Innovative workplaces to foster collaborative work
In today’s ever-changing environment, Natixis made a very deliberate choice to focus on agility and transformation as the company constantly adapts and reinvents itself.
Developing co-working, flex office and digital nomad trends mean rethinking our work spaces to make them more open and more collaborative, so offices are changing and evolving to address today’s new practices and ways of working, with more mobile and independent teams, as well as a flatter organizational set-up.
Natixis embarked on an ambitious transformation program in 2016 involving the entire company. This initiative involved investing in digital, improving our processes, streamlining our organizational set-up and creating new work spaces with the aim of putting us in the best possible position to pursue our growth and better serve our clients.
The Duo towers project, in Paris’ 13th district, embodies the transformation currently under way at Natixis which will be the sole investing company in 2021.
The world-renowned architect and designer of the Duo towers Jean Nouvel explains this innovative architectural project, designed to promote collective intelligence and work-life quality, and talks to us about his views on architecture and the city of today.
" Let’s start at the beginning! Your father was a geographer and you have said yourself that this made an impression on you. Can you tell us why?
Jean Nouvel – A geographer is someone who is conscious of the world, interested in the place around him for reasons of climate, landscape, and human geography – why people are here rather than somewhere else – a combination of parameters that are often forgotten in the architectural world. The transition of a building with the ground is something vital and I’m sorry I never heard of toponymy at the School of Beaux-Arts! So yes, my architectural approach takes geography and history into account. Unfortunately, it’s not the case with most buildings that have been cloned in today’s global world.
You are deemed to be the father of contextual architecture. Can you explain what that means?
J.N. – Contextuality means taking history and geography into account so that the building acknowledges the place it’s in. It’s also above all the defence of situational architecture. The context is just as much cultural as human – the building is linked to the people for whom it is being built, who have desires and needs – their desires are just as important as their needs – and linked to their personality. The trick is to consider all these human parameters associated with an art of construction that already exists depending on the local culture. All this information will result in a distinctive, idiosyncratic building. I always say that I will recreate the same project the day the same person asks me the same question twice at the same time, but I’ve never had any reason to until now.
On that point, is there any common theme running through all your architectural projects?
J.N. – No. There is nothing similar between the Abu Dhabi Louvre and the H&M building on the Champs-Elysées. Or else, the common theme is me! The only identical point shared by the projects you’ve mentioned is an intellectual attitude, a philosophical point of view about what the city represents. That’s all.
Even if you refute the idea of a “Jean Nouvel style”, don’t all your buildings share the qualities of transparency and play on light?
J.N. – That’s architectural vocabulary. I don’t have any preconceived ideas, I can use any material I choose, play on mass and on transparency. I’m like an author who uses the vocabulary at his disposal to say what he wants to say.
You believe that this notion of context is sometimes misunderstood.
J.N. – Yes, a lot of people think that to be accepted you need to create pastiches … It’s just the opposite. I’ve said for years that what I’m looking for can be summed up by the answer to this question: “What can we do here and now that we couldn’t do elsewhere?” That’s what I refer to as the missing piece of the puzzle, the thing that we want to see in that precise place and can’t find. That’s what contextuality is. True architecture cannot exist without being sentimental! Architecture is a gift, a gift in the sense of a present. Architects are like top chefs who want to give pleasure to the people seated at their table. They’re not there to contradict or turn up with preconceived ideas.
Let’s talk about a case in hand, the Duo Towers. How did you use context when you designed them?
J.N – In terms of an urban plan, I first had to consider the exceptional height of the towers in Paris – 180 meters. Then, obviously, I started designing around everything that was already there. When you enter Paris from Porte d’Ivry, you can see around twenty railway tracks wending their way towards the Austerlitz train station over which spans a cable-stayed bridge. You will be able to see this kinetic landscape in all its glory from the Duo Towers. The view at night will be very poetic as the trains slide like pearls of light beneath the cars’ headlights. It’s also a form of railway archaeology because in several decades the dusty and noisy Paris ring road will be silent and clean. Cars and trains are constantly changing, and I wanted to pay tribute to this process. This is why I designed the main tower, which leans at a greater angle than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so that it reflects the movement of criss-crossing trains and cars. The final attribute is that it holds its head up high, proudly. Duo is the allegory of two happy buildings which meet by leaning towards each other.
We know that the French are a bit traumatized over the vast windswept slabs of concrete at the base of high-rise buildings built in the 1960s. How do you think we can avoid this pitfall?
J.N. – There needs to be a really exceptional reason to create an artificial ground base. Unfortunately, people didn’t think that way in the 1970s. People believed that you had to put as many cars as possible underneath to hide them. The 20th century tried to make us believe that urban planning existed but that’s not true. Urban planning is simply architecture on a big scale. Urban planning is just another one of these processes that have aged badly. Creating the shape of a city on the basis of zoning decisions, integrating the main functional parameters without aesthetic, philosophical and geographical ideas for the place is a huge mistake that has been repeated worldwide!
Your office buildings are often mixed areas where office employees rub shoulders with guests in hotels and customers in shops. Is that important to you?
J.N. – Yes, I am obviously in favour of diversity. Twentieth century urban planning based on zoning regulations has done a lot of damage! At the time, people were happy to juxtapose urban planning rules in a watertight way for commercial zones, industrial zones, residential areas and even social housing areas. We need to get back to having more freedom over what we build and what will be built in future. Whenever we can create diversity we should do it. This is the case for the Duo Towers where the surrounding environment is already a mix of shops, offices, houses, a hotel and activities.
People speak a lot about a “collaborative and convivial” work environment as a factor that promotes wellness and performance. What do you think about that?
J.N. – I had the opportunity to consider this 4 or 5 years ago when the Milan Trade Fair asked me to create a major exhibition on the future of the office. I’ve kept a few pieces of furniture in my workshops. They are a bit provocative and prove that we don’t always have to base the design and furnishings on the same office, on the same repetitive techniques and on the enlargement of functional settings. These sorts of things often make human beings behave in the same way. The future lies in mixing up office spaces themselves, which are occupied in the same way as a home. We spend more time in the office than in our home! That’s a very important factor to take into consideration. When you design furniture, you should allow the user to organise simple modules as he or she sees fit.
One final thing, you have an anecdote for us that (indirectly) involves Natixis.
J.N. – The name Duo Towers was inspired by Parisian references to do with the art of dance. It all came about in my workshop. I was explaining to my client that the two buildings were in motion and in her mind’s eye, she saw a Parisian couple. She exclaimed, “It looks like Maurice Chevalier with his cap on and he’s dancing with Mistinguett! "
JEAN NOUVEL in 10 dates