A Cemetery in Paris: Unfolding the Four Elements
Charles Bikoni & Giovanni Bettinelli @ Ecole de la Ville et des territoires, Marne la Vallée, Paris
The project is a cemetery in Paris, situated on an island in the Seine: a long but tight path near the Eiffel Tower, surrounded by both brutalist skyscrapers and typical Parisian buildings. The path is used as the guiding line of the project which develops as an extensive street, enclosed by niches walls.
Although at first the idea was to close of the path in order to create a peaceful cul-de sac of death, a space for meditation, we then thought of developing a more philosophical approach of an ongoing spiritual transformation. This was addressed through the use of the theory of the 4 elements whereby at times the path is interrupted by abstract elements as the funeral tower, (representing the element of air), a place where people can dispose of the ashes of the dead (representing the element of water), a crematorium (representing the element of fire) and lastly a small hortus conclus symbolising ground and thereby the burial.
In order to explore the notion of transformation and ‘recycle’ the materiality of the project develops around concrete made by mortar and rubble, extracted from different construction sites or by sites of demolition.
In addition to the cemetery the project also addresses the design of another small structure, independent of the main system. A floating mobile structure, ephemeral and fragile, a memorial. Here the classic notion and function of the memorial is reversed and contrarily expresses itself as an ongoing transformation of memory; whenever there is a new dramatic event, an artist is called to make a memory installation.
The project develops as a result of a wider idea for global mass mediation information system which is continuously presenting us with new dramatic events, worldwide. This structure is a modular steel skeleton posed on a plastic floor, open to any kind of installation. We can call it a Centre Pompidou for the memory.
Who influences you graphically?
The course demanded we make a simple board with filiform lines, preferably without colour. Within these parameters we tried to bring a personal touch and, having researched numerous graphic mediums, we reflected on what graphic language would be most appropriate in relation to the architecture itself. For us this meant diverging from the photorealistic render, and, on the contrary, searching for a more sensitive way to explore how the project works and what we wanted to communicate, in order to be more coherent to our ideas.
Could you expand on the language of representation of the project? (decision to invert all of the boards)
The decision to use the negative is linked to the theme of the project. When thinking about how to “explain death” graphically, we decided to try to express the idea of the “other side” – a parallel dimension aside from the coloured world we inhabit, to view it from a dark and inverted point of view. After we spent lot of time drawing up coloured boards, we finally decided to invert them into B&W negative greyscale. This process was a final decision, taken in order to have a visualization technique which is more coherent to our idea about death.
What role do the postcards play within the mediation of the project?
The Postcards want to show some initial impressions we were looking for during the first designing phase. As a matter of fact, they present some drawings which are a graphic transcription of the feelings we were searching for, in relation to the main function. We initially tried to forget all the logical ways that are usually employed to develop a project concepts in order to just think about which kind of sensation we were searching for, and draw these. In the end, we collected some quotes (by Jean-Jaques Rosseau) that can easily show up the sense of death according to our point of view. Words as Silence, Emptiness and Sadness brought us to the right feeling to imagine and design our spatial concept.
What is your take on colour- what defined the monochromatic palette?
As previously mentioned, a monochromatic palette was preferred by the professor, although we strongly believe it works very well figuratively, to better interpret the obscure vision of death (also according to our decision to invert all the boards). This could be a banal stratagem to picture the theme of death but at the same time we believe it is justifiable according to the common shared vision of this dark theme.
What was your work process in terms of concept development and production of images?
I think we realized that establishing a graphic language at an early stage was very helpful in the development of the project: for this part, Giovanni’s graphic skills were really efficient and relevant especially within a third year project where architectural institutions want to see if a project can be distinguished not only by its design but also through proper representation. From there we pretty much easily found our graphic language. Again, when confronting such a deep topic as death, the goal was to be very pure and clear while understanding the project.
