Architecture and design – Interview with Manuelle Gautrand “The means in the automobile are extraordinary”

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MANUELLE GAUTRAND ARCHITECTURE was chosen for the Citroën C42 building project, which was inaugurated in 2007 (see the post devoted to the past, present and future of this building located at 42 des Champs Élysées here: We took advantage of the interview with Manuelle Gautrand to talk about the few bridges that exist between the worlds of architecture and automotive design.

Photo Studio_Gaudin-Ramet for “made in Marseille” :

*Manuelle Gautrand co-founded the architectural firm MANUELLE GAUTRAND ARCHITECTURE in 1991 (of which she is the principal architect) with Marc Blaising, her partner and the firm’s Managing Director. The team consists of more than 20 architects. Visit the official website to discover her projects and achievements:

LIGNES/auto : So what are the bridges between the world of automotive design and architecture?
Manuelle Gautrand: “There are many links between architecture and a certain number of industries, such as aeronautics or the automobile industry. There is this ability to draw, to see in space the objects that surround us. This applies to large buildings as much as to cars. There is an art form that is full of engineering, but also full of sensitivity.”

Architecture and the automobile, eternal bridges, as here with Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and the Avions-Voisin C14. Photo by Xavier de Nombel. Read more about this Villa and this Voisin in issue #05 of LIGNES/auto (

And you, have you ever been tempted to design cars like Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) for example?
“No, it didn’t occur to me. But when I was selected for the competition for the C42, I immersed myself a lot in car design, and of course Citroën’s design. I admit that design in industry has a bluffing side compared to architecture, because it feels more perfect!”

Automobile project designed by the architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)

“There are developments in the areas of materials or functionality that require intensive research. I was fascinated when I worked with them, including in the design department, because I discovered another world. It was very enriching, including for me to design the C42 project.”

Are the resources comparable between these two worlds?
“No, I discovered with the car industry a world that has more resources than architecture. I’m talking about financial resources, of course. At the design stage, there are very important teams that carry out advanced research in fields as varied as new materials and technology and, at the societal level, they carry out advanced research on society and the life of tomorrow…”

Social surveys and product tests are numerous for manufacturers, like here a clinic test for a future Renault © Apolline Cornuet

For a point of reference, how many people were at the agency on the C42 project?
“We were five or six people in the development phases. Proportionally, we have a lot less resources, but that’s not necessarily a disadvantage because you learn to work very concisely.”

The difference between the work of the architect and that of the car designer is that the product rendered in architecture is static, always living in the same context, whereas that of the car is dynamic…
“That’s the big difference, because we don’t have this mobility. But I see this as an advantage. Architecture is rooted in the ground, and I like this notion of rootedness.”

Project by the MANUELLE GAUTRAND ARCHITECTURE agency which competed for the François Pinault Foundation on the Ile Seguin, former Renault factory.

The designer designs a dynamic object, you design buildings that are like trees, planted (almost) for life!
“I really like your image, this parallel with trees. Yes, our projects are rooted and have this protective aspect. Even if the environment of a building can change, the project still has a certain durability. This anchoring is something I like a lot in architecture.”

Architecture takes root like a tree, but the tree can also be part of the architecture, as in the case of Manuelle Gautrand’s project for 140 housing units on two blocks – Quartier Bizet in Villejuif – during the “Inventons la Métropole du Grand Paris 1” competition.

Another bridge between the two worlds concerns recycled materials…
“Yes, absolutely. It is in this field that we realise that the resources in the automobile industry are extraordinary. They can carry out very advanced research on the materials of tomorrow. There are also more means put in place for the real industrial development of these materials, and I find that on this aspect, we are behind in architecture.”

Designing the automobile with recycled materials is a strong theme in future automotive design. Here, the Circular prototype from BMW.

Does an agency like yours subcontract this type of work?
“We invest in this area at the agency. And we design projects using recycled materials. We are not alone in this work, but we remain a source of proposals, while relying on specialised engineering firms that are able to test the bearing capacity and chemical durability of these recycled or new materials.”

The Alesia cinema in Paris for which Manuelle Gautrand won The Chicago Athenaeum international prize in 2017, Europe’s highest architecture award. Luc Boegly and Guillaume Guérin

The car of the future will involve a proliferation of electric cars. Are architects obliged to integrate charging areas, whether in individual houses or collective buildings?
“There are beginning to be constraints, but at the agency, when there is a request for a car park, we think from the outset about spaces dedicated to recharging, it seems so obvious to us. But the strong trend is that we are designing more and more projects without any parking.”

Competition in 2011 for a project to transform the Citroën garage into a hotel, retail, offices and restaurant in Lyon. Project not completed.

No parking?
“Yes, and that’s positive! It so happens that historically at the agency, we work on projects in urban hyper-centres, in Paris or elsewhere. I think that in this type of place, keeping underground car parks is not the solution, whereas more and more, we are moving towards soft mobility. And in the economy of a project, this notion of parking weighs heavily! In concrete terms, many projects are being carried out without parking. We have even just won a competition for 2022 to reinvent a former Citroën garage that we are going to restructure with housing, and for which there is no underground car park… “

LIGNES/auto is not only a website, it is also a quarterly dedicated to design: so a nod to our colleagues at Le Monde Group who could have worked on this project by Manuelle Gautrand that was not selected in a competition in 2014.

Discover our quarterly bilingual publications on automotive design and our automotive columns on our e-commerce site:

Let’s get out of the underground and discover a lot of colours in your projects. It’s surprising, when the car industry could play with colours but only offers us grey or black…
“No, it’s not surprising. However, I don’t do it in every project. In fact, the most striking programmes are the most colourful, but if we go back to the C42, we have created a fairly neutral building in terms of its façade. Every time we use colour, it’s for very specific reasons.”

Hotels with restaurant, currently under construction at Roissy airport.

“With our project at Roissy (above and below), we are on the site of the airport with an architecture that has a beautiful history, quite brutal with its concrete buildings. These are often projects that are beautifully written, but in the end they have a kind of austerity about them. So when we were asked to design this double hotel, we thought about making it welcoming and expressing a form of hospitality.”

“We therefore departed from the surrounding style, with a project consisting of two volumes facing each other: while the exterior facades remain in a discreet chromatic palette, the two interior facades are, on the contrary, very colourful, to mark the hotel’s entrances. We wanted to give this cheerful spirit because in the end, sleeping in an airport is not necessarily very pleasant. An airport is a place where you have a distant view, with great perspectives. We wanted you to see this radiance. Colour is always used to express a particular function, or to awaken a site that needs it. In fact, you need both. Otherwise, you don’t use colour.”

Project in 2005 for mixed-use buildings: housing, shops and offices in Lille

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Architecture et design - Interview Manuelle Gautrand « Les moyens dans l’automobile sont extraordinaires »

L’agence MANUELLE GAUTRAND ARCHITECTURE a été retenue pour le projet du bâtiment C42 de Citroën qui a été inauguré en 2007 (voir le post consacré au passé, présent et futur de ce bâtiment situé au 42 des Champs Élysées ici : Nous avons profité de l’interview avec Manuelle Gautrand […]

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