Michel Desvigne is a landscape architect internationally renowned for his rigorous and contemporary designs and for the originality and relevance of his research work. He has developed projects in more than twenty-five countries, where his work helps in highlighting the landscapes and rendering them visible, in understanding the mechanisms at work giving them form, and in acting upon these mechanisms in order to transform the landscapes and imbue them with meaning. In 2011, he received France's Grand Prize for Urbanism for his continual contribution to and reflection upon the city and larger territory. In 2014, he was awarded the European Prize for Urban Public Space for his restoration project of the Old-Port of Marseille. 

Member of the French school

Through his ability of deciphering the structure of territories, how they fall into place and consequently how they can be transformed, Michel Desvigne demonstrates an expertise characteristic of the landscape architectural profession in France. This tradition is in particular maintained and perpetuated by ENSP, the National School for Landscape Architecture in Versailles, at the center of invention of the classical city by André Le Nôtre. A tradition that has relied as well on the work of certain individuals, such as Michel Corajoud, whose teachings Michel Desvigne followed. The method of Corajoud, in which the transposition of a landscape takes place from what is initially observed, conceiving the matrix of a project from the observed, provided French landscape architects with an invaluable understanding of territory.

Villa Medici, and professional beginnings

Michel Desvigne and Christine Dalnoky were the first resident landscape architects at the Villa Medici in Rome (1986-88). Upon their return to France in 1988, they continued working together up until 1996. In 1989, Renzo Piano entrusted them with the design of a garden within one of his projects on the rue de Meaux in Paris. The “square des Bouleaux” or “birch tree square” was noticed and positively commented upon, succeeding in launching them on their careers.

Explorer rather than exporter

From his first projects, Michel Desvigne began working internationally. The international scope of his projects and approach is a dominant, structural, and necessary element. Constantly traveling helps one to really see. The multitude of situations, the successive differences encountered, and the sense of urgency born out of the short periods of time most trips last, impart a certain acuity to the traveler.
Explorer rather than exporter, Michel Desvigne works in highlighting landscapes and rendering them visible, a work that helps in understanding the mechanisms at work giving landscapes form, by acting upon these mechanisms in order to transform the landscapes and imbue them with meaning.

Intermediary between the United States and Europe

Teaching at Harvard, completing numerous projects throughout the United States, Michel Desvigne has taken on the unique role of “intermediary”, linking the very different urban cultural environments of Europe and North America. Notably, he has known how to intelligently revive and renew the approach of American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Originator, among others, of Boston's “parks system”, Olmsted based this system on a series of hydraulic and vegetal devices. To this system Desvigne has offered a rereading, in response to contemporary urban challenges.

Reinterpretation of the parks system

Transplanting the idea of the American parks system of the 19th Century could effectively serve in helping organize European urban peripheries. Just as these parks served at times to organize the growth of cities, their typology transplanted into the present could indeed help constitute a structure and limit to contemporary urban sprawl. The vestiges of this geography, its infrastructure networks and industrial sites, are the potential locations for such an urban recovery.

Teaching 

Since 1998, Michel Desvigne has taught regularly at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (Cambridge, MA, USA), as well as at numerous universities and architectural schools throughout the world: ENSP (Versailles, France), EPFL (Lausanne, Switzerland), UCL (Louvain, Belgium), AA School of Architecture (London, UK), Accademia di Architettura (Mendrisio, Switzerland).
In line with his research and teaching, Michel Desvigne has served as president of the board of directors of the National School for Landscape Architecture in Versailles (ENSP) since 2008.
He has been a member of the French national commission to UNESCO since 2013.

Shapping territories

In large territorial projects, the landscape architect is without a doubt the best prepared and equipped to intervene over a significant period of time. The landscape architect's knowledge and awareness with respect to natural rhythms helps him or her better understand how a city and territory continually evolve over time, like a living organism. In supervising and guiding the transformation of a territory, the conception of it in terms of a finished product is excluded from the start.
The landscape architect's abilities, efficient because they are concrete and tangible, direct him or her to focusing on physically mastering the various mechanisms at play in a landscape. This focus is based above all on an experience with spatially and temporally large-scale projects.

