“The public market guarantees architectural quality” (Urbane Kultur)

Simple and ecological architecture is what the creators of the Strasbourg agency Urbane Kultur, Philippe Dahan and Dominique Cornaert, preach. The latter met in the 1990s within the famous agency Architeacturestudio, where they participated in the design of the Louise-Weiss building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Their firm was founded in 1999. Since then, the two men have been targeting the public market and work regularly on projects of swimming pools, especially Sunflower. Philippe Dahan agreed to answer our questions.

Batiactu: How is your agency doing and what is your view of the market?

Philippe Dahan:So far, so good“, as a character from the film would say Hatred (1995). We were lucky during the period of Covid-19 because we were working on an important project in the study phase. The two months of confinement allowed me to focus on the design of the building and its details. This phase was billed, which helped the agency stay financially healthy. Currently, seven projects are under study.

As for the market, I see an explosion of public order lately. We presented more competitions last year than usual. Despite this dynamism, I am worried about the current situation. Inflation and the recent materials crisis mean that no one knows how much a building costs. Project leaders estimate budgets but the prices of materials are no longer the same at the time of implementation. For example, we are conducting a study on a public facility near Strasbourg, the budget of which is estimated at three million euros. But if material prices continue to rise and the budget is revised upwards, the project may eventually be pushed back or cancelled. We are also working on a major timber frame project, but the price of timber varies each week, between 900 and 1,800 euros per m3. This situation is very worrying for architectural firms and for public procurement. I am concerned for our agency, which mainly works with small communities. What will we do if we can no longer build the projects that are under study?

“Let’s move to a degrowth model.”

What is your vision of architecture today?

The real question is how to include architecture in the challenges of society, first and foremost environmental concerns? We professionals need to change the paradigm. Let’s turn away from the ultra-liberal model that won the war of the 20th century, and move on to a model of degrowth, of frugality.

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