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Person in charge of the Unit : Oui

hortence is the Research Centre for architectural history, theory and criticism of the Faculty of Architecture La Cambre Horta of the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Established in 2008, hortence counts at present more than twenty members. The personality of hortence is characterized by its members – academics, researchers, PhD students and practising architects – who all engage critically with the history and theory of modern and contemporary architecture.

As such, hortence gathers distinct areas of research strength, in particular regarding
‣ heritage studies of 20th-century architecture in Belgium;
‣ the study of mediation in architecture;
‣ the history of architectural theory and criticism;
‣ the study of architectural pedagogies;
‣ research through and by architectural design;
‣ architecture and genre.

hortence also seeks as much as possible to enhance, diffuse and to question its research through the organization of workshops, conferences, colloquia, exhibitions as well as through publications. These activities of research and service to the community reflect the engagement of its members with teaching courses on the history, theory and criticism of architecture; a.o. the research seminar on research methodologies concerning architectural theory, the design studio HTC, and the study groups (“options”) HTC, Restoration and heritage DOCOMOMO and Archives.


2014-2018: Public spaces of the African city, between uses and project: the case-study of South Benin cities from pre-colonial origins

PRD - Research project FNRS, (ref. 19564207), promoteurs: VICTOR BRUNFAUT, JUDITH LE MAIRE, YVES ROBERT. Budget: 253.082 '

The “degree zero of architectural writing” in Bruno Zevi’s historiographical and critical work: overcoming the antagonism between “high” and “low” architecture.

From the 1960s to the 1980s on an international scale, architects studied the recent developments in the field of semiology to seek a way out of the  crisis of modern architecture. Bruno Zevi (1918-2000), a leading 20th century Italian architect, historian and critic, proclaimed that the search for a "zero degree of architectural writing" was the only way for architects to overcome this ideological and stylistic impasse. He continued to defend this idea from 1973 to 1997 and borrowed the theory of the degré zéro de l’écriture, also known as "neutral" or "white" writing, from Roland Barthes, a French philosopher and semiologist, who had a major influence throughout the intellectual world during this time. This new form of writing, as envisioned by Roland Barthes, was to be devoid of all external meaning, free of the weight of language and style, and to have the ability to transcend the conflicts embedded in the history of language between popular and literary language. 
Based on the work of Bruno Zevi, this project aims to investigate the ways in which the notion of a "degree zero" of writing influenced the historiography of modern and postmodern architecture. It will address a gap in the existing literature on the last three decades of Zevi’s career which have  received very little attention in comparison to his early work. Of central importance in this phase of his career was his  argument for a "degree zero" in architecture - understood as an architecture free of all dogmas and questioning the status quo -  in response to the important debate on the conflict between high and low architecture in the second half of the twentieth century.

2013: «Promised Lands : internal colonisation in 20th century Mediterranean history», exploratory research workshop (7-10 October 2013: Rome-Sabaudia, Italy)

The workshop dealt with experiments of internal colonization implemented during the 20th century in the Mediterranean area, compared from a trans-disciplinary perspective combining both retrospective explanatory theories and prospective reflections around issues such as: mechanisms of nationalisation, macro-regional identities, forms of political government and economic development, town and country planning policies in regard to architectural and landscape expression. New paradigms such as the 'spatial turn' in the Humanities and strategic societal issues in the spatial disciplines were explored, as well as further collaborative research and teaching activities across the fields involved.The workshop gathered 28 scholars from 7 UE countries and 4 MENA countries. It was funded mainly by the ESF-European Science Foundation's comittee for the Humanities (ref. EW-012-75: 14.000') under the frame of the 2012 exploratory research workshops scheme.

ARA - Architecture and agrarian reform. The case of the modern agricultural colonies in Mediterranean area (Italy - Spain - Israël), from historical topic to territory of spatial design

EN: ARA deals with the role of architectural, urban and landscape design in the frame of modern agrarian reforms, through the case of agricultural colonisation in 20th century Mediterranean. ARA is found on a double hypothesis: 1) the disciplines of spatial design would have had a structuring role in the implementation of 20th century agricultural colonisations; 2) such policies have produced territories which are not reducible to generic rural areas. ARA pursues two scientific objectives, one explanatory and retrospective, the other prospective: 1) to confer scientific legitimacy to the research topic. In doing so, ARA shall question the historiographies and theories of spatial design's 'urbano-centrism', and bring nuances to the understanding of Mediterranean agriculture's modernization processes within the frame of rural studies; 2) to verify if the landscapes of agricultural colonization shows specific territorial challenges at the present day, in the face of the current rural development tools, methods and policies. The first objective constitutes the core of the ARA project. The second represent a preparatory work for the development of future research lines. ARA adopts investigation methods derived from the spatial design disciplines, considering visuals not as a mere support for reflexivity and transmission of knowledge, but as effective tools to produce knowledge. The innovative aspect of this exercise stands in enlarging the methods developed with the area of urban forms studies to a territorial scale. More largely, this choice carries an intention to contribute to define the epistemological and methodological frame of spatial design disciplines, whose scientific nature is largely debated within the French-speaking world.

Enseigner l’architecture, entre le dire et le faire

Depuis une trentaine d’années, le monde architectural est témoin d’une multiplication et
diversification des pratiques professionnelles (Tapie, 1999) ainsi que d’un élargissement de leur
domaine d’intervention. Ce phénomène se concrétise à travers le recours à des outils et
dispositifs innovants, remettant en question la distinction entre conception et construction ainsi
que la distance entre les corps de métiers contribuant à l’acte de bâtir (Ringon, 1997).
Cette recherche démarre de l’hypothèse que ces phénomènes investissent les pratiques
professionnelles ainsi que celles pédagogiques. Au sein des écoles d’architecture, des
pratiques pédagogiques innovantes sont mis en place et contribuent à une actualisation de la
pédagogie (Moreau, 2014). Le recours au faire, compris comme des pratiques au croisement
entre conception et construction, est intégré aux programmes académiques, des collaborations
multidisciplinaires se dessinent et des nouvelles expériences pédagogiques en découlent. Pour
aborder la question de recherche, ce projet fera recours à deux moments de recherche divers,
mais complémentaires.La première phase de recherche visera à retracer l’histoire de ces phénomènes et de leur
impact sur l’enseignement. Une étude approfondie des pratiques pédagogiques abordera leur
histoire mettant l’accent sur leurs divers composants: 1) les lieux et les spatialités investis par
le « faire » ; 2) le réseau d’acteurs impliqué ; 3) les outils et les dispositifs techniques ; 4)
les formes d’encadrement ; 5) les motivations sociales et politiques. 
La deuxième phase s’appuiera sur l’interaction directe avec les porteurs et les participants des
pratiques pédagogiques du faire.