Landscape architect as project leader

While participating in numerous collaborations with architects and urban planners, both those known internationally and those just beginning, Michel Desvigne has at the same time taken on the role of project leader for a number of large-scale projects, including the Paris-Saclay cluster (7700 ha, 2010-2021), the Euralens project and its chain of parks along the old mining district, and the Old-Port redevelopment project in Marseille.

Contribution to the city

In 2011, Michel Desvigne received France's Grand Prize for Urbanism for his continual contribution to research and thought focusing on the city and territory. In 2014, he was awarded the European Prize for Urban Public Space for his restoration project of the Old-Port of Marseille.
His conceptual contribution to landscape architectural thought has been valuable in the formation of large territories as well as public space. Among the more important principles of his approach are the ideas of “Landscape as Prerequisite”, “Intermediate Natures”, “the Transformation and Forms of Time”, and above all his concept of “Edges”.  

The landscape as prerequisite

MDP is distinguished by an approach that takes its place far from current fashions and from the manipulating of landscape into mere scenery, an approach that rather enables the landscape to play both its ancient and historical role: preparing territories for their future uses. A certain rusticity is utilized in bringing out the essential in a landscape, giving structure to its future development in a lasting way.

Intermediate natures

From his earliest research and work, Michel Desvigne has sought to set in place, on a large territorial scale, landscape structures as living environments. These “intermediate natures” are architectural, summary, provisional, continually in gestation. They come to mark a territory with the elements with which it will be more fully composed later on, areas in which prefiguration would be premature.

Transformation and forms of time

Giving priority to a developing process rather than to a fixed design, Michel Desvigne anticipates and prepares for the effect the long and uncertain unfolding of time inherent in landscape and urban projects creates. His landscapes bring a site alive immediately, by succeeding in controlling the elements present for the benefit of users and investors. The ability of his landscapes to evolve lends them quality and interest throughout the process of their transformation.

Edges, a contemporary issue

In Europe, public space did not develop at the same rate and proportional scale as the cities they came to be surrounded by, cities that experienced rapid growth during the 20th Century. The contemporary city is diffuse. It continues to sprawl outwards in housing subdivisions and peripheral areas where the presence of either the urban or the agricultural is no longer particularly discernible.
In this period in which our cities and territories are being redesigned and rebuilt, the thought of Michel Desvigne is oriented beyond just neighborhoods and city blocks. He proposes the rediscovery of the wider dimensions of the natural geography, which will help bring about an increase in our metropolitan quality of life, enable a proper response to the ecological challenges of the present, and help restore a sense of visual coherence to territories that have become indecipherable.
Michel Desvigne has conceived of a new type of relationship between the urban and the surrounding countryside in which agriculture plays a key role, aesthetically, structurally, as well as functionally.
Through his concept of widened city edges, Desvigne creates not just an interruption of green within the urban fabric, but rather an intermediate landscape where the agricultural and peri-urban worlds surrounding the edges can both enter, creating a space of fruitful exchange where nonetheless the essential character of both worlds is respected and preserved.
This contribution to the renewal of peri-urban space falls within the landscape domain. Despite being partial and in some sense complementary to the work of architects and urbanists, such an intervention has an impact on a vast amount of territory. It is not so much a question of inventing a new landscape form for the future, but rather of taking stock of existing forms in order to bring about their clear and immediate transformation.
These mechanisms are designed with the aim of affecting the physical world, of transforming cities and territories.  

Awards

2000
Architectural Medal, French Academy of Culture.

2002
Rosa Barba Landscape Architectural Award, for the Greenwich Millenium project in London.

2002
Civic Trust Award, for the Greenwich Millenium project in London.

2003
Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Paris, France).

