[Automatic translation by Deepl]

Geoarchitecture: a strange name?

The term Geoarchitecture (in one word) was "invented" in the United States to designate the great landscape transformations of the 1930's, around large development projects and in particular dams (the Tennessee Valley Authority, in particular). For the more curious, a complete history is provided at the end of the page.

The Brest Institute wished to closely associate reflection on the built environment with a sustained attention to natural spaces. It was founded around a double concern:
the impact of development on the environment, an issue that was still in its infancy in the 1970s;
engineering at the service of territories: the University was then chaired by Julien Querré, also mayor of Le Relecq-Kerhuon, who was very attentive to this commitment.

Professional training and a laboratory

The Maîtrise de Sciences et Techniques, founded in 1976, was designed to promote the professional integration of graduates. Since 2004, it has evolved into a 3rd year of a Bachelor's degree followed by two years of a Master’s degree which have maintained this orientation, with in particular a 2nd year of the Master's degree almost entirely taught by professionals.
The job opportunities have always been there, as shown by all the independent surveys regularly conducted by the university and the Collectif national des jeunes urbanistes (CNJU).

Since 2008, the Institute has built a work-study professional degree dedicated to the building trades, in partnership with the Dupuy-de-Lôme high school. Now called Eco-responsible Design and Renovation of Buildings (CREB), it is designed as a specialization in the various trades involved in the energy and ecological transition of the building industry.

Initially small, the number of students has reached a cruising level of 110 for the three years of training in urban planning, development, and environmental issues, which are always very present. In addition to a dozen tenured professors, more than 80 professionals of all specialties contribute to a training program that is recognized as one of the main French urban planning institutes. The Master's degree is accredited by the Association for the Promotion of Teaching and Research in Urban Planning (Aperau) and is a member of the Association of European Schools of Planning (Aesop).

A research laboratory

Founded in 1982, the Geoarchitecture laboratory now has 25 researchers spread throughout western Brittany, and combines many specialties, from ecology to the history of urban planning, through economics or geography. The laboratory is involved in numerous programs on topics as varied as metropolitan dynamics, the complex relationships between cities and peri-urban spaces, transitions in urbanized environments, teaching in schools of architecture, work on rhythms and practices at night in the context of a university chair, the relationships between cities, well-being and health, and coastal ecosystems.
The laboratory is also involved in many of the actions of the SEA-EU consortium of European universities.

The territory on all fronts

From this solid academic base, to which the courses and tutorials are attached, the geoarchitects' schooling covers all terrains: their dissertations must deal with a territory or a concrete problem, and the Master's program includes two "professional workshops" on behalf of a municipality, an urban planning operator, or a consulting firm: in a real situation (the principle is inspired by "junior companies"), the result of the work must reach the level of a professional.

Since the creation of the Institute, many municipalities in Brittany have supported the training program, which has built up the expertise of nearly 1,500 diploma holders with them. Their network is animated by an association, the Carré géoarchi, which invites them every five years for a day of forum in addition to the annual forum of the professions of territorial engineering.

The name "Geoarchitecture": the whole story

Excerpt from L’Architecture en ses écoles : Une encyclopédie au XXe siècle, éd. Locus Solus, 2022.

At the suggestion of two architects then teaching at the School of Architecture in Rennes (Bernard Boclé and Louis Beaupré) a department of Geoarchitecture was created in Brest in 1974, within the University of Western Brittany (UBO). At first, it proposed only an institutional diploma, but two years later, with a new management, the accreditation of a Master of Science and Technology of the same name was obtained: Geoarchitecture thus appeared in the nomenclature of national diplomas. The initial promoters of the project claimed to be Thomas Munro, founder of the American Society of Aesthetics, who in 1949 had devoted a chapter to geo-architecture in The arts and their interrelations, translated into French in 1954. Based on the example of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), he saw it as the art of combining the different scientific and artistic disciplines in order to make the most of the environmental and social possibilities of a land, a city or a region. In fact, the word seems to have been first used by geomorphologists dealing with the great landscape; it would have been taken up by planners working on the vast TVA program. Its first occurrence in the literature is in an article by the German-American art historian Wolfgang Born, who used it in Magazine of art in January 1944 to discuss Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater villa and its relationship to the surrounding nature.

Twenty months later, Le Corbusier used it twice in The Three Human Settlements: "The study of these three kinds of settlements," he wrote, "will allow us to advance towards certainties. The occupation of the ground will be able to be reconsidered, which means properly: to order the space, to make human geography and geo-architecture, terms which appeared little by little in these times, in serious memoirs, in reports and studies". Le Corbusier did not cite the documents on which he relied, but he had long been interested in the development of the TVA, which he would visit a few weeks later with Eugène Claudius-Petit. He knew the latest developments, notably through the intermediary of the Centre d'études et de recherches en urbanisme (CERU), set up within the young CNRS, where Pierre-André Émery, André Sive, Marcel Roux, François Bienvenu and Jean de Maisonseul were active, who considered the development of the Tennessee Valley to be the best example of what the new times were calling for.
From then on, the word flourished, more precisely theorized by Carl C. Condit in 1947 and Thomas Munro in 1949, then taken up or borrowed by biologists (Alfred Gundersen, 1950), geologists (Andreas Hoppe), archaeologists, etc.

The Institute of Geoarchitecture in Brest, located in the Faculty of Science and Technology of the UBO, is characterized by a broad interdisciplinarity; its programs mobilize almost all the disciplines involved in planning, but also in environmental management, of which it was a pioneer, which immediately earned it national recruitment. The built environment and architecture (history and current events, doctrines and theories) occupy an important place. Moreover, the pedagogy borrows from the traditional forms of architectural education. Thus, workshop work is favored and the organization of a significant part of the activities (the management of contracts supporting the projects and the organization of study trips, in particular) is assumed by an association reminiscent in many respects of the “masses” in the past at the ENSBA and in the regional schools. The Institute of Geoarchitecture, which has been run by architects since 1976, offers a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, while the research laboratory "Geoarchitecture: Territories, Urbanization, Biodiversity, Environment", created in 1982 and to which it is attached, welcomes doctoral students: the total number of students is 120.
The Brest-based training program retains the exclusive right to use this name in France, but it has been used in many other countries: in 1998, Paolo Portoghesi (founder of the journal Abitare la Terra: Rivista di geoarchitettura) was the promoter of it in Rome, within the faculty of architecture Valle Giulia of La Sapienza; Hashim A. Sarkis glossed it from 2012 at Harvard University graduate school of design and Fang Wang popularizes it at the College of architecture and landscape of Peking University. In addition, its use in various very active blogs cannot be overlooked, including that of Lindsay Bremner, professor at the School of architecture and c ities at the University of Westminster in London: "Geoarchitecture, recording intersections between architecture, geology and politic".