With regards to the development of the concept, we mainly focused on the island form rather than thinking about a specific concept. In the first phase we made a lot of drawings to better define what kind of space and which emotions we were searching for. In a second phase, we decided to close the main path of the island with 2 simple walls, to create a space charged with spiritual silence and a sense of long emptiness. The walls were here designed as concrete and speculated upon through drawings and digital collages, mediums which helped establish the correct proportions in relation to the pre-existing lines of the island. However, when we ‘got in touch’ with the 4 elements and the concept of transformation we forgot the walls for a while to focus more on the form and the dimensions as well as the materiality of them.
At this point we did a bit of research into ancient funeral buildings and we used the collage technique to put some emblematic items inside every scanned reference. This work helped us find the correct means to represent every element equally and to establish the right shape and light in making them function properly. In the end, we decided to conform all of the references forms to a unique minimalistic shape which is the cone. Through the 4 elements board one can see the transformation we made from the starting reference to the final form.
to what extent were the images tools through which you developed the project rather than final outcome renderings?
The images we produced during the process phase were necessary to better understand the intent of the project.
However, the final drawings are the main medium through which to better visualize the project at a correct scale and with the right materiality. The 2 final renderings were a great persuasive tool along with the final realistic view of our structure. This claim could be quite ambiguous In relation to what we said before: although we trust that the hand drawings and the digital collage were crucial in the process, the 2 final images which reveal the project were crucial in showing the resolved final architectural intervention.
When talking about a Centre Pompidou for the memory, what does this mean? To what extent is it a formal comparison compared to an ideological statement?
The idea behind this phrase is in relation to all the horrendous acts we are witnessing worlwide: the idea that (which can totally be debated) there should not be a hierarchy of memories and many can be remembered in a single place, depending on what terrible events are happening. Based on this (utopian) statement we directly made an analogy with the famous Parisian building of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. Since our early architecture studies we have always been told of the brilliance of the Centre Pompidou, partly due to its flexibility program-wise – this exact part of the building caught our attention.
We think about the contemporary museum as a place which reflects contemporary society (like Centre Pompidou). Art is effectively a memory medium that expresses the essence of a historical period; we can compare the classical permanent museum to a classical permanent memorial. Centre Pompidou is functionally and structurally ephemeral because it is continuously open to new temporary exhibitions. Wirh regards to our project, we translated that idea by designing an easily transformable light metallic structure, able to welcome different ‘memorial’ events, a sort of floating exposition place.
To what extent did this Erasmus year abroad impact how you approach architecture and yours achitectural studies?
It has been a controversial year. Studying architecture abroad obviously means a different approach on the subject and as every Erasmus experience there are some pros and cons. Obviously a different language is, at the beginning, a limit. To start off on a negative note I found the approach to the urban context quite poor, and that obviously depends on the difference in urban history between a city like Venice (where there are many technic limitations) and Paris (a big European metropolis constantly growing). At the same time, I really appreciated a small trip to Berlin where we visited commemoration monuments concerning the death and memory. That was really awesome and useful to understand and better feel by ourselves the potential of well-designed spaces devoted to the theme of the project. This kind of approach was crucial to the project. In conclusion for me this experience meant the ability to understand and accept the fact that every university system really has a different approach to architecture, one that inherently depends on the context in which one is, but of course working with foreigners is the best way to think and challenge architecture and get inspired bye different approaches.
Charles Kitenge is a french third year architecture student in The École d’Architecture de la Ville et des Territoires, born in 1996. After obtaining his scientific baccalaureate in High School, his taste about architecture came during his early adulthood. From that he developed designing, computing skills over famous CAD sofwares. Besides that he worked inside the A/CONCEPT studio based in Evry, southern suburb of Paris.
Giovanni Bettinelli is a digital artist, sound designer and musician. He has had a lot of professional employements in the field of sound design and he is currently dealing with digital video making and applied arts. Moreover he has developed some technical skills in computer software by himself. His aim is to better understand how to convey some aesthetic artifacts, through digital media. Sound and graphic design, 3D animation, editing, printing and digital collage are the fields in which he is developing his skills. He graduated from IUAV – University of Architecture in Venice in 2018.