In October 2019, on the National Days of Architecture, the Academy of Architecture announced the winning work of its 25th edition of the Book Prize, and the 1st winner of the Book Prize for young people. The Academy Book Prize is annual, and rewards quality architectural works published the previous year, from May to May.
The distinction was created in 1994 by the Academy of Architecture, on an idea by Catherine Seyler and by Gérard Granval, who chaired the institution until 2018. In reaction to the observation that architectural culture is too little known in France despite the attempts to raise awareness deployed by cultural institutions, the mission of this award is to publicize architecture by presenting works of the discipline, whatever the nature of the writing proposed: “The objective of the Book Prize architecture is to enhance any form of architectural culture, whether scholarly, fictional, critical, sensitive or literary, or even committed to the major causes of architectural and urban space ”(1).
The book is therefore considered to be the favored means of provoking interest, a desire for architecture, at all ages. Through the implementation of the Children’s Book Prize, awareness is now spreading to the youth. Varied profiles are invited to participate. Judging by this one condition, that the prize-winning text offers a new perspective on the discipline or that it contributes to it … and that it is of quality, we begin to imagine that the criteria of the competition and the jury reports are likely to inform an understanding of the nature of quality writing in architecture, and even of its possible literary nature (2).
While the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) Architecture Book Award is based each year on the book’s design, the quality of its materials and its finish, as well as its level of innovation to pass judgment (see our post), the Academy Book Award risks defining quality in architectural writing. The first criterion would consist in “distinguishing a work carrying momentum, a question, a knowledge, a writing carrying meaning with regard to architecture, vis-à-vis history as vis-à-vis visuality” (3).
On this same note on the Architecture Book Awards, the organization is quick to add other criteria, deemed more precise: the theme and the work of the author are valued, although some exceptions may be identified. The writing must be clear, accessible and rigorous. The work must interest a large audience and be easily transmitted. The edition – or the argument of the collection of the work – must be of quality, and its reading must be comfortable. Finally, the criterion relating to the Children’s Book is located at the end of the same list, and relates to the quality of the illustrations, graphics and model (4).
The jury is made up each year of a dozen members from various backgrounds. The 2019 edition brought together 13 personalities. The deliberations took place on October 7, outside the premises of the Academy, at Centre d’architecture et d’urbanisme de Lille. This trip, during a judgment session, was an opportunity for the various players on the architectural scene to meet. The Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs, the City of Lille, the National Schools of Architecture, the Councils of Architecture, Urbanism and the Environment, the City Workshop, Architecture, Landscape, as well as the corresponding architects of the Academy of Architecture in Hauts de France were thus able to participate in decision-making.
The two Academy prizes were awarded by the Minister of Culture, in the presence of the President of the Academy of Architecture, on October 18, 2019 at the la Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine de Paris. The Architecture Award for Youth received 73 proposals for its first component. Note that all the publishers represented were French, and that the theme of the world was particularly represented (the word appears in 3 titles nominated out of 5). Habiter le monde (Éditions de La Martinière) by Anne Jonas and Lou Rihn was the book which won the prize for the illustrations presented, as well as “for the intelligence of his texts adapted to youth, clear and instructive. and connecting architecture and cities around the world to the diversity of their cultures” (5).
Note that a special Prize was awarded by the jury to Benjamin Mouton for Sens et Renaissance du patrimoine architectural (Éditions des Cendres, Cité de architecture et du Patrimoine – organization and place of the awarding of the prize), welcoming “a business that we would like to teach: the publication of thirty years of teaching on heritage ”(6). The only Book Prize awarded to Rococo (Éditions Non-Standard) by François Chaslin because of its “literary, original and humorous form” which “paints a portrait of his through his personal prism media environment that ignited around Le Corbusier” (7).
The appraisement by a jury of excellence awards of the literary character of an architectural text does not however guarantee that a book having received an award in architectural literature could receive a literary award. Architectural writing has an ambiguous status, as Emmanuel Rubio and Yannis Tsiomis point out in the introduction to the book L’architecte à la plume: “(…) falling under too much specialization for them, escaping too often for those … Perhaps this ambiguity is due to its very origin. In a way, the architect’s writing always occupies a secondary place: very often it accompanies the building, the image; at the very least, it seems to find its legitimacy in this other activity – founding – which precedes and exceeds it” (8). This writing which includes architecture, to paraphrase our two authors, would it not come from a textuality of architecture – in comparison with the materiality of architecture – rather than from a form of literature?
Translated by Jade Swail
(1) See http://academie-architecture.fr/prix-du-livre-darchitecyre-et-du-livre-pour-la-jeunesse-2019/, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019 : « Il s’agit de faire rayonner, par la lecture, la culture architecturale qui manque encore fortement en France. Il faut bien sûr saluer le développement des actions remarquables de sensibilisation (publications, expositions, films, reportages, etc) conduites par les institutions, publiques ou privées, dont c’est la mission, ainsi que les progrès de la connaissance apportés par la recherche. Mais il faut poursuivre l’effort et rendre la valeur et la nécessité de l’architecture plus visibles pour les citoyens, susciter l’envie d’architecture des citoyens ».
(2) See http://academie-architecture.fr/prix-du-livre-darchitecyre-et-du-livre-pour-la-jeunesse-2019/, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019
(3) See http://academie-architecture.fr/prix-du-livre-darchitecyre-et-du-livre-pour-la-jeunesse-2019/, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019 : « Tous les types de regards sont appréciés, sans aucun ostracisme pourvu que l’écrit primé apporte un éclairage particulier ou des connaissances sur l’architecture et qu’il soit de qualité »
(4) See http://academie-architecture.fr/prix-du-livre-darchitecyre-et-du-livre-pour-la-jeunesse-2019/, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019 :
« – On s’attache en premier lieu au thème et on privilégie un travail d’auteur, même si des ouvrages savants issus de travaux d’équipe ont parfois été primés.
– L’écriture doit être claire, accessible et rigoureuse.
– On attend que l’ouvrage ait un pouvoir de transmission ou de conviction et puisse intéresser un large public.
– On est attentif à la qualité de l’édition, le cas échéant à l’argument de la collection, sans oublier les qualités de confort de lecture.
– Pour le Livre pour la jeunesse, la qualité des illustrations, graphisme et maquette. »
(5) See http://academie-architecture.fr/prix-du-livre-darchitecyre-et-du-livre-pour-la-jeunesse-2019/, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.3/5), consulted on October 31st 2019
(6) See http://academie-architecture.fr/prix-du-livre-darchitecyre-et-du-livre-pour-la-jeunesse-2019/, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.4/5), consulted on October 31st 2019
(7) See http://academie-architecture.fr/prix-du-livre-darchitecyre-et-du-livre-pour-la-jeunesse-2019/, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.4/5), consulted on October 31st 2019
(8) See Rubio, Emmanuel et Tsiomis, Yannis, L’architecte à la plume, Éditions de La Villette, Paris, 2019, p.5