Remembering architect and educator Philippe Barrière


Remembering architect and educator Philippe Barrière

Philippe Barrière (PB+Co)

Philippe Barrière, an architect, urban planner, educator, and critic whose pedagogy and practice spanned multiple continents, passed away earlier this month in Tunisia, North Africa, where his studio was based.

In Barrière’s memory, his friends, the New York-based artist and educator Andrea Blum and French architect, urban planner, and academic Odile Decq, have provided AN with two texts:

The first, submitted by Blum, is a brief remembrance and biographical sketch followed by older, adulatory words from designer, urbanist, and educator Michael Sorkin and AN founding editor-in-chief William “Bill” Menking, both of whom we lost last year. The second text, translated from the French, was written by Decq prior to Barrière’s death and details his remarkable qualities as an architect, educator, and friend. Both texts have been lightly edited. 


“Philippe Barrière passed away on 15 August in Tunisia. He was an architect, urban planner, professor, and writer, who, in 2006, was named Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, by the French Ministry of Culture for his contribution and achievements in the field of architecture.

Philippe received a Master of Science in Urban Planning from the Institut d’Urbanisme de Paris (IUP), and a Masters and Doctorate in Art History from the Sorbonne in Paris. He completed his Master’s Degree in architecture at Pratt Institute in New York, where he also started his own design practice. He taught at multiple institutions including l’Université de Montréal, the University of Kansas, l’Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture de Paris, Université Laval School of Architecture in Quebec City, and l’Université Ibn Khaldoun de Tunis.

Philippe was the founder of Philippe Barrière Collective (PB+CO) based in Tunisia; [the studio] developed projects there and in Dubai, the Palestinian Territories (West Bank), Kenya, Haiti, England, Canada, Crete, and Morocco.

Philippe will be missed for his generous spirit and unending optimism.”

“The truly beautiful projects are singular augmentations of the landscape, as found and as built. Each adds not simply an architectural supplement but some social enlargement that changes our view of place. Philippe Barrière strides with gentle, elegant, resolution across the field of life, punctuating the environment with moments of brilliant and mysterious precision.” —Michael Sorkin

“The architecture of Philippe Barrière magically attaches itself to the commonplace: confronting, enlarging, and transforming our understanding of the world and ultimately ourselves.” —William Menking

—Submitted by Andrea Blum


“Philippe had made the choice to live in the 1980’s in the United States after having come there earlier to pursue studies at Cranbrook [Academy of Art] followed by a Master’s degree at Cornell with O. Mathias Ungers and Colin Rowe in the 70’s. Working with John Johannsen and finishing his thesis was his goal because he was nostalgic for the conception of architecture developed as a discipline and a culture. This way of looking at architecture was then prevalent in the U.S. and almost non-existent in France.

That’s when he made the choice to stay. He was trying his luck in New York and had, when I met him, a few interior design projects to his credit. He was already teaching, and I was already struck by his vision and his critical acuity. Seen from the East Coast of the United States, France seemed far away and locked in the glory of its great projects and public competitions in which the freedom of questioning that Philippe represented and the freedom of thought that he claimed would have had difficulty finding its way. So he stayed, and it was the University of Kansas that, after other steps, welcomed him.

Passionate about architectural history and theory, Philippe has developed with students some of his research on the relationship between the consistency of new programs, considered from a functional, social, environmental, technical or economic point of view, and their interaction with new ways of approaching aesthetic questions.

He takes his students on adventures where they would never dare to venture alone. But he is there, he follows them and suggests that they always go beyond. It is this attitude that makes him an outstanding teacher, the professor who forever marks your passage to the University, the one who is decisive for your career.

This is why Philippe is rare—because he doesn’t lead students down already agreed upon paths, he doesn’t ask them to take up aesthetics that are his own. It is the choice and the personality of the student that is built under Philippe’s watchful and attentive eye.

From the analysis of the conditions of the subject to the detailed resolution of the project and the elaboration of its graphic and aesthetic representation, with rigor, precision and intelligence the projects are held and achieved. It is very impressive.

It is the same with the extremely sophisticated models which, at various scales, mark out the development of the projects. For Philippe, the representation of the elaborated and built model in three dimensions and sometimes in real size, when he can involve industrialists, is a necessary passage for the validation of the drawn hypotheses.

Convinced himself of the need for the architect to confront the various media related to mobility as well as the social issues related to emergency situations, he has established links with UN organizations that support him and for which he develops projects in Palestine, Jordan, and Kenya.

He also pursues graphic research. His way of conceiving sometimes comes from his drawings, and it is this that nourishes the development of the very personal architectural form that he then implements in his projects. His drawn work is fascinating.

His availability and his generosity in human relations make Philippe an exceptional person whose friend I am proud to be. This way of being with his friends is also the one he makes available to his students. Many schools of architecture today lack a personality like Philippe.”

— Submitted by Odile Decq