Institutional Domination

Bernard Lassus’ approach to landscape design confronts issues of cultural diversity and institutional domination in a public space. It stems from an awareness of cultural differences that are brought into play by the creation of a motorway in contemporary France. Its presentation calls upon a few preliminary remarks about cultural differences and about public space. We need not map cultural differences onto demographic descriptions of a society: one person may belong to several cultures, and may shuttle between them, renegotiating self-identity within each. Thus cultural differences need not necessarily pit one group of people against another. Moreover, we can see that some places imply a culture of their own: institutional settings such as schools, churches and hospitals are well known in this respect. They foster the acquisition of a special culture among their members; and, very often a significantly different one for people who occupy different positions in the institutional setting: teachers and pupils, priests and parishioners, doctors and nurses, for instance. So we can see places as much as social groups as the breeding grounds of cultural differences. (…)

In short, there are at least two very different cultures fostered by the motorway. First, there is a culture of time efficiency, with the corollary danger of car accidents, shared by all motorway users. Second, there is a culture of place, of nostalgia for lost identities and of alienation from the world that the motorway symbolises. They merge to produce a sense of economic globalisation on the move with its corollaries of mutual ignorance between motorway users and motorway neighbours, and of growing opposition by rural landowners and political representatives to the construction of motorways. Thus motorways come to be seen as sources of growing conflicts and soaring construction costs that negatively affect the allocation of resources for the general welfare.

Bernard Lassus, the landscape architect advising the motorway company, had already proposed a response to these problems. First, he wanted to create rest areas that would encourage drivers to stop and relax – that is, to forget about the Ideology of time efficiency fostered by the use of the motorway itself. In other words, he wanted to create rest areas that would ignore and spurn the motorway culture, and yet would appear attractive to people trapped within this cultural view of travel. Second, he wanted these rest areas to be a tribute to the local environment, a place of symbolic value for people having and working in the vicinity, and an intriguing invitation to motorway users to go and visit the rural world, and a place local people could acknowledge and be proud of.

Michel Conan, The quarries of Crazannes: Bernard Lassus’s landscape approach to cultural diversity (2003)

Bernard Lassus, Crazannes Quarries (1995)