2011
Grand Prize for Urbanism (Paris, France).

2011
Luxemburg Architectural Prize in the field of Landscape Architecture (Park Draï Eechelen).

2013
Groupe Moniteur Prize for urban public space, 2013, Category Metropolitan Territory, for the realization of Vieux-Port de Marseille, France.

2014
European Prize for Urban Public Space, for the redevelopment project of the Old-Port of Marseille (MDP lead consultant).

2014
Special mention of « urban and architectural politics» jury, City of Versailles, Public Client.

2016
"Défis urbains" Award, for the redevelopment project of Marches de St Pierre, Toulouse, France.

 

Some relevant dates


1958
Born in Montbéliard, France.

1977
University studies in the natural sciences at Sciences Lyon II.
Degree in general university studies, with focus in botany-geology.

1979
Begins studies at the national school for landscape architecture at Versailles (ENSP). Follows the teachings of Michel Corajoud, and works with Corajoud and Alexandre Chemetoff from 1983 to 1986.

1984
Floating gardens – Degree in Landscape Architecture (DPLG), ENSP, Versailles.

1986
Elementary gardens – Resident at the Villa Medicis, Rome.

1986
First collaborations with the architect Renzo Piano. 

1988
Beginning of professional practice with landscape architect Christine Dalnoky. Develops projects together with Dalnoky through 1996.

1989
First significant project: Square des Bouleaux in Paris (with Renzo Piano).

1991
Avenue Mendes-France, Montpellier, France.

1991
Teaches at the École polytechnique fédérale of Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.

1992
Park de la Théols, Issoudun, France.

1992
TGV Méditerranée train stations, in collaboration with AREP, completion in 2002.

1994
Teaches at the Institut d’Architecture, University of Geneva, with Georges Descombes.

1997
Greenwich Peninsula Millenium Park, London.

1997
Establishment of the firm on rue du Renard in Paris.

1998
Begins teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

2000
Teaches at the Accademia Svizzera in Mendrizio, Switzerland.

2000
Architectural Medal, French Academy of Culture.

2002
Landscape guidelines for the city of Bordeaux. Creation of the Park aux angéliques on the right bank.

2002
Rosa Barba Landscape Architectural Award, for the Greenwich Millenium project in London.

2002
Civic Trust Award, for the Greenwich Millenium project in London.

2003
Landscape masterplan for Issoudun, France.

2003
Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Paris, France).

2004
Development plan for Bordeaux-Right bank.

2007
Establishment of the firm Michel Desvigne Paysagiste or MDP (SARL).

2009
Thematic monograph: Intermediate Natures, the landscapes of Michel Desvigne.

2009
Edges – Consultation for the Greater Paris project (with Ateliers Jean Nouvel).

2009
President of the board of directors for the national school for landscape architecture at Versailles.

2010
Awarded the first framework agreement for Paris-Saclay, as landscape architect project leader.

2010
Awarded the framework agreement for Euralens, as landscape architect project leader.

2011
Grand Prize for Urbanism (Paris, France).

2011
Luxembourgeois Architectural Prize in the field of Landscape Architecture (Park Draï Eechelen).

2013
Groupe Moniteur Prize for urban public space, 2013, Category Metropolitan Territory,  pfor the realization of Vieux-Port de Marseille, France.

2014
European Prize for Urban Public Space, for the redevelopment project of the Old-Port of Marseille (MDP project leader).

2014
The National Museum for Modern Art (Pompidou Centre, Paris) acquires a collection of drawings and models from the MDP firm.

2014
Special mention of « urban and architectural politics» jury, City of Versailles, Public Client.

2015
Awarded the second framework agreement for Paris-Saclay, as landscape architect project leader.

2016
"Défis urbains" Award, for the redevelopment project of Marches de St Pierre, Toulouse, France.

2017
Internet site: posting online of the MDP approach.