the living and scalable beings so as to be able to apply them to the human creations in a determined ecosystem. They follow generative rules defined on the base of algorithms coming from more or less complex geometries.
Towards a convergence with the shapes, the structures and the organisations of the living, the architect and the engineer analyse ever since the nature by combining its models. From the light and solid structure of the giant lily pad «Victoria regia», to the squishy ideally hydrodynamic structure of the dolphin absorbing the pressure variations due to the turbulences, passing by the network of hexagons perfectly nested and optimising the available space by a light solidity of beehives, the builders are the organic makers.
5 Is your work an individual statement or a team solution?
Each project is based on the knowledge of a multidisciplinary and international team that is the assembling of the specialties that creates the force of our concepts. By interdisciplinary, the architects of my team, interconnected to the electronic World Wilde Web work very close together with biologists, chemists, ecologists, engineers in structure and computer, but also with artists from everywhere in the world! Thus, from the confrontation of the ideas of diverse disciplinaries, I enable the appearance of innovative ideas! 6 Can you describe your design process from idea till presentation? (Do you have team for presentation or you did it by yourself?)
The highly graphical aspect of my work shows the concern of perfection that I am looking for in my design and realisation of each project of the agency. This very high level of graphical quality enables us as young architects to travel round the world by our publications and exhibitions. I am surrounded with a team of specialists such as the graphic artist Philippe Steels, true virtuoso that makes the most complex three-dimensional establishment of models.
7 You always have a beautiful presentation on each project, but we doubt if it is all about presentation? Have you ever faced any obstacle or restriction in realizing your model on the real site? If yes, how did you handle those problems?
My architectures systematically reflect on the validity of the existing urbanism plans and try to reject the administrative constraints of the municipalities so as to create projects or master plans federative of urban harmony on the mid or long term. In structural term, the programme of 3D establishment of models enables to make precisely the most complex volumetries and to study the best quality/price ratios of the industrial realisation. The design studies are therefore long but they enable to ensure the good execution of the construction works.
8 Which of your projects has given you the most satisfaction? and why?
Currently I am working very vigorously on design and execution studies of the depolluting tower « Anti-Smog ». It is my main challenge at the moment to build a building entirely auto-sufficient that depolluate the atmosphere. It is a human challenge to make evolve the mentalities often sclerotic of the political managers. It is finally an economical challenge to find the best technical solutions for an efficient profitability!
9 Which project that clearly reflects the term of “…investigation architecture mixing biology to information and communication technologies” in design?
In Mexico City, between the vestiges of a prehispanic and colonial past, and the Utopia of the Modern Movement, drawn by Mario Pani in the Sixties, the ECO-MIC project (Ecological and Metropolitan Infographic Center) creates a new symbol of insurrection. Against the lost of freedom and resignation of modernity!
The aim of the project is to join spaces of exposures in an ecological tower, and deal with the current archaeological course. The tower will come out from the foundations of an Aztec construction. This project is a contemporary minaret interacting with the Santiago’s temple and the horizontality of the modern bars. The spinal column of the tower is created by verticals circulations. Linked all around, boxes and hanging gardens contain the dense program of the museum. This tower is a contemporary vertical landscape. A challenge to gravity. A recovered freedom!
Each entity, office, workshop, exposure or file spaces, has its own expression. The organisational diagram is perfectly read from external public space. Each course of the visitor is visible. The various graphic expressions of the territory of Mexico City are exposed on all the boxes of the tower. Including the codes prehispanic, the colonial, revolutionary and contemporary plans, the subway plans, the seisms areas or the infrastructures charts. Scenography is spread along the electronic tape including the structure. This electronic tape deals information through an optical fibre network to the several boxes and showrooms. Thanks to this system the infographic data are shown on interiors and exteriors façades.
The ECO-MIC Project is a new prototype mixing biotechnologies and NICT.
10 What or who has been your biggest inspiration?
The Nature ! Imagine the development of a project as a living process that would develop on a ineluctable way from few parameters initially set up and carrying on the consequences via time factors, has a high resonance with the growth processes of natural, animal, vegetable or mineral organisms. The shapes are more complex with the action of algorithmic developments and changes into constructive structure. From the projects of geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller inspired from the radiolarian micro-structures to the thesis «On Growth and Form» expressed by the biologist and mathematician D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, the study of the natural organisms is an endless source to redefine the design processes.
