An Interview with Françoise Fromonot
By Ahmad Zohadi

The interview has been published in 2A Magazine issue #39

How can architects, Planners and landscape designers intervene to alleviate the human afflictions in the realm of the built environment?

Françoise Fromonot: Professions which deal with the design of space in all its aspects (architecture, planning, landscape) cannot obviously do anything on their own. Unlike the other arts, architecture doesn’t only depend on the aesthetics of the artist or his-her capacity of formal innovation. Commissions depends strongly on the state of society, its aspirations, the nature of its needs, its economy, the state and development of technologies, and above all politics.

This has more or less always been the case. However with globalization we have witnessed the emergence of a new conditions : the increasing individualization of society, its privatization in an increasingly financial economy. Whereas the States or public bodies used to finance public welfare on behalf of the community (public space in cities, social facilities like schools, housing…), developers are more and more taking up this role, expecting a susbtantial financial return. What used to be commissioned by the public realm for collective welfare tends to become a profitable production geared towards sheer quantity, functionality and profitability.
Architects therefore struggle to find enlightened clients who will be interested first and foremost in the quality of space and life. Landscape practitioners are faced with a complex situation for their profession : an even stronger dependency on private interests – since they are are dealing with and increasingly privatized « public space », but have to cater for the growing awareness of environmental issues, en eminently political and « public » question. Rather than always rivaling for commissions with ever more spectacular forms, I believe that architects, planners and landscape architects should find ways to unite and invest the political realm to try change this situation from uspstream. The environmental urgency is there and these professions, with their combined skills, can contribute to finding ways to alleviate it in a socially equitable ways.
This means constructing questions rather than resorting first and foremost to formal answers: reflecting on the rearticulation of the issues and scales of urbanism, landscape and building; on contexts, heritage (physical and cultural), on the means to gear our societies towards a more sober and egalitarian attitude towards ressources, and make all this new inspiration for critical design solutions. Its is not easy, there are no recipes, but there lies the possibility of true innovation and I believe that we are are a tipping point in these matters.

Please follow this idea:

Between the countries from different civilizations in the Asia continent, there has been a constant history of trade, migration and sharing of cultural practices, which has extended strongly, even in the field of architecture.
I realized these countries have a deep and true connection with moral principles, which has affected all aspects of its society (Culture, Architecture, Art and their identity in general), their root and identity has influenced their architecture.
I also understood that their traditional architecture has been naturally developed in a sustainable manner, I believe that the underlying cultural, historical and spiritual values has led to creation of this form of natural sustainability.
” It is the differing uses of history, to create varied sets of architectural languages within our contemporary framework that is of interest. This is especially true in the context of globalization, which has a powerful tendency to homogenize.”

– Hence, I would like to ask you as a member of the jury of Asia Architecture Award, do you consider this thought when you judge the projects?

Of course. My interest for architecture doesn’t lie mainly in its sheer formal aspects (although I appreciate well designed and detailed buildings, of course, and I know how important is form !). I am very interested in the way a building conveys the expression of the designers critical positions on the givens of the project : site, programme, client… I tend to be more interested in buildings that deal socially useful programmes than can make a difference in the life of the many, where the specific ingenuity and inventiveness of architecture can play a significant role in this improvement.

In order to understand the contemporary architectural and urban landscapes of Asia, in your opinion, what are the emergent manifestations of Asia in contemporary Architecture and Urbanism?

Asia is a vast continent, an incredible geographical entity made of many countries. Each has cultural specificities inherited from the history of great, ancient civilisations, as diverse as Japan, India, China…! As a Westerner, I do not feel acquainted enough with the details of their past, of their relations, and of their current evolutions to pretend to judge : it would be arrogant, or premature, to pretend to have an authorized opinion and deliver it to you. Perhaps I can answer the question by pointing at what I find is perhaps not emerging enough in the general Asian context : criticism. A society need its issues at stake to be documented from within, explained, unfolded, discussed. In this respect I feel we do not have enough critical feed back on what is really happening in Asia, beyond a mass of colorful images of spectacular buildings. I would like to read more from my fellow colleagues, academics, researchers, journalists, on their understanding and knowledge of what’s really happening, to enlighten my own understanding. In this respect, I believe that architecture journal have an important role to play.

How important is context in Contemporary Architectural Design? As a professional, researcher and educator working in Asia, what are factors, criteria or even constrains that have influential impact on your profession?

In architecture context is important because it is inevitable. Any situation has or is a context : physical (where it is, what is around), climatic, social, economical, temporal, legal (what can I build) etc. Again, it is the architect’s job and responsibility to articulate his-her position vis a vis this complex condition into his-her project. I would argue that architecture is mainly about this, and the ways it impacts the subsequent formalization of the building.
As far as my activity as a researcher and educator is concerned, these are the ideas that I try to explore, in my articles, lectures, and with my students. I believe this is also a relevant way of practicing architecture.