Phase 3a. Sûr la place Publique



Location: Saint-Jean-en-Royans Town, within the region of Rhône-Alpes, France

Project Type: Temporary

Year of completion: 2009 to 2011

Client Name: National Regional Parks (PNR)

Developers: EXIZT, De l’aire &  La Halle de SJ en Royans

Collaborators: Social Centre La Paz & Pied La Biche Collective

Budget: 92500 € for two years+ 20000 € for the works



In the municipality of Saint-Jean-en-Royans (Rhône-Alpes , France) The De l’aire, the Exyzt collective and La Halle de Pont-en-Royans associated to work on a research-action program on public spaces. This program is closely associated with elected officials and residents, local associations and the inter-community center. It is to stimulate an active and creative approach to public areas of the municipality, based on concrete and participatory processes in the everyday environment. These actions will see possible uses of space (current or future use), undertake collective reflections from the municipal team and lead to projects or facilities permanent or punctual.



The project is located in Saint-Jean-en-Royans, within the region of Rhône-Alpes, France. It was developed in several phases; the final one is located in Les Chaux, a social housing neighborhood in the north of the commune.


It’s a small town of 3,000 residents nestled in the foothills of the Vercors Mountains in the middle of a high presence of nature and an active farmer activity. However, it has fairly strong urban characteristics because of its role as joint center and its strong industrial past (textile, wood). These industries have now almost disappeared, but brought with them a whole industrial culture rooted in the landscape and memory: an important heritage (the factories heritage and more recent heritage with social housing built to host the labors). The reason because, surprisingly in a small rural town, there are now a large part of immigrant population (Asian, Maghrebian , Portuguese), with a retired generation  and younger generation.

Population involved

For the success of this project is needed the participation of the “whole” town, because is about make the urbanism a cultural act to create a common culture. It’s a multidisciplinary activity which needs in each competence a different part of the society. Each single person can contribute with a different point of view depending on the field.

All the collectives are welcome to participate; kids, teenagers, adults and elder people, being the children and the retired people who have more free time to experience the public space.

Also we have to pay attention to the cultural background of the inhabitants. One of the intervention areas is a social housing neighborhood in which lives the vast majority of the immigrant population since the 60’s. This neighborhood worked for many years to host the workers who came to the town to work in the industries, but now this people became old, and a new young generation appeared in the neighborhood.


A need to give a value to the public space in the town. Right now, the lack of proper public spaces is becoming an issue to this commune. Almost all of the public spaces are used as a parking, and if not they are not furnished. The young people often meet in the building entrance after school because they have no other place to go. No meeting points are available.

Also it’s important to say that it’s strictly related to politics. The people are claiming for these public spaces to meet and organize activities, but the answer is well known. It’s always a promise that never becomes true. This situation makes the citizens feel discourage about the situation and to move away of politics, which is in the end who is going to decide about their future.

Agents involved

The most important agent who promoted the whole project was the National Regional Parks (PNR) Vercors. This organization is a public establishment in France between local authorities and the French national government covering an inhabited rural area of outstanding beauty, in order to protect the scenery and heritage as well as setting up sustainable economic development in the area. City Council of Saint-Jean-en-Royans they are one of the institutions in charge of managing the economic resources and also to participate actively in the process.  LEADER program which is an initiative financed by EU structural funds and designed to help rural actors consider the long-term potential of their local region.

There’re different agents related to the commune. Two of them supported from the beginning the PNR’s initiative. De l’aire Collective is a hybrid structure between artistic creation, regional development, design and mediation. It uses shared efforts to develop solutions on issues of land, urban planning and development of public life. And also La Halle du Pont-en-Royans, which is an important cultural milestone between Valence and Grenoble.The place the programs art exhibitions, meetings with artists, lectures, tours and art workshops for schools and students. The forth main agent is EXYZT Collective; it was invited to participate in the project by De l’aire and La Halle.

In different phases of the project some organizations were involved with spontaneous collaborations as: Pied La Biche Collective, a multidisciplinary team who works with installations, videos and performances. Intercommunal Center La Paz, is engaged to live in a social mixity and a laic space, to fight against precariousness, and promote access to his entreaties to everyone.

Local residents are represented usually by the associations of their city, but they can participate in the project on their own.


