The collective imagination is now in the territories. Just as the term “space” had replaced “place” during the 20th century, sites, lands and terroirs have been replaced by “territories”, a notion that is less abstract than “zone” but sufficiently polysemic to encompass administrative perimeters, catchment areas or local history. Geography seems to be poorly represented and the thickness of the terrain often diminished by a common narrative that will then take on the formula of a territorial identity that could have made Castoriadis and his collective imagination smile.
Take the Rochefort dockyard. What is its true dimension? A piece of shore on a loop of the Charente, a large war port on the Atlantic coast or the port of embarkation of La Fayette for the independence of the United States of America? What is its shape? Does the park that we know today under the pretty name of Jardin des Retours, still include the aeronautic activity zone (another strange formula) which is its technological heritage? The ground here contains so many archaeological remains that bear witness to a succession of industrial constructions that it would be pointless to give a single image of it.
Yet our era is shrinking. In order to go fast and be understandable to the greatest number, the reduction of the complexity of the place gives way to a smooth discourse where here as elsewhere we will only retain the maritime character and the call of distant horizons. It is easy to forget the breath that animated the men who thought the arsenal and its innovations or the suffering of the convicts who toiled there for nearly a century. History is a sensitive subject that is not lightly treaded upon when one goes through the arsenal. However, let us remember this: at a precise moment in the history of the site, the landscape gardener Bernard Lassus delicately brought up the psyche that was buried deep in the ground.
A naval arsenal on the move
A creation ex nihilo
First we have to go back. At the end of the 17th century, Louis XIV decided to create a war arsenal capable of quickly building a fleet that would restore his maritime power in the face of the English enemy and promote trade with the kingdom’s colonies. The site of Rochefort was chosen for its strategic location, protected by the Pertuis Sea and linked to a productive hinterland by the Charente River. The king’s desire was to make “the establishment of Rochefort the largest and most beautiful it hasyt in the world” wrote Colbert. The ambition is given. The minister of Louis XIV had understood the need to establish at a point halfway between the English Channel and Spain a large naval base which, on the ocean, would double the port of Brest and would be both an arsenal and a port of refuge. The site had many advantages: the river was deep; the roadstead where it ended was easily defensible from the islands of Aix and Oleron and its distance from the sea made it safe from maritime bombardment. It was nothing new to build a city — factory from scratch: in Plymouth (United Kingdom) as in Ferrol (Spain), the arsenal had given birth to a city that had then developed all around.
The ambitious project in Rochefort included all the buildings necessary for the construction, rigging and fitting out of ships, from raw material warehouses, rope works, the forge, the cannon foundry, mast pits, refit forms, food stores to staff accommodation. Under the direction of engineer Blondel, the work was carried out quickly. In May 1666 the foundations of the first establishments were laid: the rope factory, the foundry, the general stores… And before the end of that same year a ship of the line was launched. From 1669 to 1671, at Colbert’s request, an “English” form was dug out, which was later called the “old form” and was the first masonry form in the world (each of the three Atlantic arsenals — Dunkirk, Brest, Rochefort — was to be equipped with one).
In the 17th and 18th c., Rochefort contributed to the progress of the naval industry and participated in the great adventures of the navy by arming ships for the colonies (mainly for Canada and the West Indies). And history is known, La Fayette embarked there with volunteers in 1780 to help the American insurgents during their war of independence.
An industrial site in perpetual evolution
Most of the holds were grouped in a place called the “Place des constructions” located south of the Arsenal, between the General Store and the Bell Channel. Originally there were only straight holds perpendicular to the river. From 1875 onwards, oblique holds were built which could accommodate larger buildings and allow them to be launched in the direction of the river bed. Some holds were covered by ingenious metal structures. The masts were made from pieces of wood that were bathed in pits. The largest, that of Lupin (at Saint-Nazaire sur Charente a few kilometres downstream) was dug in 1668. A second one, established near the workshop of the South Arsenal mast, was not used for long. Then the mast pits of the Avant-garde (1779–1784) were built to replace the one at Lupin. They form a magnificent square of 750 m in width composed of 9 masonry basins.
The stakes of shipbuilding required constant improvement of the production tool. But it is also necessary to imagine an arsenal closed on itself and swarming with workers. As a substitute for labour, a prison was created in 1766, which was not abolished until 1852. The living conditions there were reputed to be particularly harsh. In addition to shipbuilding and ship repair, the arsenal was also used as an anchorage for warships. In the middle of the 18th century, the navy built a large store on the banks of the food channel to supply its ships. Major works were then carried out: quays and wharves were built, a new shape, the sloping holds, the grounding basin and the torpedo boat basin. As an extension of the food canal, three water basins were dug. Most of the quays still visible today were built in the 19th century.
