On Traffic Flows and History

Alain Demarquette

Is a city a machine? Would it not compare, rather, to an organism, at once complex and fascinating, that evolves more or less quickly depending on the circumstances, through external ³impulses² traversing and internal "impulses" ensuing ..... Indeed, a city adapts according to its own rhythm, and becomes enriched by different ³networks² that traverse or follow the surface of the globe.

All the same, external and internal flows still pass most often through real roads or gates. The latter are, in a general manner of speaking, frequently connected together by a belt of boulevards. These peripheral boulevards are the trace of a military past -- fortifications in the instance of Cambrai. Thus the presence of the army and its engineers clearly marked urban texture and the development of such cities. As Jacques Soulillou points out quite accurately in his article, today cities hundreds of years old like Thessaloniki and Cambrai regulate the flow of automobiles with these ³peripheral² boulevards.

It is interesting to note that, during the economic boom of the end of the nineteenth century, Cambrai's fortifications were considered to be a hindrance to the industrial development of the city. The dismantling of those walls, once completed, saw the appearance of an urban fabric highly suitable to the automobile.

Now, a century later, a feeling of bitterness can be felt in the population of Cambrai whenever one presents old photographs of those fortifications, which were reinforced and maintained during nearly a millennium by various European military engineers. Where these fortifications still intact today, they would be of incalculable value, making Cambrai a major tourist center.

Yet contrary to other European cities heavily damaged by the two world wars, the city of Cambrai, despite enormous destruction, managed to conserve a number of architectural "components" sufficient to establish a reading, not always chronological but easily perceptible, of its long history. One can see this in Mikael Levin¹s photographs. The reconstruction of certain neighborhoods was a success in integration, in the relationship and equilibrium between mass and form, and in their quite distinct urban identities.Today other neighborhoods, formerly industrial and now inactive, are in the midst of transformation. A homogeneous reappropriation of these spaces is one of the keys of the redevelopment of Cambrai, providing the city with a unique opportunity for its future structural needs.

Both from below and from above, memory is the fruit of an identity.

Alain Demarquette

Alain Demarquette, 32 years old, is an architect. He is Co-founder of DUNE Architecture

(translation by Susan Cohen)