Yves Moreau of Muoto talks about architecture

Interview —

Within the framework of the lecture series ‘TALKS about architecture’, on 28 November the French architect Yves Moreau of Muoto will speak about their projects. Archined asked Yves and his partner Gilles Delalex five questions. The lecture is sold out.

the desks of Yves and Gilles

Which day and time did you make this photograph? The 25th of November 2019, around lunchtime when the office was empty and quiet! 1 Whose chair is this? Gilles’s chair. 2 Whose chair is this?  Yves’s chair.  3 What does the drawing represent? These drawings are sketches for a church competition the studio is working on at the moment in Belgium. It’s an interesting subject: how do you make a sacred space? 4 What are you editing? The studio will be hosting for three years an architect preparing a doctoral thesis on cinema and railway infrastructure in the 1960s and 1970s. These are edits on the research subject. 5 Why have more than one copy of a publication? These are the magazines, catalogues and books we have been published in, and they sometimes send us more than one copy. The number 5 bullet, for instance, is an exhibition catalogue for an award for young architects we received in 2008 from the Ministry of Culture. 6 What is this? Some archaic piece of computer hardware.  7 What is hanging in the tree? I’ve absolutely no idea how a small fox with a Santa Claus managed to climb up our office tree!

What is architecture?
This is a too vast question for today. Sorry.

Why did you name your office ‘form’?
Muoto means form in Finnish, but also organization, face, figure, etc. It has a very broad meaning. The term is often used in compound words related to design. A little bit like ‘scape’ in English. When we started working together, we were mainly involved in making art installations, 3D models and videos than in architecture itself. We chose this name at the very beginning of our collaboration because of this broadness, since we had no predetermined theoretical agenda. We wanted our little structure to remain open to subjects of study and collaboration.

In the G2 monograph about Muoto’s work, you wrote that you consider the English author J.G. Ballard like family. What do you mean by ‘consider as family’? And how does his work reflect in yours?
When Ballard shifted from the usual sci-fi to super realistic sci-fi in the mid 1970s, he started questioning the fate of modernity. His question, as we understand it, was: what will happen if we continue developing without the spirit of modernity? What is going to happen if modernization continues, and we don’t believe in it anymore? For Ballard, it was a catastrophic perspective. Yet Ballard’s apocalyptic landscape possesses a certain appeal. So his position was very ambivalent. We think we have the same ambivalent feeling towards modernity today. It’s in the past but it’s still there. It’s ugly and it’s beautiful. It makes us feel nostalgic about a moment of history we haven’t known ourselves, and that didn’t even allow nostalgia. It led to terrible catastrophes, and yet provided the hope that is so missing today.

Ballard was not a critic of modernity, but a defender. He warned us: don’t forget your dreams! And if you don’t like modern infrastructure and buildings, change yourself. Not them. It is not because you’ve lost your dreams that you should destroy everything that reminds you of them. We feel very close to that idea, and we’d love to live in Ballard’s landscape. In these terrible worlds, at least something new can happen. That’s what he meant. Just read his interviews. He’s explicit about it. He also wonders why architects have always excelled in architectures of death. Why such architectures are more appealing than ecological districts. Who wants to live in an ‘eco-quartier’ today? We believe that in our western world, boredom kills more than wars and nuclear plants do. Boredom is the real danger. That’s Ballard’s message.

the office of Muoto

The way one represents one’s own work through photography says something about the design philosophy of an office. What do you want to communicate with photos? Which story do you want to tell?
If you are talking about the photos of gas stations in G2, they are an extract from our doctorate thesis on European motorways, published in 2006. The idea was to show that the motorway was turning into a city where many social practices still take place today, more than in gentrified city centres at least. Motorways are very Ballardian in that sense. They suggest that change often happens in places that people hate most.

In G2 you state ‘The crisis is our chance’. Which crisis are you referring to, and to which changes that wouldn’t otherwise be possible?
We were actually paraphrasing French sociologist Bruno Latour. He was commenting about economic and ecological crises in some Western countries, such as France. Throughout history, crises have always been moments of change, and such moments of change have often been moments of creation too. We often look at change, when it happens, as a dark situation. But if we step back a little bit, we may see it as a chance. There are so many apocalyptic discourses at the moment that tell you how to act and how to think, and make you feel responsible for participating in the destruction of the world. Particularly when you’re an architect. Today’s atmosphere is very pessimistic. And it’s a dark pessimism. We would say that in this context, we are joyful pessimists, since the problem for us is not so much crises, but the general feeling about crises. You know, there is a difference between decay and decadence. Decadence refers to a state of society when discourses complaining about decay dominate. We think we are in a moment of decadence more than decay. A bit like Europe in the late 19th century with the art of ‘fin-de-siècle’. If this is true, there is still hope. The situation may not change, but we will.

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