The arsenal was a military-industrial site in perpetual evolution, constantly adapting to new technological processes. In three centuries, it went from the construction of wooden navy and sailboats to steel construction and steamboats, and today excels in civil aeronautics. The site will have continued to evolve, with new constructions suddenly appearing while the older ones changed function or were demolished. Buildings from the 18th century are still present (and protected) on the site of the Stelia company and are still used for aeronautic production.
The military-industrial activity will have inexorably declined and the military port of the Arsenal will close its doors in 1927. But the civil shipyards will continue to build a few ships. The site, closed to the public, will be left abandoned. The rope factory will be burned during the Second World War. An old man from Rochefort once told me, with a mischievous look on his face, that he had played in the most formidable adventure playground that the ruined rope factory represented at the time.
The first stage of the rescue
The Royal Rope Factory
At the heart of the arsenal, the first workshop opened in 1670 was the rope factory, later known as the Corderie Royale, designed by François Blondel: it was intended to make cables and sailcloth from hemp.
Colbert had appointed Blondel as the King’s engineer for the Navy in 1664, which meant that he supervised various fortification works in Normandy (Cherbourg, Le Havre), Brittany and the West Indies (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Santo Domingo). Implementing the principles that would guide the drafting of his future Architecture Course taught at the Royal Academy of Architecture, he designed a functional building that perfectly meets classical aesthetics with an exceptional length of 370 m, without any splitting wall, suitable for the manufacture of 195 m long ropes. Its main (east) facade is open to the Charente, from where it can be admired by sailors, while the other side of the building (west), which is steeped and overlooks the town, is treated much more soberly. Built on a marshy ground, it stands on an imposing raft of oak beams. The deformations were not long in coming and buttresses had to be quickly put in place (on its west façade). The rope will have undergone transformations over the years. Around 1780, it was found to be so dilapidated that it was on the verge of being abandoned, and there were even plans to demolish it. However, it was refurbished and in the middle of the following century it was reduced to the wing, the south pavilion and the central pavilion, to which two new wings were added to double its surface area. In the 19th century, the railway line even crossed it in several places.
The transformation of the steam navy and competition from the port of Brest meant that the rope factory activity gradually died out and was abandoned after the fire that ravaged it in 1944. A road infrastructure project, a sort of road on the river bank, will mobilise the population of Rochefort to save the rope factory which will be classified as a historical monument on October 10th 1967. The site owes its preservation to this threat of permanent disfigurement. Part of the land was bought by the town of Rochefort from the State in 1973 but the land consolidation took much longer. The first phase of the preservation of the site will therefore begin.
Studies and rehabilitation work on the Corderie Royale began in 1975 under the direction of the chief architect for historic monuments in the department of Charente, Michel Mastorakis, and then Philippe Oudin who took over the department. They were not completed until 1981 and were carried out in three phases with the ambition of installing public services. Michel Mastorakis paid homage to the symmetry desired by François Blondel (let us not forget that the latter was also a mathematician) by restoring the work to its original proportions (even if it meant arranging the historicity on the central pavilion to better establish this symmetry).
Michel Mastorakis’ restoration plan was to assert the classical architectural character of the building, which was given the nickname of Versailles of the Seas, while arbitrating a tight budget (hence the use of concrete floors and a pine frame). But the act of restoration is essentially political. The commune is still struggling to recover from the disengagement of the navy. The arsenal was partly abandoned and still closed to the population. The installation of the media library, the CCI and the coastal conservatory was the result of a strong desire to open the site to the city.
The Garden of Returns
The rope was missing a case. The site had been neglected and the ambition was now to create a garden, called the gardens of Charente in the Middle City contract, which was the subject of a national competition in 1982. In the presentation note of the competition, the city evokes its objective:
“The City of Rochefort has decided to launch a competition for the development of the outdoor spaces of the Corderie Royale de Rochefort so that the Corderie Royale de Rochefort, which is currently outlying, can be put in close contact with the town centre. The envisaged users are firstly the people of Rochefort and secondly a more distant clientele linked to the tourist impact. »
The articulation between the city and the arsenal is at the heart of the development. However, between the navy garden (a vestige of the king’s former gardens) and the arsenal, a difference in level of about ten metres is contained by a vast retaining wall.
