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Housing as a core
of Architecture
Interview with Jean-Christophe Masson

Housing as a core
of Architecture
Interview with Jean-Christophe Masson
Jean-Christophe Masson is a founding partner of Hamonic+Masson & Associés and a founding member of the French Touch collective. Before the lecture in the frame of CANactions Public Program, he shared his thoughts on what are the main values, principles and approach of the bureau to design of housing.
CANactions: Your work spans a range of different projects: from social housing and skyscrapers to public spaces and schools. Across such a broad portfolio, what connects all of them?

Jean-Christophe Masson: The connecting thread between all our projects is the practice's state of mind. It is difficult to state what our particular style is, as we have no pre-established "recipe" for our projects. Each project is different but our thought-process, method and obsessions are always visible.

I think that architecture involves exploring and embracing all spectrums while maintaining a certain image throughout.

Our creative process is not restricted by an adherence to any dogma, as we do not aim to construct the same project every time. We choose to experiment and exit the comfort zone.

If you were to describe your architecture in single words, what would they be?

Pleasure and perhaps French? France contains a varied range of people living in a large spectrum of different geographic territories (urban, rural, countryside, mountains, seaside and coastal). It is not possible to define what the French architecture is. It is so diverse according to the location of the project, as you can witness in our work. So yes, actually the office is very French!

You provided the basis of the new approach to vertical housing in the urban environment in France. You said it was a huge responsibility. What determines the responsibility of an architect for you?

For the particular project referenced in this question, the responsibility was to create a new urban form in Paris, a city traumatized by the construction of high rises in the 1960s and 70s. The second responsibility was for it to be a success…, which it is!

In the larger sense of the architect's responsibility in the field of housing, I think we have a duty to create possibilities for inhabitants. The aim is not to be enclosed or "prisoners in the architecture", but to be free and to feel at home. We must offer the parameters for life to flourish and this means creating optimum living conditions and making free appropriation possible.
Bâtiment Home, ZAC Masséna, Paris XIII
Among your projects there are many towers. Do you have a particular vision for the future of a skyscraper?

I definitely do not like the term of "vision", because it is linked to "one solution". For me there are as many skycrapers as there are countries or cities. There is a big risk of falling in to a dangerous territory of repetition and creating the same response everywhere based on a model. By focussing on a city's specificities and the urban history, which is made up layer by layer over time, you are able to propose a local answer, but not a global solution. Each territory is different. So there is no "vision", but perhaps lots of solutions!

Skyscrapers are an urban form so we cannot really critique their existence as being good or bad. In order to create successful high-rise buildings, architects must find the definition of 'local' in order to uncover contextual particularities and move away from a single vision approach. It is fundamental that we remember local, national and cultural values and history instead of adopting a global approach to architecture. This will create places people want to live and can thrive in, whilst ensuring that skyscrapers remain connected to the context.

You said about the importance of focusing on diversity, multiplicity, and experimentation with style, materials, and typology. How could all this be translated into large-scale housing projects?

These key words make up the practice's state of mind. These elements must combine in order to produce quality. It is not always evident as there are economic constraints present in the construction of large-scale housing projects, and also housing is inherently repetitive. This paradox means we have to find a way to ensure that quality emerges within our projects, which can be done via the integration of diverse and multiple typologies and experimentation with materials, for example.
Imagine Angers / MÉTAMORPHOSE
What would you recommend to someone who starts his/her design practice or studies architecture?

Be yourself and find your own way. Do not try to be someone else in order to copy a pre-existing model. It is important to study other architects, but most importantly find your own position in order to resist future pressure!

People will tell you throughout your career to adhere to certain rules or design in a certain way and to take a safe approach. Leaders fear danger, which explains why they want architects to be generic and neutral and to all think the same. Maintain your creativity because architecture is a cultural act. Points of view are important. You are free to expose your ideas and explain your thoughts, and this will lead you to seize opportunities.
Text: Olena Vozniak