Protostructure, Archaeology and hypothesis of an architecture-support, Agathe Mignon / Sophie Delhay


Event details

Date 06.12.2022
Hour 11:0012:00
Speaker Agathe Mignon
Location Online
Category Conferences - Seminars
Event Language French
Agathe Mignon defended her Ph.D. thesis "Archaeology and hypothesis of an architecture-support" at EPFL in 2019.

"How do we pile up dwellings without sacrificing their independence?" 1

Nicolaas John Habraken poses the question in these terms in the book he first published in 1961 in Dutch and then in English in 1972, Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing, as an introduction to the research work he subsequently carried out for much of his career. The theory of supports, which formed the basis of the work of the SAR (Stichting Architecten Research, a Dutch foundation for architectural research), which Habraken chaired from its inception in 1965, was the basis for an architecture in which advances in industrial construction made it possible to achieve a high density at the urban level while at the same time offering the inhabitants an individual recognition of their needs and requirements at the housing scale. The work of the SAR advocates the return of an architecture adapted to the uses of which it is the support by the integration of the inhabitants in the process of architectural design. If this questioning was formulated at the time in reaction to the massive housing construction operations of the 1950s and 1960s in Europe, it remains without a real answer today. Through the conceptualization of this support-architecture, the research work Protostructure, archaeology and hypothesis of a support-architecture thus tends to bring a contemporary glance on the problematic stated by Habraken.

The term "support" has a double meaning in French: that of physically supporting someone or something, but also of bringing a moral, benevolent and tolerant support. The notion of support-architecture is thus based on this double definition by designating both the object and the action of supporting the individuality of the users by adapting to their different living practices. The transposition of this notion of support-architecture to the question of density and urban mixing requires the implementation of hybrid objects, capable of responding in a systematic way at the collective level as well as adapting independently to the scale of the user as an individual. It is this particular ambivalence that the concept of protostructure aims to capture. A neologism formed from the prefix proto-, which means first, and the noun structure, derived from the Latin verb struere, to build, it designates a structure or a system in its primary state, devoid of the artifacts that it supports. The concept of protostructure applied to the architectural project acts like a rule of the game: it constitutes the collective basis for a process of individual appropriation. 

Agathe Mignon's thesis aims first of all to establish an archaeology, a series of case studies of protostructural housing.  These housing projects have the particularity of implementing a collective support, dedicated to the active participation of individual inhabitants. The synthesis of this study questions the capacity of these different experiences to formalize and implement a support of concerted design and communication between the various actors of the architectural project. The second part of this research work then returns in the form of a Hypothesis on an experimentation of collaborative construction, carried out within the framework of the teaching of the architectural project. The account of this experience, which was exceptional in several respects, allows us to take an enriched look at the initial definition of the concept of protostructure.
Through this double investigation, the thesis Protostructure, archaeology and hypothesis of a support-architecture tries to build a critical and operational analysis of the process of concerted architectural design between architect and inhabitants, with the aim of offering a new look at the practice of the project.

(1) Habraken, Nicolaas John. 1972. Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing. London: Architectural Press.


Practical information

  • General public
  • Free


  • Sophie Delhay


  • Capucine Legrand & Harry Waknine


Architecture Logement Protostructures

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