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Architects: Stop making France ugly

France is becoming ugly, says the head of its architects’ profession, the Conseil National de l’Ordre des Archi­tectes.

Catherine Jacquot pointed the finger at several key urban design sins including:

  • ugly roundabouts leading to hideous commercial zones
  • soulless suburban housing estates: horrible to live in but also damaging the tourist industry.
  • the growth of badly-designed, out-of- town shopping malls and “grands surfaces” supermarkets with poor public transport
  • the increasing desertification of high streets and town centres.

The problem is not new. Last year former minister Jack Lang published a booklet on the visual horrors disfiguring France. He told Connexion he wanted fewer advertising hoardings outside provincial towns.

Now a new law contains proposals telling builders and planners to do better and improve the look of suburban France. It is being voted on in coming months.

Catherine Jacquot said only 30% of new buildings are designed by an architect: “In many cases – for urban improvement schemes and houses under 150m2 – there is no legal requirement to use an architect.”

The result is historic centres are often beautiful but the outskirts of cities and towns across France are an eyesore.

No architect can also mean shoddy housing, built for profit, giving “hideously ugly buildings, that have construction problems; that don’t meet building requirements, and that are not energy-efficient.”

An architect could produce aesthetically pleasing, higher-quality homes at the same price – but too many developers only saw architects as eating into the profit margin.

She said the 26,000 mayors of communes of fewer than 1,000 inhabitants control town planning but “often have no training in architecture, town planning or ecology.

“Town planning, particularly if designating development zones, should involve architects too, so problems can be avoided before building begins.”

A growing population means increasing housing density with isolated houses no longer sustainable; but instead of estates of identical boxes, architect designs reference traditional styles, maintaining region­al identity, and made to be convenient to live in. She added: “Some off-the peg designs don’t even have daylight in the kitchen.”

Another answer could be semi-detached houses, or mixed usage shops, offices and homes. “This gives services beside people’s homes, avoiding unnecessary journeys and all saving energy and avoiding pollution.”

The Ordre des Architectes says small communes should work together on local planning guidelines, so one architect could advise and help draw up sustainable regulations aimed at keeping standards high.

Ms Jacquot also wants more accent on artistic and creative subjects in schools: “People have limited architectural appreciation. It’s not taught, so people don’t have aesthetic discrimination as a reflex. But architecture is everyone’s business.

“We all live with it, it forms our world, but only when the general public has this understanding, will they demand higher quality architecture.”

It also influences our lifestyle. If a public space is forbidding, people are less likely to spend time there. If a housing estate is too far from the town centre, families buy a second car and if insulation is poor people will turn up the heating.

“Architecture controls our behaviour, and we need good urban architecture to encourage us to live together in harmony.”

Finally, architects need not be expensive, she said. “An architect can save money by avoiding expensive problems, by creating a better, higher-quality house for the same price. Plus, all the plans, survey and paperwork on a 100m2 house at €150,000, could cost as little as 3% of the building cost.”

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