Picnic stories

Picnic stories
The Eames picnic, Powers of ten behind the scenes - Benoît Marcou (2024)
An investigation on the spatial, political and poetic power of an architecture that leaves little if no physical trace.

Benoît Marcou
Paris, France
I am Paris based architect and urbanist, interested in the notions of lightness and permanence in public space.
Field of work
Architecture, Design, Urban planning, Landscape architecture
Project category
Public space
Project submitted

I am Paris based architect and urbanist, interested in the notions of lightness and permanence in public space.
I received my Master of architecture from TU Delft in 2021 and after working for public institutions and architecture offices, I started an urbanism post-master program in 2023 at ENSA Paris-Est. Taking part in this program and working collectively on commissions given by public institutions and developers is an opportunity for me to develop my interest in issues of governance in metropolitan and rural territories and to explore new design and negotiation tools to deal with spatial issues of various scales.
One of these projects dealt with the transformation of a modern “Grand Ensemble” public space in Fontenay-sous-Bois, in the periphery of Paris. It was an incredible opportunity to reconsider the qualities of platform urbanism and the large pieces of artificial ground it has created.

In parallel of my work and studies, I have an interest in writing and printed publications. I published two articles on the topic of the picnic in the design magazines PLI and MacGuffin. In 2022 I worked for the architecture magazine Archiscopie on the co-curation of an issue dedicated to architectural education and on the organisation of a public round table with independent architecture magazines.
On this occasion I also got to write an article on experiential pedagogies. This interest in “learning by doing” methods comes from my own practice and participation in several design and build workshops in Europe, as a volunteer or as a teaching assistant (EASA, Porto Academy, Canya Viva Italia).

In the coming years I want to find people and institutions to collaborate with on both theoretical research topics and operational public space projects.

Picnic stories is an ongoing exploration of the picnic, often pictured in Western culture's artistic representation as a popular collective activity bringing bodies closer to their environment. We select a piece of land, we lay a cloth over it and proceed to sit, eat, drink, chat, kiss, hug.
This work argues that the picnic is also a tool to define a temporary territory, a space of relative safety where one can remain static in public space. Looking at examples in Iran, France, Hungary, Japan, Mexico or Hong Kong, we see that this ephemeral use of the ground holds a strong political power and sometimes gives visibility to groups that are under-represented in public space.
In some contexts, the tolerance of such events comes from the fact that the architecture of the picnic is light and fragile and that it is supposed to leave no physical trace behind. Besides its political and poetic value, the picnic is also an opportunity to address pressing environmental issues : How light should architecture be ? How permanent ? What physical traces should it leave on the surface of the Earth?

This work was initiated in 2020 while writing my master thesis at TU Delft and I have tried to develop it further by writing articles. In 2020 for the design magazine PLI I wrote about the recurrence of picnics in the history of art and more recently on the political events using the picnic as an excuse to gather crowds and occupy public space. In 2021 I wrote for MacGuffin Magazine on the symbolic of the picnic rug/carpet/cloth and its use as a world measuring unit in Charles and Ray Eames film Powers of Ten.

Considering that these events are ephemeral and leave most of their traces in the memory of the protagonist or witnesses of the event, I want to develop an atlas of drawings and texts, recording and compiling these picnic stories. Eventually, I would also like to develop this topic into temporary spatial installations and furniture on the occasion of events or festivals.