Crossed perspectives on research within the Arte Charpentier agency. The six managers met to discuss: research definition, strategy and societal interests.

How is research defined?

Ours is a creative job, so we all feel like we’re doing research all the time. But just because we’re making projects, it doesn’t mean we’re thinking and looking. That is the difference between research and scientific research. Scientific research is extremely demanding, methodical, very thorough, and requires time and freedom. This is quite the opposite of our day-to-day job, where we are always in a hurry, working on specific projects, with commissions, with customers. It is necessary to define a protocol, a state of the art and a methodology that people can follow and reproduce. So the goal is to produce scientific knowledge that can be useful to others. In a nutshell, this research work is based on the questions that come up in the project but cannot be solved by the project.

Are design professionals (architects, urban planners, landscapers, interior architects) well placed to do research?

They are at the centre of gravity of the changes taking place on the heritage, environmental, economic and societal levels. They bear witness to our times and all the more so today, when social and ecological challenges are at the heart of our concerns. All designers are informed by the world around them, by means of their multidisciplinary approach that combines history, sociology, philosophy, technique, experimentation. All of that is really at the heart of what we do.

By nature, architects do not have the training and culture of research. Architects are there to solve problems, not to ask fundamental questions of scientists or about societal subjects. That said, architects are curious people who also have a taste for working in a transversal way. Architects are generalists, they have a knowledge base that spans a number of fields and they rarely delve into a topic as researchers can. I think that this curious nature can transform architects who have never done research into more or less competent researchers, provided they are given the means to do so.

Why do research at Arte Charpentier?

As architects, we are part of a regulated profession, a profession that has codes of practice and ethics. So the DNA of this profession does not encourage us to think outside the box, to take risks. Nevertheless, despite this context, the profession has always been interested in research in multiple fields. And there is so much to do… On new materials, new uses, the evolution of morals, ageing populations, artificial intelligence, climate change… so many subjects that must be assimilated by our professions before finding the right application. It is necessary to invest time in research to find answers to new questions.

Yes, there are very pronounced developments that require anticipating future problems and anticipating the original solutions that we will have to implement. To do so, it is obviously very important to develop research. This research must be done with partners: contracting authorities, industrial partners, developers. Doing research is preparing for the future.

In an agency like ours, research reinforces a multidisciplinary culture and creates bridges between the different professions. Research can become the backbone of the work we do.

It also allows us to initiate a form of creativity linked to new concepts. And this creativity must then be transcribed in our projects. This research concerns everyone, at all levels of the agency, because it also involves planning, trying to improve, finding new ideas for our professions.

The agency has existed and been renewed for more than 50 years. Effectively, this is thanks to a long tradition of research supported by an open state of mind, a willingness to call our certainties into question. For us, the research approach maintains a careful vigilance and also promotes the capitalisation of our knowledge. This can even sometimes be critical, if necessary … Otherwise there is a risk of trivialising the agency’s production. There is also the idea of gaining a key competitive advantage in these areas and boosting access to future commissions.

Yes, research makes it possible to develop innovation and to bring together all the professions that make up the sphere of architecture, both in terms of construction and of living environments. That’s why I think that architects are well placed to do research. Research in our professions brings visibility, and it enables us to develop a pool of innovative solutions.

Our size allows us to act as an incubator for young talent and to attract them to the agency to enable them to pursue research on topics that concern us.