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Building cultures and ancient buildings retrofitting : engagements, trials and attachments around rammed earth building retrofitting in Isère, France





Ancient buildings face today normative, environmental and patrimonial issues which foster their renovation and engage a great diversity of actors. This multiplicity initiates a debate around knowledge, professional worlds and attachments which are woven around existing buildings. This thesis delves into these dynamics focusing on the case of ancient rammed earth building (raw earth compressed into an external formwork) in the French department of Isere, France. It aims at describing how and by whom rammed earth buildings are involved in retrofitting projects, considering both their physical and representational improvement. We make the hypothesis that retrofitting projects, through the multiple ways of engagement they imply, help to free the experience of this buildings from an ordinary experience. Indeed, they put on trial the attachments developed by the actors around existing buildings and earthen material as much as the building knowledge and practices. These trials bring out collectives that weave a political meshwork. At different scales, this meshwork composes spaces for dialogue and appropriation of uses, practices and futures of existing buildings.The exploration of this hypothesis follows an interdisciplinary perspective that connect theoretical resources and methods developed in architecture, ethnology and sociology. It develops a pragmatic anthropology of building cultures composing a common problematic for these disciplines to discuss ancient building retrofitting. The investigation is based on multi-sited qualitative ethnography. Following projects paths carried by different actors (inhabitants, professionals, institutions), it describes the retrofitting worlds in action. First, the thesis describes the various forms of engagement in retrofitting projects, from the intervention on a specific building to its evaluation as heritage. These experience draw attention on different qualities of the buildings and bring them out of their ordinary status. Ancient rammed earth buildings are therefore engaged – and engage themselves – in multiple realities: house, place of life, workplace, local heritage, earthen architecture. It makes the actors act, react and interact. Then, the analysis shows how the difficulty of applying strict rehabilitation protocols leads the actors to engage in trials and to develop holds to carry out their projects. As the project progresses, these trials lead them to adjust their relations with each other and with existing buildings. As they grasp knowledge about retrofitting, they develop different attachments. Therefore, retrofitting projects contribute to the emergence of collectives, more or less durable. At their own scale, these collectives reclaim the methods of interventions on buildings and the decision that concern them. The thesis eventually aims to better understand the plural dimensions (material, constructive, architectural and interactional) of rammed earth building retrofitting and propose components for a dialogue to carry on with local stakeholders around the interests and conditions that would make possible to hold a political space around the uses and futures of existing buildings.

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