In 2009, following the project “Regards croisés” over the landscape , the National Regional Parks (PNR) from Vercors launches an art program , in accordance with the objectives of the park and the axes of the LEADER program (initiative financed by EU structural funds and designed to help rural actors consider the long-term potential of their local region) underway in the country, about the economy of landscapes.

The PNR Vercors looks for a voluntary commune, and according to the PLU (Local Urbanism Plan) is the case of the municipality of Saint -Jean-en -Royans . The PNR Vercors proposed to host artists in residence to work the issue of public spaces in the town , very numerous, but under-utilized (mainly as car parks) .

Without knowing what would be the result , a dynamic snaps between the PNR Vercors and Saint- Jean-en- Royans commune with the support of associations De l’aire, La Halle de Pont -en- Royans defining the program to host a team of artists – architects.

Nothing is set (no methods, objectives), the only constraint is to build awareness and participation of the people around the future of public spaces in the communes.

Both associations chose the collective EXYZT for this study – action named ” On the public square ” , which took place between 2009 and 2011. The action of the group consisted of residences/stays in the town of Saint Jean, for a period of two weeks each. Each residence corresponded a new stage in the definition of the action itself, its objectives and themes on which it seemed appropriate to work.


Step 1

Warm Front! (Chaud Devant!)

From 1 to 10 October 2009

This first stay starts with an observation of the territory which allows Exyzt to identify some local specificities: strong presence of water, sources, old bread ovens “public” become “private” … They create a tool “Rereading territory”, a moving object is to revisit the area and it can be in the form of a traveling bread oven.

Exyzt use the traveling bread oven to walk around the city center of St Jean. It Hot Spot (as they call it) allows you to meet people and discuss their favorite public areas, producing new situations (meeting around the hot spot) to produce and collect their discourse uses of public spaces.

This tool initiates a meeting place, offers an activity, an invitation to share a potential land use: public bread oven, sauna, pizza oven, hot foot bath, stove, hot bath…

Members of the group meet, listen and partner with elders who hold expertise bread. The oven is built in the community common place, the collective shows “work in progress”. For this construction, they will see carpenters, artisans, farmers who make their donation of raw materials, a tractor … but time and expertise. They create a local network rather extensive. They select the resources because they are available in quantity, quality or knowledge. This can reveal human potential, spatial or institutional. The idea is from the specificity of a place to achieve the creation of a story.

The highlight of the stay was when the collective “Shifts all” investing, the village fountain. They heat the water in the fountain and install small benches for footbaths. The people can take a foot bath, drinking a glass of red wine in eating pie made ​​by some artisans and listening to a concert.


To an engaged architecture

Expostion La Halle de Pont-en-Royans under Chaud Devant! Action

October 10 to December 9, 2009

This exhibition had three objectives: to present the collective identity EXYZT through a selection of texts, photographs and videos of their work, to show the first action in Saint-Jean-en-Royans (with the launch of Chaud Devant !), and transform La Halle in a place of exchange, confrontation with residents and visitors, to power the study in the municipality of Saint-Jean-en-Royans.


Step 2

Cultural and urban route

27 February to 17 March 2010

Make planning and thinking about public spaces a cultural act, a time of collective celebration, a time of debate to try to create a common culture, imagine future projects as bases for municipal debate team.

Initially intended to be an occupation of an empty building which finally wasn’t possible, this stay became nomadic and inviting the public to join Exyzt on 4 different places for three weeks : the communal hall , the parish hall, the tourist office and an almost empty building being demolished on the social housing area des Chaux .The aim is to invite people to meet in common areas to discuss public spaces.


This stay will capture gradually everyone’s ideas, amateur, head, professional colleges , witness other experiences elsewhere to begin to generate an overview of the municipal public spaces. Pretext for cooperation and exchanges, an entire program are conducted in partnership with local associations: concerts, debates, films, association events and festivals where we meet to engage changes.

It is also to emerge from this stay a proposal for concrete action on a given space that will guide the following step in the process.

adios pared

The strengths of the complex:

– The transformation of the Tourist Office in the Office of Temporary Urbanism ( OUT ) , fixed place of daily interaction with people.

– An occupation that is being built gradually in the Fougères building, building being demolished on the social housing neighborhood des Chaux, with the redevelopment of an apartment community and friendly place , with the help of residents. There was developed a part of the program to bring this area a part of the local population. Collaboration is woven with the social center La Paz which allows brought into contact with the inhabitants.

