France’s experience in promoting its urban heritage and development has long been recognised at international level. As part of their mission to safeguard and protect France’s urban and environmental architectural heritage, the Architectes des Bâtiments de France share their expertise all over the world, from China to Haiti, via India, Syria and Russia.
Sharing and exchanging ideas are constants in the history of French culture and architecture. For over a century, the Architectes des Bâtiments de France have been sharing their top-level expertise and spirit of innovation far beyond France itself.
As the guardians of France’s architectural heritage, the Architectes des Bâtiments de France represent the State across the whole of the country. Their role is threefold, encompassing advice, supervision and conservation. Other countries call on their services to help draft policies to promote their urban heritage and in particular to provide guidance on housing in poor neighbourhoods in deprived suburbs. They also offer expertise in relation to rebuilding and restoring historic buildings as part of their cooperation and development work.
In January 2010, an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale devastated Haiti. The architectural heritage of the capital, Port-au-Prince, made up of institutional buildings, places of worship and educational establishments, was particularly hard hit. Rebuilding was a matter of urgency. “Three Architectes des Bâtiments de France travelled to the island to offer assistance and expertise. The Palais des Ministères, which housed several government ministries, had been badly damaged. Our task was to carry out an audit of the archives and the buildings. We also supported the Library Without Borders project, which aimed to create a university library of 150,000 publications,” explains Frédéric Auclair, President of the National Association of Architectes des Bâtiments de France (ANABF). “Heritage Without Borders also benefited from the support of the Vieilles Maisons Françaises Foundation in safeguarding the murals in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Work is now being done on the Church of Our Lady of Victories.”
Almost 200 architects are trained every year at the Ecole de Chaillot, home to the educational department of the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, France’s centre for architecture and heritage. The school offers high-level teaching on the history, maintenance, conservation, restoration and use of historic buildings. Thanks to its international network, the Ecole de Chaillot can offer specialised courses run by French experts in different countries around the world.
“We run between 10 and 20 training workshops abroad every year. We currently have a group of teachers in Greece and another in Romania, in Curtisoara, working with colleagues from the University of Timisoara. It’s about working in the field on real, practical problems,” observes Mireille Grubert, Director of the Ecole de Chaillot. “We’ve been working in Morocco for four years, Syria for six and Cambodia for three. We are also working on projects with China in the form of reciprocal workshops.”
The cooperation with China, which has been coordinated by the Chinese Research Centre at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine for over 12 years, has helped build up a network of innovative architects and stimulate an exchange of views. In particular, the Sino-French cooperation programme has meant a number of Architectes des Bâtiments de France have been invited to present their experiences at symposia and seminars in China.
Local authorities in India have been seeking international assistance in the field of urban development. As their missions progressed, various Architectes des Bâtiments de France helped draft a general urban development document, which was approved in 2006. “Working together enabled us to engage in dialogue, compare our points of view and enrich our thinking on both sides, and this will in turn enhance our own practices. Our Indian counterparts are interested in the tools we use and our experience in the specific areas in which we act and are keen to have even more frequent discussions,” says Paul Trouilloud, Architecte des Bâtiments de France.
There are currently projects running in Russia, (Irkutsk), Syria (at the French Institute in Alep and elsewhere), Laos (Vat Phu), Cuma, Germany and Angkor in Cambodia. Young Cambodian architects are being trained in conserving Khmer heritage and supervised as they work. The French intervention strategy includes coordinating and creating a network of French experts, recognising and disseminating French expertise, monitoring and tactical updating.
“France has an extraordinary amount of experience in heritage management. There have been many French initiatives and demand from our foreign partners is high,” stresses Alain Marinos, General Inspector at the Heritage Inspectorate. In particular, he emphasises that “It is thanks to France that Shanghai’s historic neighbourhoods have been restored.” “Along with Unesco,” continues Mr Marinos, “we have embarked on a study inspired by French experiences in the social arena. The innovations introduced by our departments in France and the success of the international cooperation programmes already begun are huge assets that encourage us to develop new strategic proposals on the international stage.” It is based on this perspective that the Heritage Inspectorate has joined forces with the departments of the Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs.
(Source : MAEE / Annik Bianchini / October 2010)