Extensive architecture atlas charts unseen France
Eric Tabuchi and Nelly Monnier’s Atlas des Régions Naturelles – a website and a book – celebrates building variety in French architecture
Eric Tabuchi and Nelly Monnier’s Atlas des Régions Naturelles is celebrating a year online. The massive project is a unique architecture atlas; an epic feat of photographic categorisation that aims to chronicle every vernacular form of French architecture, construction, and landscape. The contemporary architectural photography series is arranged according to the country’s 13 regions, then into the much more loose and historic divisions of départements and arrondissements, making a total of around 450 districts in all.
Tabuchi and Monnier began their project in 2017 and intend to take 50 photographs in each of these districts, building up to a total of 22,500 images after a decade or so of work. The ultimate goal is to create an overview of the diversity of buildings and landscapes of France in the early years of the 21st century.
Atlas des Régions Naturelles: a French architecture atlas
The project is efficiently and intriguingly tracked on the duo’s website. Visitors are presented with a subdivided map of the country and a list of categories, ranging from era to building material, and taking in a comprehensive swathe of the built environment, from places of worship to movie theatres, signage to wasteland, ponds to bankruptcies. Click on a few categories, refresh the search, and your screen fills up with a rich tapestry of architecture, from the banal to the acclaimed, the overlooked to the familiar. As well as searching by location and theme, you can also sift by shape, colour, and series.
The site launched with 12,000 photographs, shaped by the details set out in Frédéric Ziegerman’s two-volume book, Le Guide des Pays de France (1999). The project is accompanied by a book, the first volume of the atlas in physical form. Although it contains a fraction of the project’s tens of thousands of photographs, L’Atlas des Régions Naturelles Vol. 1’s 384 pages are the best place to appreciate the clarity of Tabuchi and Monnier’s photographic approach. The framing, tones, and lighting gives an uncanny homogeneity to structures that are scattered across France’s 632,734 square kilometres; you can also buy prints from the website.
There are obvious parallels with the industrial archaeology undertaken by the celebrated German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, certainly in the way that typologies are collected and framed in such a way as to emphasise similarities and difference simultaneously. This architecture guide goes further, perhaps, using the sorting power of the website to let viewers create their own catalogues and make their own connections as they travel virtually through the Gallic hinterlands. §