In a street in a residential district of Montreuil, in the inner suburbs of Paris, work is progressing on new premises for Ciguë (without capitals)… In this mini-phalanstery, the four associated architects, Alphonse Swarthout, Julien Franc Wahlgreen, Guillem Renard, and Camille Bénard, imagined setting up offices, a workshop, a restaurant, and even evoking the creation of a private school. “Some of us are teachers in schools of architecture,” says Alphonse Swarthout, founding member of the agency.
A rather mixed experience that made them want to set up their own training. “Transmission and dialogue are at the heart of our activity”, specifies Guillem Renard, who started on the benches of the school of architecture of Paris-La Villette in 2003. Very quickly, when there were six At the time, their architect-craftsman approach, manufacturing everything themselves, and their rough, low tech, frugal, and yet terribly desirable style, attracted the biggest brands.
The Merci concept store, but above all the designer Isabel Marant and Aesop cosmetics entrusted them with the creation of a series of boutiques around the world. “From the beginning, we went through exercises, and methods, to reach consensus in our decisions, to avoid getting lost… But we also quickly realized that the collective was a strength: organizing knowledge between us and within of our agency allows us to better share it with our clients”, explains Alphonse Swarthout.
Today, apart from the founding quartet, the agency has about twenty employees. “We go outdoors together regularly and, every three weeks, we take two or three hours out of our working time to discuss methodology. Our latest workshops to date: “how to communicate around a project before the sketch”, or “how to sharpen our communication tools”… It is essential so that the hemlock spirit does not wither over the years and employees who come and go,” says Guillem Renard.
But, beyond the academic transmission between peers, hemlock also endeavors to share its values through certain subjects. Thus their research on plaster concrete in construction which gave rise to an installation presented on February 5 at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, a Parisian museum dedicated to architecture and urban planning. “We became interested in this material as part of a call for projects so that this process could be distributed in free access. Our idea was to pass on knowledge linked to an available material that had been neglected until then,” explains Alphonse Swarthout.