– An Evening “Fair of Ideas” which identified the desires , projects residents about the future of their public spaces .

This stay shows an opportunity, this is the demolition of the Fougères building announced for spring 2011. A social emergency, urban, and political as well. Politicians, associated with CAUE are looking for a project for the future of this neighborhood with this transformation announced. There is also the need to create tools for consultation with local residents by the Social Centre in La Paz who is in charge of the animation.

Step 3

Chaux devant!

Building in Les Chaux social housing neighborhood

From June 25 to July 4, 2010

For the future redevelopment that involves the demolition of a building in the Les Chaux social housing neighborhood, Exyzt with the social center La Paz offers to test new applications and improvements to exterior and interior public spaces of the building. It is structured common areas and gives them a dimension both in use (for elders, youth, for everyday or party), a poetic dimension (created forms, materials used) and a participatory dimension.


During these two weeks of work, we built, we painted, we discuss … we imagine the future of the whole area around time of parties, banquets and concerts, open-air transmission of the matches of the World Cup soccer …


The department in charge of urban project is also invited to follow the results of the workshops and participates in the steering committee. This networking and collaboration is the work of De l’aire collective that had to convince each partner to enter into this collective approach, starting with the collective Exyzt which showed some reluctance to enter into institutional arrangements. Elected officials of the municipality also had to be convinced that the action of Exyzt could participate in the redevelopment plan of the town.

The collective Pied Labiche, was invited by Exyzt to create a story around the building involving people. This is an amazing creation radio, mixing real documents and fiction, in collaboration with Radio Royans and with the complicity of local youth. The Incredible Story of Mr. R. seizes a local specialty, ravioli, propelling this culinary heritage as a source of innovation and future for the territory, including the invention of the already famous (and tasty) Burger Ravioli…

The project has the ambition to overcome artistic actions in public space. It tends to be at the service of urban renewal on the map redevelopment area, and respond to local issues.

Step 4

A kiosk aux Chaux

Construction of a new public space after the demolition of the building

September 2011

barrio con intervención

This stage is marked by the launch of a unique collaborative process between regional agents who have little opportunity to work together. Since October 2010 , Exyzt , De l’aire and La Halle fit with the politicians in a shared reflection on the program of redevelopment of public housing of Chaux , including the demolition of the Fougères building. This work is followed by a steering group of social housing (DHA), the Social Centre La Paz, the research firm for PLU, people in charge from the School located in the district.

kiosko en proceso

Local residents were involved during participatory planning workshops conducted by De l’aire in winter 2011. From these workshops came out several recommendations regarding spatial planning, including the need for a unifying a place for residents of the town and also for college students who have no place to meet near the district.

The next and final stay with Exyzt therefore sees the realization of a particular booth built with recycled materials from the demolished building: windows, doors , bathtubs, beams … With the help of residents and college students.


Social Strategy

This project is not just about to build something random in an empty lot to reactivate it. It’s about a process of testing different situations in the public space. This is a continuous process which takes two years to complete, and at the end the citizens find a complete new space, in which process they have participated.

The involvement of the community is the major axis in this project. With the collaboration between the different agents consensus and conflict can arise. To do a real project conflict and consensus have to be together, maybe the different parts do not agree in some points but the whole set works because of it.

chantier participatif7

Also is important to talk about the communication of the project. The communication around the town works in many different ways; they work with some basic flyers, merchandising and posters informing about different events that are going to take place in the commune. It works with the word-of-mouth as well, it becomes in a new event which is new to the town and they are expecting something to happen, or just they are curious about the process even if they are not participating.


Environmental Strategy

This type of intervention is about cause the least impact on the surrounding environment, since it is a temporary project built in wood. The materials that they used to build the kiosk are from the demolished building; they tried to reuse beams, doors, windows… just to create a new space next to the other one which just left a void which is going to become a new public space. We can place this intervention in the new RE environmental current strategy (Recycle, Reuse and Reduce)


From the beginning, the agent who proposes the project (PNR) has clear interest in the landscape tradition and how to preserve it. For this, is needed the participation and sensitization of the neighbors about the future of public spaces. In this particular case they have to remember the context, which involves urban and rural.

