Angel Borrego Cubero : The Competition

The documentary made in 2008 by the Madrid architect Angel Borrego Cubero, in parallel with the competition of the National Museum of Andorra, is yet to be found, and yet it has something to tantalize the curiosity of architecture enthusiasts. On the bill: Jean Nouvel, Franck Gehry, Dominique Perrault, Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster. In the program ? Sketches, models, carts and sleepless nights. So, how to refuse when the teams of the Parisian agency AZC invited Muuuz's editorial staff to a private screening of this report with a clear sense of humor about the very secret system of architectural competitions. Welcome to the competition!

It is 19h30 when we arrive in the beautiful premises of AZC, in the 13e district of the capital. Elaborated by their care, the offices are in the image of their achievements: clear, precise, and full of surprises. One of them is a comfortable amphitheater where, a few minutes after our arrival, we are invited to take a seat to discover Angel Borrego Cubero's documentary, covering all the phases of the competition launched by the Principality of Andorra for the realization of a National Museum. And what a contest!

A veritable battle of the titans, the biggest "starchitects" clash to win the development of a museum registered in a complex site. More than an architectural challenge, we are witnessing a battle of ego - note the little pike of Gehry's teams: "Quickly hide the models before the office of Hadid sees them! ". Having only few budgetary or aesthetic constraints, the only external component to accept is to be filmed throughout the project. A requirement that Norman Foster failed to comply with, retiring immediately from the competition.
This condition makes it possible to look at a working model as old as the profession itself: the architectural competition. A phenomenon that continues to grow and politicize since the creation of the Guggenheim Bilbao (Spain) and whose wheels have never been highlighted as through this cinematographic work. We are witnessing three months of effort, demonstrating the management of each agency of its teams, its project and the needs and desires of the client.


From the opening of the film, the tone is given: there is no question here of placing the architects on a pedestal, but on the contrary to demystify their position, not hesitating to mock nicely and to confront the iconic architecture to its worst aspects. When, in the first scene, Nouvel is presented at Ardisson in the manner of a movie star, Gehry is introduced through his cameo in the Simpsons where, by throwing down a call for projects, his yellow face s illuminates when he exclaims "Frank Gehry, you're a genius! ", his piece of paper turning into a Concert Hall for the city of Springfield. A caricature not so far removed from reality since, when Nouvel expresses his ideas for this project, he also retrieves a piece of paper to create a "little hat" at the top of a model. After all, inspiration is everywhere ...
Remember, however, that we are in the middle of an economic crisis and that the order itself has something to strike: a tiny country nestled in the heart of the mountains wishes to have a museum with international influence, without ever mentioning the budget he wants allocate to the creation of a colossal cultural building. An ostentatious project that could only be entrusted to equally extravagant architects.

Between yellow laughter and compassion, the spectator stands helplessly in despair at the teams trying with difficulty to project themselves into an unfamiliar environment, making models for a client they have never met, for imaginary users, the whole thing governed by agency directors, who were ruthless, whimsical and even completely absent. While Gehry's teams strive to crumple pieces of paper without concrete results, those of Nouvel dread the nightly arrivals of the big boss who does not hesitate to destroy the fruit of their work. On the other hand, the mastery of Perrault's image is impressive and the French designer has no difficulty in shaping an image of inspiring teacher. As for Zaha Hadid, she does not appear once on the screen, leaving it up to her teams to manage the order from A to Z, perhaps out of fear - probably with good reason - that her presence in the documentary does not harms his image.

The apotheosis of The Competition lies in the presentation of the projects to a jury purely administrative and devoid of architects, theater of puppet where the crackling flashes of the press shamelessly covers the speech of the designers. Asking Dominique Perrault's autographs with heavy admiration, the jurors do not hesitate to cut off Hadid's teams in their presentation - the emblematic figure of the agency is not present, no need to make bows to mere performers . A burlesque final that we are experiencing with difficulty waiting for the result.

So, do you know who won this competition?

A big thank you to the teams ofAZC.
To learn more, visit The Competition website

Photographs: Screen shots

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