Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I spent Monday in Zaragoza with my friends from the Ecology and Development Foundation (ECODES) who have asked me to advise and help them with the development and promotion of the Pavilion of Citizens' Initiative -- a building for and by the NGO community at EXPO 2008, the international Expo on Water and Sustainable Development that will open to the public from June to September next year.

I have been involved for nearly a year and a half in this project, and I'm sure I will continue to comment on it here Chez Rémi as I have until now.

Today I'd like to comment on the look and feel of the pavilion itself, a remarkable 20 metres-high structure made of clay, wood and straw that looks a bit at first sight like a first generation nuclear power plant (as my friend Felix Dodds told me a few weeks ago).

The construction of this...installation is now just beginning in the middle of the Expo venue. I was not a member of the jury that designated the Andalucian architect Ricardo Higueras as the winner of the bid, but I think they did a good job.

I spent most of my day in Zaragoza with a Japanese delegation that will play a very special part in the life of the pavilion. Together in the morning, we watched a power point progress report by Clara Presa, one of the co-ordinators of the project. As I was watching the large roof windows designed to provide light without heat inside in the middle of the torrid Spanish summer, I thought of the vasidas!

What is this?, you ask. Ok, let me wear my History professor hat.

When the French (my compatriots, my country of origin) lost their war against the Prussians in 1871, the winners were apparently very impressed by the windows that French builders stuck diagonally on roofs all accross the country. So, when they were visiting a farm or a manshion (to take control of it), they would ask "Was ist das?" (What is this?). And the French were so eager to prove to themselves that these silly Prussian occupyiers were so dumb that they had not even thought of building windows on roofs, they started to jockingly call these windows vasisdas (just imagine me saying Was ist das? with my French accent, and you'll get it), with so much passion that the word entered in the French dictionary pretty fast apparently! [I remember my grand-mother telling me to shut the vasisdas in the evenings, and not even thinking it was funny]

Well, the Spanish translation for vasisdas is quéesesto (read: ¿Qué es esto?). As I was watching Clara making her presentation, I imagined that many Expo visitors will say "¿Qué es esto?" when they see our pavilion. And I thought: who knows? Maybe in a hundred years, bioclimatic sustainable buildings like the citizens' pavilion will be common place. And the word quéesesto will have entered in the dictionary of the Spanish Academy like a vasisdas.

[if not, our grand children will be in deep trouble, I am afraid]

No comments:

Post a Comment