From a star to the eye of the astronomer in his observatory, from a bee flying-by to the ear of the biologist in his back garden, light and sound take time to reach us and come to our senses. From Stonehenge to today’s most elaborate scientific facilities, we build observatories of all kinds to look into the past and shape our future as inhabitants of the Earth. The biggest challenge we’re facing today is the one of our relationship to the environment and conceiving in a joint effort, across generations, the ways in which we may preserve our habitat in the long run.
‘The Present’ consists of a hybrid of a nature reserve, a public gazing facility and a growing archive of thoughts for the future. It is in a sense a secular temple, scientific and spiritual, where people can freely come and connect with the natural world, the universe and with each other, through observation and conversation.
150 METERS FOR 150 YEARS - THE RESERVE
The essence of the ‘The Present’ resides in sealing the project area behind a 150 meters high wall made of the mud dug out from under the surface of the site. Protected from human intervention, the reserve within the wall is left to thrive for the next 150 years to become a gift to the future generations.
Following the construction of the Roissy airport in the 1970s, Goussainville has seen the possibility of urban expansion freeze. The need to conform to a Noise Exposure Plan (PEB), followed by the heritage classification of the church of La Talmouse, means the existing village structure on the project site can’t be touch, and only industrial development is possible until plane technology as it is known today evolves or simply disappears together with fossil fuel in the decades to come.
Outside the nature reserve, constellations of peepholes allow crowds to come and observe through the wall the development of the nature sanctuary. The perimeter of the observatory becomes an area of curiosity, and gathering. Doors scattered all around the reserve wall invite everyone to enter the underground observatory...
Goussainville is an outer suburb township of Paris, in the so-called “grande couronne” area. Those areas do benefit from Paris’ proximity, which is a real advantage when it comes to economic development. They are privileged places for industrial activities, equipments and housings. The urban spread is reaching there its outer limits and rural areas,forests and farmlands are not far away. In these outer suburbs, real estate prices are significantly lower than in the centre of Paris and than in the “petite couronne” area (suburbian areas next to Paris). That’s why; many families choose to settle in those towns where they can afford a lodging with more natural environment and a better quality of life.
In view of urbanization’s process in the Paris’ conurbation and the lack of properties in the centre and its petite couronne, this grande couronne will be more and more affected by the growing pressure by real estate situation in the area. Despite its strong urbanization rates, Île-de-France is still predominantly rural, from its 12 070 km2, 45 % are devoted to agriculture (one of the most productive in France) and 23% to forests. However, today about 2000 ha/year of agricultural land are disappearing in Ile-de-France because of extensive urbanization. (housings but also infrastructures). If urbanization follows its current pace,, Ile-de-France will be totally urbanized in the next 400 years and in 150 years, the Parisian urban sprawl will exceed the limits of Goussainville.
These landscapes are considered mundane because it does not contain the standards of architectural and urban qualities in our ideals inked. Some patrimony constructions are preserved but the landscape itself is not considered. Though, the banal landscape is also a patrimony and cultural heritage of our history. It is the ignored France, which needs to be enhanced and become an object of reflexion. Those banal architecture houses in banal places, in banal landscapes are people living spaces with ambiances and uses. Those places are part of our history and need to be known. Those banal landscapes tend to disappear because they are poorly valorized.
Today, those agglomeration’s landscapes tend to be transformed by architects and real estates promoters for modern and more efficient cities. But, we loose little by little those vernacular heritages.
As most outer suburbian territories of Paris, Goussainville bears the burden of the capital city’ constraints and issues, and its development is not always taking its own specificities into account :
« Sur un parcellaire agricole, encore structurant du territoire, sont venus se juxtaposer dès les années vingt les «techniques» urbaines succesives. Logiques spéculatives, urgences de relogement, spacialisation économique régionale et globales sont les arguments principaux d’une composition en patchwork où l’articulation des fonctions ainsi que la pleine optimisation du territoire reste à faire. L’usage du territoire de la commune est paradoxal. Traversé, survolée, de flux qui n’y arrètent guére, il est également l’objet d’une dynamique pendulaire qui l’organise selon des zones diurnes (activités) et des zones nocturnes (habitat) bien distinctes. L’héritage et la persistance de l’agriculture, soutenue par la contrainte du PEB, ont preservé le maintien d’une trame verte et bleue, véritable atout à l’échelle périurbaine.
