Within a short peregrination from almost any metro station in Paris one often stumbles across a monument of some kind. Above metro Bastille, for instance, the Place de la Bastille remembers where the Bastille prison once stood, until it was stormed and subsequently destroyed between 1789–90. Below the surface an austere brass detail intimates the ground upon which one of the prison’s walls once stood. On the surface, at the centre of the square, the Colonne de Juillet commemorates France’s 1830 revolution. Or, over in the sixteenth arrondissement, near metro Iéna, at the centre of Place Rochambeau, stands a monument to Comte Rochambeau, a commander of the French Army during the American War of Independence. Much of that arrondissement commemorates the military alliances between France and the United States. In Paris even the streets are monuments: many of the greatest figures to emerge out of France have allés, rues, and boulevards named after them.
With such monuments, which characterise so much of the urban milieu of Paris, we find that what is architecturally commemorated is almost invariably a victory of some sort in the history of that political body. Military glory and alliances, moments of political upheaval and revolution, great intellectual, artistic, or political achievements, and so on. In short, when monuments commemorate such moments they operate like trophies; they make a city into a trophy room for the State. Yet, occasionally, an event must be commemorated that is not a source of local or national dignity; it is, on the contrary, a source of enduring shame. Whilst still orientated towards a kind of remembrance, rather than functioning as trophies, which affirm the achievements and hence the legitimacy of a State, such memorials function as scars. That is, they are an articulation of a healing process that takes place within a collective body. Like scars they have both corporeal and incorporeal aspects. We believe that this functional determination supposes a typological subset of architectural commemorations.
Dug into the earth at the eastern prow of the Île de la Cité, in Paris, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation was designed by Georges-Henri Pingusson and inaugurated in 1962. It was designed with the intention of commemorating the 200 000 people that were deported from France under the Vichy government between 1940–4. The Mémorial is undoubtedly a member of the aforementioned subset. And, certainly, it is not the only one of its kind. There has been and will continue to be a drive to recognise and mourn State-sanctioned atrocities through architectural modes of expression the world over. In comparison to their affirmative counterparts, instances such as these are inevitably
entwined with an entirely different set of socio-political forces: one no longer constructs a trophy; rather, one articulates a healing process that is in all likelihood still taking place. The problem, then, in an architectural sense, is one of responding to and articulating an indefinitely dynamic process with materials and modes of representation that are inherently static.
There is a piercingly earnest quality about the Mémorial. With regards to its urban milieu it is inconspicuous, almost imperceptible. Adjacent to its entrance stands the Notre Dame Cathedral. From the Quai de l’Archevêché, the pathway that traverses the two, it’s restrained entrance might easily be mistaken as the natural edge of the island. As it is with a stolperstein, so it is with the Mémorial: one stumbles into it. We believe that works such as the Mémorial demand a conception of form and function that concerns more than their pre-conception. Through a reading of the formal and functional components of expression that are assembled at the Mémorial, in this paper we attempt to demonstrate how it operates a capture of the Deleuze-Guattarian notion of a minoritarian politic. In doing so, we articulate a potential response to the aforementioned problem of producing an architectural work that
addresses itself to a dynamic healing process. Through a Deleuze-Guattarian minoritarian politic, we find a alternate method of approaching the conceptualisation of form and function. In order to think them dynamically, we think them as minoritarian.