The evolution of the scientific world enables moreover today to discover and understand the infinitely small or infinitely big, zooming in or de-zooming in to the vertigo from the smallest cells of our body to the satellite visions of our galaxy. Moreover, small micron at the light-year going through «Google Earth», all the architectures of the micro or macroscopic organic bodies inspire much the architect that I am by the laws of the creation and bring me to explore new symbiotic spatialities. Since even, a tangent attitude would be simply to impulse processes by putting them on and leaving them going and then controlling their development. Inversion or restructuring, acceleration or delay-action, the absorption of the exterior conditions make evolve these organic Archibiotics : dampness, temperature, air pressure, density of CO2, eco-systemic profile.
11. If you could go back into time to work with an inventor or designer of the past, who would that be and in which project?
I would like to recreate today a movement of architectural prospectives such as Archigram that have been inspiring me since my studies by their thematic expression of problems concerning the life in the society which is part of all architecture view in the consumer society.
12 In your opinion, where is architecture today, and what is the good architecture for the future world?
Result of an unrestrained capitalism lost in the productivity and the benefit, the world of today lacks utopia, dreams and brains that crackle! I am not nostalgic and I find the current time very extraordinary! We are at a turning point of the humanity ! The inhabitants of this Earth realise finally their ecological print. The cultures knock together. The Third World and the emerging countries are warning. We live in real time what happens at the other extremity of the globe and we can interact via the net to an interactive democracy. In a world of the immediacy, I speak very often of the future simply because my projects dare to invent long term and sustainable!
13 It is noticeable that your work is represented as a perfect blend of technology and nature, but sometimes it seemed to be a collision between out-of-space technology and earthly living things. How could you manage to blend them together properly?
In the heart of our dual world between nature and technology, the bionic man that I represent evolves with his electronic prosthesis blitzed by neuronal stimulations via a spectral field of visible and invisible flows (infrastructure network, GPS, satellites, internet, wifi, bluetooth). By resonance between our global world and my local culture, between the decadent bio-real and the utopian techno-virtual, I am looking for my contemporary identity and try by ubiquity to transcend the landscapes by taming them scientifically and technologically. My ecosystem is the set formed by an association or a community of human beings (biocenose) and its geologic, pedologic, atmospheric environment (biotope). My own emergency is to weave again together the constituting elements of my ecosystem by re-encourage a new network of interdependences enabling the maintaining and the development of the life.
My architecture projects aspire to create ecosystems built as dynamic complexes interacting with all the data of the site that are natural or cybernetic. My Archibiotics act as synergetic capacitors between the biotic factors (action of the living on the living: parasitism, symbiosis, mutualism, etc.) and abiotic factors (action of the not living on the living : ground, climate, chemistry, etc.).
The strategic ambitions of this “interactive” architecture, that means in total interaction with its environment for a sustainable development, are the self management, the recycling of organic, industrial and domestic material, the configuration in real time, the eco-morphing, the biological and genetical diversity, everything leading to artificial geographies and dynamical ecosystems beginning new life cycles.
14 Your works are diverse in scales, ranging from buildings to city plans. Is your approach to small scale different to that of large scale projects?
The realisation of a small design project for furniture or a great project for a master plan requires the same quantity of energy that is however differently used. By sportive metaphor, we would compare the energy provided during a sprint or a marathon.
15 As most of your projects are so outstanding that sometimes become weird to the existing surroundings, for example, ECONOMIC in Mexico City, BASALT PRECIPICE, and Neuronal Alien Project. With these examples, is it right if we say that you are indifferent to the environmental context?
The object-architecture is replaced by an environment-architecture able not only to interact with the ecosystems but also to regenerate them positively. Breaking the frontiers between architecture and urbanism, between object and network, between nature and artifice, it deals with encourage the site by revealing it by many organic, physical and chemical solicitations. Thanks to the programs of spatial simulation, parametric programming, biotechnologies and renewable energies, the projects become reactive architectures interacting with the context formally and physiologically by mutation, contamination, parasitism, eco-absorption and bio-diversification.