Goussainville, today, could be considered as a “martyr” city, victim of uncontrolled urbanization and “wild” industrialization. Once a rural village in a quiet countryside, Goussainville has been repeatedly wounded and blighted through the emergence on its territory of massive public transportation infrastructures. The opening of Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport in 1974 struck a first blow at Goussainville, which left definitive scars by freezing any potential urban development scheme, thanks to the constraints of a PEB (plan d’exposition au bruit – noise exposure plan). This PEB is actually forbidding any increase of the local population and hence encouraging a massive increase in industrial development. In the wake of the airport construction, the building of large motorways and railways networks, has eventually imprisoned Goussainville in a cloud of noise and pollution.
As far as the future is concerned, one may imagine that in some years from now, some say 60 years but nobody really knows, thanks to the evolutions of technology stimulated by the progressive exhaustion of fossil fuels, airplanes as we know them will have been replaced by different machines with new means of propulsion, producing limited amounts of noise and pollution. Hence, Goussainville will be freed from the constraints impinged upon its populations by the proximity of Roissy.
We thus foresee that the urban development of Goussainville will follow three phases. Fifteen years from now, industrial development around Goussainville, in accordance with the PEB. Sixteen years from now, the cancelation of the PEB will trigger a massive urbanization, re-population, of the Goussainville towns. Then, what can be done to protect this site, not devoid of architectural appeal, from uncontrolled urban expansion and real-estate pressure?
PEEPING TROUGH THE SURFACE - THE OBSERVATORY
The public gazing space spreads below the surface of the reserve in the form of basin echoing the relief of the surface above. A thick layer of earth isolates the visitors from the sounds of planes and offers the obscurity required to serenely gaze out on the skies and growing nature. A series of light tunnels, like the periscopes of a giant submarine emerging from each of the hollow buildings of the project area, takes the eyes of the visitors across the earth surface to observe plants, birds, planes, clouds and stars. The existing houses of the site will be enhanced so that they do not collapse. Penetrated around the clock and across the years by celestial light (sun, moon, stars), the observatory offers an environment detached from time, where to take a step back from the world and reflect on ourselves and the future of cities.
Like many other suburban territories of Paris, the development of Goussainville is subject to the problematics of the capital city, which doesn’t always take the specificities of the town into account.
Through this project, we want to give to the city the opportunity to adapt itself even decades from now, by creating a buffer zone allowing space and time for environmental preservation and reflection, away from the pressures of real estate and urban expansion. However, the purpose of the observatory and its wall isn’t to segregate the site. Playfully using natural light, relief and even the sounds of the its environment, ‘The Present’ is a public space for people to gather and formulate together the future of their site.
A WALL OF SPECULATION - THE ARCHIVE
One of the major obstacles to the re-invention of our relationship with the environment is the contrast between the span of a human life and the global time scale. The process through which alternative energy sources, waste management solutions, new means of transportation, ways of producing food, ideas for the preservation of biodiversity, requires for a plan to be executed across several generations of people.
The observatory is a platform for intergenerational collaboration where people work towards a common objective: to decide on the future of the nature sanctuary once the walls will be felled after having eroded for 150 years later.
For the conversation to take place across 150 years, members of the public need to be able to archive and visit their thoughts at the observatory. They take the form of words, drawings and diagrams. To make sure these reflections survive and remain accessible through time, they are inscribed both digitally in the observatory’s digital archive and materially, onto the wall, with the help of ‘scribes’ : sculptors employed by the observatory, wall-climbing engraving devices, and what the evolution of technology and society may require to implement.
After 150 years, the wall will be destroyed by erosion.
Urban planners and inhabitants will decide what the site will become.
It can be envisioned in various ways:
- The long-term project built during all these years can be implemented.
- The site can be evolving gradually according to needs of use.
- The site can be preserved and protected as a memory.
- The project can be renewed here or elsewhere. Whatever the outcome of this experience is, it will bring interesting results. It will illustrate the importance of landscape and patrimony through a multi-generation project. During the closing of the site, urban planners and inhabitants will have a reflexion about the issue of the project. The idea is also to build a common project, with all the actors concerned. The main hypothesis is that in decades, motors airplanes will disappear and Goussainville will have a sustained space of urbanization with housings and activities. THE FUTURE The purpose of ‘The Present’ is thus to produce a frame for the public to actively shape the future of their city, preserved from the forces traditionally at work in urban expansion. ‘The Present’ isn’t only a gift for future generations, it is an opportunity for all generations to meet in the present and work together on the future of their habitat.