Q&A: Odile Decq

The radical Jane Drew Prize-winning architect Odile Decq will be one of the big names talking at the RIBA’s International week from 3-7 July on the future of city design. We caught up with her to ask about masterplans, Emmanuel Macron and her school in Lyon

Odile Decq
Odile Decq Credit: Frank Juery

What are our cities going to look like in the future?

It’s got to be about more height and how we can help people live better in denser cities. That is going to involve us thinking about master planning in three dimensional terms rather than two. That’s not just about housing but the logistics of moving through the city and how we occupy it. I think that will mean making buildings transformable and adaptable. I think people will use the city in a more nomadic way in the future.

With the virtual realm and recent terrorist attacks, do you see changes to the way public spaces are designed?

We are already a surveillance society. I am adamant that public spaces do not need to take account of either of these eventualities – we cannot change our way of living. It’s true, people might live more isolated lives in the online world but I think that all goes on quite actively in the public realm. They are alone in the middle of crowds, so to speak – one does not supersede the other; they exist in parallel. Alone but together.

How do you feel France has reacted to Emmanuel Macron becoming president?

I think it has injected new blood into the French democratic process and is a fantastic sign to the world. It also cements our belief in the European project. Young people are more involved and it feels there’s like a new political spirit in the air. Macron’s rise has been incredible – and I love it.

Talking of young people, why did you feel the need to open your own architecture school in Lyon?

I felt architectural education was very reactionary, based on a pedagogy that had little to do with more interactive engaged, digital youth; who, I think, process things differently. We started by giving students the keys to the school. Not only can they access the building whenever they want but they are the ones who allow teachers access to it. They are responsible for the school – it is theirs. Teachers stay a few days doing intensive seminars or workshops. These might run into the night and they may socialise with the students outside. It’s an iterative process. Students develop new ways of learning and teachers, new ways of teaching.

What did you make of your recent Lifetime Achievement Award from Architizer?

Initially I thought ‘Wow, is this it? Am I at the end of my career?’ But I’d like to think it speaks about my constant engagement, not necessarily with the profession, but with architecture itself. I hope my life in a way reflects my hopes for the school; that it always be about thinking, doing and learning. Anyway, we are busy building in Barcelona, Paris and the south of France – there’s life in me yet!