16 Come to a relaxing question, if you have an opportunity to design your own house, how should it be?
It will be a deliciously schizophrenic house! Actually, it will have a multiple personality. It will be urban but ecologically integrated, will produce its own energies and will welcome the fauna and the flora that surround it. The city will become again an inhabited jungle as I propose it currently through a new project in Hong Kong. In the opposite, facing the renaturalisaton of the cities, my house will be connected to all the information networks and will be parametrizable in real time transforming the ambiances and the spaces according to my humours, my sensitives and my desideratas.
17 It was interesting knowing that an architect like you drew inspiration from a veteran film director like Stanley Kubrick. Please share with us what kind of energy/ vision did you take from him/ his work?
Stanley Kubrick is a model of creator for his rational translation of the nowadays’ civilisation, but especially for his logic and his clearness leading his independant approach, because they are the guarantee of his freedom facing an economical system that he beaten at his own game. There is no watchword, if it isn’t “resist”. Resist to everything and to oneself !
18 What is your best sci-fi movie of all time?
“An Inconvenient Truth”, the catastrophe movie by Al gore, former vice-President of the United States on the consequences of the global climate imbalance because it overpasses all the scenarios of imaginable science-fiction by putting the humanity against the wall. The reality overpasses definitely the fiction. Moreover, it is the only movie that gathers at the same place (cinema rooms) the overseers and the victims of this theme !
19 You’ve said we are the “citizen of a global world”. How do you identify an individual as a citizen of a global world?
The contemporary citizen copes with two interdependent phenomena. On the one hand, he lives in a global, interconnected and mixed world, whereas on the other hand he looks for his roots and tries to assert his own culture to affirm his identity. Between global extension and local contradiction, the new urban dilemma is as following: How make these new glocal inhabitants live together? All my projects study deeply the multiple identities of the inhabitants and propose strongly contextual spatial declensions. Moreover, these new hyper-flexible spaces reintegrate systematically the nature, the biodiversity and the new technologies of the information and the communication as universal basis of the architecture project
I am not looking for the ideal inhabitant for the houses that I create but in the opposite for the ideal house for the inhabitant of today! We live in a society of nomad flows where the new means of communication define new time-spaces. The contemporary citizen is multiple and looks in my houses for the daily welfare of a cocoon in harmony as well with the landscapes.
20 Are there any rules in architecture and design you would like to break? (We would like to call your work as “breaking the rules”)
The new technology that will revolutionize the architecture is the parametrizing in real time such as the Open Source or the Smart Mobs. It will enable to draw interactive cities equipped with invisible numeric infrastructures and to manage at best the complexity of our contemporary cities. Going with this mutation, the ancestral culture of the earth and the reappropriation of the nature by the contemporary urbanity that will assure the well living inside new inhabited landscapes!
21 When is the best time for you to create the projects and where do you usually work on your projects?
I like working in action by dealing always with my points of view on the society in which I live so as to build a strong logic of design at the beginning of the project. My brain is connected 24 hours a day.
22 If, for some reason, you could keep only 1 book, 1 movie, and 1 song, what would they be?
It would be a book with white pages to transcribe with drawings my feeling and my imagination. Book that I always have with me. It would be a science fiction movie such as “The fifth element” by Luc Besson where the architecture of the cities would be finally contemporary and not even inspired by a postmodernist past! It would be a revolutionary song like « Another Brick In The Wall » by Pink Floyd because « We don't need no thought control ».
23 What is the key for success of an architecture studio today?
I do not have enough success yet to reply objectively to this question but I think that the two main qualities of a prospective architect are the perseverance and the doubt.
24 Finally, what is the commitment of Vincent Callebaut’s office?
To anticipate. To prospect. To touch. This is the great challenge to reinvent and to implement day by day the life of the worldwide citizen!
As architect of the urban and human horizons, I invite you and us to be the pioneers of the « Ecopolis », challenge that is in the heart of the current (r)evolution of the contemporary world. Because the interest raised by the problems of the sustainable development is neither a mode, not a temporary epiphenomenon. I recognise its true dimension, of a transformation in power, in phase and in depth of today’s society. I tell us, tell you: build a city more and better in harmony with the world and its challenges is our biggest challenge. To everybody, to us, to you and of course to all who will follow. And especially do not forget the essential: whereas daily the urban expansion is not always the synonym of urban happiness, it is up to us, to you to strive so that tomorrow urban development rhymes in alexandrine with human development!