The Explorative Strategy of Engagement: Atelier Bow-Wow’s Rebière Street Project in Paris


  • Johan Nielsen KU Leuven
  • Yves Schoonjans KU Leuven
  • Kris Scheerlinck KU Leuven



The project of Rebière Street in Paris is the first housing project of Atelier Bow-Wow outside Japan. In the framework of the Porte Pouchet renovation project, a portion of the street along the cemetery was declassified to reduce its width and to build 180 apartments in the resulting free strip. The different plots were assigned to several local and foreign architecture offices. This project is symptomatic of an emerging practice in architecture that sees offices with discourses based on local anchorage taking advantage of globalisation to propose cutting-edge spatial quality in remote locations. The close reading of the project with tools provided by the sociology of engagement allows valuable insights in the production of form in remote practice. If human primary relation to the environment coincides with a regime of engagement based on familiarity, in remote practice the relation to the environment and the local anchorage are de facto mediated. This mediation implies a systemisation of the design process. The legitimacy of this systematisation is by nature questionable and can be a source of doubt or anxiety. Addressing the design process in relation to the ideas of scale of confidence, seizure, adherence and the explorative regime of engagement this article examines how the attempts of Atelier Bow-Wow to deal with the remoteness of the site influence the production of form.

Author Biographies

Johan Nielsen, KU Leuven

Johan Nielsen is an architect living and working in Belgium. He is part of the teaching staff at the Faculty of Architecture, KU Leuven, Brussels/Ghent. He is a PhD candidate with his research project entitled “Space Suitability and the Design Process, a research on the remote architectural practice and local identities”. He is a member of the Research Group “Urban Projects, Collective Spaces and Local Identities”. He is also involved in private practice as director Brussels-based office Manger Nielsen Architects.

Yves Schoonjans, KU Leuven

Yves Schoonjans is a professor in architectural history and theory at the KU Leuven. He received a Master of Science in Architectural Engineering in 1984 and a PhD in 2001. He is currently head of the research group ‘Urban Projects, Collective Spaces and Local Identities’. He was involved with and lead coordinator of several international programmes (Erasmus, Mundus, ALFA) and has participated in various projects, especially in Latin America. He was vice-dean international affairs and is now vice-chair of the Research Department.

Kris Scheerlinck, KU Leuven

Kris Scheerlinck is associated professor at KU Leuven and obtained a PhD in Architecture and Urban Projects (UPC/URL, Barcelona, Spain). For more than fifteen years, he ran his own research and design practices. He is currently head of the research group ‘Urban Projects, Collective Spaces and Local Identities’ and director of NYhub, a KU Leuven research and design platform in New York City. He directs an international research project on depth configurations in urban projects.


Blokker, Paul and Andrea Brighenti. “An Interview with Laurent Thévenot: On Engagement, Critique, Commonality, and Power” European Journal of Social Theory vol. 14(3), (2011): 383-400.

Breviglieri, Marc, “L’usage, le design et l’architecture. L’éthique professionnelle dans la conception d’un monde habitable” Les ateliers de la recherche en design, no. 1 (2007): 53-59.

Nielsen, Johan, Kris Scheerlinck and Yves Schoonjans. “ Design process and space suitability- a search for a redefined framework and tools for the new mobile architect” in Creative Adjacencies - New Challenges for Architecture, Design and Urbanism, edited by Freddy Cooper, Margarita Greene, Denise Pinheiro Machado, Kris Scheerlinck, and Yves Schoonjans, 639-46. Santiago de Chile: Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Estudios Urbanos, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and Leuven: Faculty of Architecture, KU Leuven, 2014.

Périphérique Architectes. Autrement rue Rebière, Un workshop organisé par l’OPAC de Paris pour la création de 180 logements rue Rebière dans le cadre du Grand Projet de Renouvellement Urbain de la porte Pouchet à Paris 17e. Paris: éditions de l’Arsenal, 2007.

Thévenot Laurent. “Governing Life by Standards: A View from Engagements” Social Studies of Science vol. 39 no. 5 (2009): 793-813.

Thévenot, Laurent. « Un gouvernement par les normes, pratiques et politiques des formats d’information », in Cognition et information en société, edited by Bernard Conein and Laurent Thévenot, 205-242. Paris : Editions de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1997.

Thévenot, Laurent. L’Action au pluriel: sociologie des régimes d’engagement. Paris: Éditions La découverte, 2006.

Thévenot, Laurent and Luc Boltanski. De la justification: les économies de la grandeur. Paris: Gallimard, 1991.

Tsukamoto, Yoshi. “Architectural Behaviorology” in The Architectures of Atelier Bow-Wow: Behaviorology, edited by Atelier Bow-Wow, 8-15. New York: Rizzoli, 2010.