Well Building 2050 – 2012 edition: when medicine met architecture

Ecrit par BASTONERO Melissa le 12/09/2016

Have you ever heard about homeostasis? By definition, it is “the tendency of a system to maintain internal stability, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation or stimulus that would tend to disturb its normal condition or function.”
Knowing that, would you have connected homeostasis with building design? Archi’nnove, a team of seven French students, did - and it won the first edition of the Well Building 2050 contest. It is where magic lied: by combining several academic disciplines, those students brought one true answer to a common problem. They provided urban housing with a sense of perspective by questioning the therapeutic role of the city.

This was no surprise as Archi’nnove was composed of two students in medicine. Global issues encouraged their reflection on the way cities could be built, while keeping city-dwellers happy and healthy. Starting from the basic assumption that governments are more and more willing to improve citizens’ living conditions by introducing new energy and environmental regulations, Archi’nnove decided to adopt a medical point-of-view and draw an uncommon parallel between Architecture and the human-body.

Indeed, its project was based on the premise that 70% of the world population is to be living in urban areas by 2050, but also on the fact that environmental degradations is already having a huge impact on public health. Quality of life and human health are currently endangered by the growing environmental damages that government authorities are increasingly trying to repair. On account of urban development, city-dwellers are confronted to stress, noisiness, air pollution, chronic or vascular diseases due to the lack of exercise or the abusive use of alcohol and tobacco. On that basis, the Archi’nnove team imagined a new city district that would encourage healthy behaviours and improve living conditions while promoting its inhabitants’ participation in the creation of a better homeostatic habitat. The idea was developing a self-sufficient system with energy sharing and recovery as primary principles, as well as facilitating interaction between local residents and their environment.

The project’s primary objective was also making it possible for architecture and urban-planning to auto-balance and thus be beneficial for all. Archi’nnove thus made an analogy between the doctor/patient relationship and the housing/inhabitant one. It compared buildings to doctors as they both have to ensure uniform and equitable treatment for all, while not intruding on people’s privacy and intimacy. In that regards, inhabitants would have the impression to control their surroundings (= disease) with the help of housing (=doctor). Archi’nnove believed that, in an early future, medicine will be based on a wide treatment range but also on medical prevention. The building / human-body analogy was aimed to meet the needs of the urban population who increasingly wants to live a more healthy life while keeping the same living standards. Archi’nnove thus imagined a medical-oriented district with no actual medical intervention where housing will play its part, by helping its inhabitants to stay healthy while being more connected to their true needs.

Archi’nnove idea was a success because it provided a space for reflection and discussion on the way science may have a real impact on other unrelated sectors and influence them positively. It proved that it is possible for architecture and science to combine and bring about change in the way building is commonly perceived. By designing a whole district able to give a coordinated answer to a general problem, the team confirmed that we would be able to “cure the city” if we provided ourselves with means to do so.
Interpersonal skills, as well as varied academic disciplines were combined to come up with such a transdisciplinary project. The team was composed of seven friends who decided to confront their professional and interpersonal skills to the creation of a well-reasoned town-planning:


  • Estelle Desallais (team captain), former student in the École Boulle, a school of applied arts in Paris,

  • Judith Lasry, former student in space design in the École Boulle,

  • Zoe Piter, former student in space design in the École Boulle,

  • Thomas Havet, former student in architecture and interior design in the École Boulle,

  • Camille Derippe, former student in architecture and urbanism at ENSAV (École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Versailles)

  • Benjamin Hentgen, student in medicine in the Medicine school Bichat-Lariboisière,

  • Lucille Desallais former PHD student in immunotechnology and bioinformatics in the CNAM, the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers.


How did such a transdisciplinary team manage to conceive its project? To better understand the factors behind the Archi’nnove’ success, we have reestablished contact with Estelle Desallais, the prize-winning team captain, who kindly accepted to recount her Well Building 2050 experience.

How did you organize team work?

Estelle Desallais: “First of all, brainstorming was a good way of generating new ideas for possible development. This activity played an important part in our project’s management as it helped to wider our perspectives by exchanging personal opinion and experience. We had many team meetings to discuss ways to carry out our project: tasks were thus divided according to the skills, interests and availabilities of everyone involved. Consequently, scientists provided medical contents while architects produced all the visual elements such as graphics, drawings, sketches etc.”

How would you describe Well Building 2050?

E.D: “The “Well Building 2050” contest gave us the opportunity to explore diverse areas of reflection with full autonomy. It made us further consider the urban-planning issue while developing our own reasoning detached from education, experience and common sense."

What is your best memory of the contest?

E.D: “Our team’s best memory is, not surprisingly, the award ceremony when we found out that we had won the Well Building 2050 contest as well as the 30,000$ grant. We felt a great sense of achievement for having succeeded together as a team, in spite of our differences."

What would you say to the students who didn’t apply to the 2016 edition?

E.D: “You've missed a true opportunity! If I had to describe Well Building 2050 in a single word, I would say “innovative”. Obvious as it may sound, there is no other design contest that will give you the opportunity to gather the skills and resources of all academic disciplines. In fact, few competitions will give you the same degree of freedom, as there is virtually no constraint apart from the teams being transdisciplinary. Besides, such an extra-curricular experience often tends to be extremely valuable when you enter the workforce. Indeed, engaging in a non-compulsory activity says a lot about you: it demonstrates motivation, creativity and personal commitment which are essential qualities for a potential collaborator. Moreover, such an exercise is a good way to determine how to work together effectively and is also a safe opportunity in which to make mistakes as you have nothing to lose: you’re not working to pass an exam but to express yourself in a unique friendly-environment. If your housing project is selected, you will get the chance to travel to France, meet new people and show your work to construction professionals.”

How would you describe the Well Building 2050 adventure?

E.D : "Participating in the Well Building 2050 contest has been genuinely educational in many ways. It was an enriching and fulfilling exercise for all of us. Not only was it an opportunity to gain professional experience but also a way to learn more about ourselves as future professionals. As it sustains collaborative teamwork among individuals from different academic background, it generates fresh thinking on architecture and city-planning. Even though it was sometimes hard to get along or manage time efficiently, we found a way to channel our energy and capitalize on our knowledge and expertise to provide urban housing with a broader perspective.”

4 years after the competition, what are you all doing?

E.D.: "to make it short, I am completing my architecture studies, Zoe is an interior designer, Thomas and Camille both work in an architectural practice, Lucille is a research and development project manager in a biotech startup company, Judith has her own business in the ceramics industry and finally, Benjamin is pursuing medical schooling in Paris.
As part of the 2016 edition of the Well Building 2050 contest, Archi’nnove members will be invited to judge the final projects and choose the prize-winners from the 3 to 5 teams which will get through the first round. We will also attend the award ceremony that will take place in November 23th, 2016, in Strasbourg, Franc. Consequently, we are far from finished with the Well Building 2050 adventure – which is a good thing!"