Economic Strategy

The budget of this project is 92500 € for two years (+20000 € for the works) and the agents involved (LEADER Program, PNR Vercros, City Council St Jean en Royans, Rhône-Alpes Council) are interested in find if this intervention would be profitable in an early future.

The different steps of the project have the objective to test different actions or interventions to find out how are going to be the developments. They use a bottom-up strategy to go from the smaller scale to the bigger. The “final project” of the kiosk is not random space and it’s temporary for a reason. The neighbors are claiming their space because nowadays It does not exist in the town. At the same time the city council needs to project something in the empty plot, so this temporary strategy is which is going to connect the neighbor and the city hall.

The citizens would be able to participate in the process to create the new demanded space and the result that they will achieve is going to help the city council to find out if the citizens proposal will work in that place. This test project is built just to find out some answers about the public space and the relation between the different agents.

Cultural Strategy

A public space needs an identity, if it doesn’t have it stops being a public space. With the Public Square project, all the agents are interested in achieve a new public space which is meant to be a special spot in the city. This place was special even before it was built, because when the people who are going to use it participated in its creation they feel closer to it. They know that there is a little part of them and when you are related personally to something you tend to protect it and to feel closer.


For the people who just heard about the project they are going to be attracted to the spot because a new cultural movement is taking place to try to improve the public spaces.


In this project was surprising the connection between the inhabitants and the elected, to be able to share the word, and to coordinate between the two collectives to find a consensus with the mediation of the collectives which were guiding the project. The connection between the inhabitants from different neighbors was very interesting, because the actions took place in Les Chaux neighborhood, which is a social housing neighborhood where most of the people are immigrants, but the project was received by all the citizens very well participating intercultural and intergenerational.

But this kind of projects have are not always completely successful due to a different reasons. We have to understand always that we are going to change something in people’s life, and they can refuse to participate if they don’t agree. For example, EXYZT is a collective whose role is to try to propose new actions in the city, but this actions could be not understand by some people, and they, as a coordinating team have to understand that they can’t impose it. In this case, both neighbors and politicians were called to intervene, the general response was positive, but some of them are skeptical to believe in these changes. They adopt a position about the situation since the beginning, without a possibility to change it and mostly is due to an incomprehension.

Frustrations are always an important part of failure. The assemblies and exchange of knowledge always can dream with words or drawings, but the materiality has its limits and the deceptions can be strong, because the final result could not as good as other parts of the projects were.

Beyond the different processes emerging around experiments of the collective, the project triggers multiple reactions in parallel and controversies across micropolitics. When the project moved to St Jean -en-Royans the owner (PNR) perceived it as an opportunity, safely, for the town. However, the process reveals that this action, “fun, interesting and participatory” has generated many parallel discussions which had not necessarily been anticipated by all. Furthermore, this kind of project would be the subject of controversy for local political opposition (activating arguments waste of money public), it can also generate tensions within the political team in charge, because it could represent a disruptive element that question local democracy. This troubles calls on the elected to positioning and to have a strong commitment to the project, but also “tools” that enable them to defend and explain.

The latter point leads us to question the posture and language adopted by the protagonists of action. For the referring elected, there was initially a problem of communication, linked to inadequate vocabulary, while on the bottom, people could join immediately. “When we said we will test use in public places, people don’t understand, and for us it is not obvious either. I have said many times that there is a gap. We need to work on that because I refuse that there are things that cannot be here because people do would not be able.

Posture of indeterminacy is also uncomfortable for politicians who must answer to the people complains. That is why the question of common language, the ability to name things while defending a “process that not know where it goes” proves essential.

Construction of collective Exyzt in  des Chaux district was decisive in the process of the project. They have given meaning the idea of ​​”sharing public space”, “transform the practices and customs.” The referent elected defended the project from start to finish, even in adversity. Nevertheless, she questioned the issue of accessibility of the process, particularly the question of the language used. De l’aire and Exyzt collectives defend a research process. This process is constantly being redefined, and its language, appointment of events, defining the status of the project. This “indeterminacy” is not reassuring. From the idea of ​​the area and is Exyzt renew the participatory approach on how we live tomorrow, in the public spaces. For Elisa Dumay, it means inventing a language that can rely on existing, which is problematic when one wants to build a co- action. “We have to come to appoint more things to give them value, formalize and help people take what happens and communicate. Name is doing things exist “.












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