Thomas VONIER – International Union of Architects
Remarks before awarding of the Prix Versailles World Ceremony, 2017 Edition
Paris, UNESCO Headquarters | 12 May 2017
EVERYDAY ARCHITECTURE MATTERS,
Architecture is a wonderful profession, in part because it is one of the few that can ask: "How should we live?" The greatest urban theorists, architects and master builders have all asked this in one way or another: What is the best way to live in a community, whether that community is in a house, a village or a city?
From historical times to today, the great—Camiflo Sitte, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehi, and even Vetruvius—have written about the role of commerce, not only with respect to the quality of life, but as an essential ingredient of healthy and vital urban culture.
There is a great deal of evidence for the view that a healthy city—or village—is one with ample and varied commerce; commerce that is within easy reach, commerce that provides for all. We know all too well the signs of failing communities—and, regrettably, we find too many of them in France: empty shops, boarded-up windows, shuttered cafés and storefronts, to let signs everywhere. Sidewalks, squares, and streets without life.
Some of this, surely, results from the indiscriminate commercial development on urban peripheries of what we call in English the "big box" stores. You know them well—the "Halle" of this, or the "Halle" of that—huge, graceless, and accessible only by automobile, these are ugly warehouses for merchandise on the edges of highways, surrounded by parking lots and little else.
Let's just say that they would not be likely to win the Prix Versailles. When we see recent hypermarket developments that incorporate restaurants, cinemas, and even child day-care centers with huge grocery outlets, we sense that developers know: People want to do more than to simply fill their shopping carts.
The Prix Versailles seeks to underscore the interaction between economic prosperity and culture—to emphasize how commerce and its built outlets can enhance and improve the overall quality of life. That is why it is so important to recognize work that exalts ordinary experience, work that does more than simply meet a commercial need.
You may have seen the article in Le Monde this week, assessing the economic impacts of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry. It is as much an economic engine as a cultural space: in twenty years, it has attracted 19.2 million visitors to the city; last year alone, it earned € 485 million in revenues for Bilbao's shops, restaurants and service industries, and accounted for some 6,000 jobs across the local economy.
That is what architecture and great design can do: Elevate the ordinary to enhance the quality of life. Investments in good design earn economic dividends. The UIA, which I am representing here today, firmly believes in the value of programs that reward and promote good architecture—and we extend to our thanks and congratulations.