Eight candidates were selected to take part in the competition. It is interesting to see how this competition is a reflection of its time and how it creates the era. The answers are varied, ranging from the neoclassical garden strongly supporting Blondel’s symmetry to solutions that could be said to be typo-morphological with the creation of a network of plots and micro-gardens. To ensure the link with the city, several candidates go so far as to create an imposing glacis that erases the retaining wall. Six projects reinforce Blondel’s symmetry and one goes so far as to create a rounded port in the axis of the central pavilion. On the other hand, the competition boards of the last candidate are very pure, in stark contrast to the filling of the others: it is difficult to understand today how Bernard Lassus’ falsely minimalist project was able to win the jury’s support. The explanation is perhaps simple. For Bernard Lassus, the rebirth of the arsenal could not be achieved through an external intervention and “the saving reaction (had to) come from the depths of the cultural being in question”. The part of his project is thus “to clear the brush so that on the surface the bottom appears”. He also wrote in his competition notice:
“The restoration of the Corderie Royale and the enhancement of these support areas within the framework of the Rochefort medium-sized town contract raises the question of its return to the town, after years of abandonment and exclusion. (…)
Let us briefly summarize this party as it appears from now on: to pay homage, in the new development, to two of the founders of the city, and, through them, to the two directions in which their genius was exercised; on the one hand, the discovery of the overseas shores thanks to the ships in whose armament he presided; on the other hand, the diffusion on the European continent of the wealth they imported, a diffusion which was at the origin of the city’s vocation of exchange and trade. »
The two founders to whom Bernard Lassus refers are Rolland Michel Barrin, Count of La Galissonière (1693–1756) and Michel Bégon (1638–1710) who sealed the botanical tradition of the town. The first, a naval officer, brought back from his travels the first seeds of large-flowered magnolia and then the Virginia tulip tree. The second, Michel Bégon, grandfather of the first, steward of the navy in the port of Rochefort, had already given his name to the famous begonia.
Rather than working on the link between the town and the rope factory, Bernard Lassus turns the subject upside down by dealing with the link between the rope factory and the Charente and beyond, in an enlarged landscape dimension, to the sea. In his note, the landscape gardener uses the term psychology several times, as for example in the delay he intends to give between the view of the cordage and its physical access in order to give rise to desire. And indeed, Bernard Lassus devoted himself to a work of psychoanalysis of the place by letting bits of memory come to the surface. His layout puts in relation the three temporal strata of the arsenal: the time of industrial production staged by the clearing of the rope and by simple paved alleys presented as archaeological traces, the time of abandonment and return to nature, of which the wilderness ripisylve testifies, and the third time of the reception of the public with an immense lawn offered to the walkers.
Under a falsely simple aspect, the project is of a rare finesse. For example, the sloping edges of the flowerbeds, inclined at an angle of 15°, which raise the carpet of grass so as to give a movement of overlapping of the archaeological stratum of the paving stones by the lawn, and the visual erasure of the paths from the esplanade to give the impression of a green sea. Then, in this almost naked garden hide groves, resurgences of the classical art of the garden, with the labyrinth of naval battles, the rigging area and the flames of the admirals (since disappeared). But is it only a garden? Shouldn’t it be seen as a psychoanalytical work that reveals the very psyche of the place? The elements deployed on the site — one can think of the tontines in the rigging area — are so many transitional objects towards the latent content of the site.
The second stage of the reconversion
Who today can ignore the Hermione? The building of this multicoloured ship, which is the result of an association, symbolises the second stage of the conversion of the arsenal in the sense that it gave an initial impetus to tourism (with the shipyard being open to visitors) and culture (by the search for resemblance to an 18th century frigate). The shipyard began work in 1997 and the ship will be launched in salt water on 7 September 2014 (the original ship was built in six months). It will have undeniably boosted the attractiveness of the site with its 250,000 visitors per year and will have greatly contributed to transforming Rochefort’s image in an involuntary urban marketing gesture. Since the end of the project, the association of more than 20 employees has been looking for a new economic balance with the sale of the sailing experience and derived products both at Rochefort and at port of call. The reason is that the maintenance of the ship is very expensive. The survival of the association, and through it of the Hermione Adventure, is today pushing towards increased tourism on the site. But before that, let’s come back to three structuring cultural actions.
Three movements of patrimonialization
The local stakeholders, aware that the dockyard had a strong influence on the Charente estuary, had nominated the dockyard for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006:
“More than a group of monuments, the Rochefort Dockyard, a unique example in the world of a facility of this type inland, forms a cultural landscape with its industrial system totally designed for maritime construction, the new town of Rochefort and its defensive system. »
This living landscape, the nomination stated, was part of an ongoing evolutionary process. The property nominated as an ‘evolving cultural landscape’ consisted of all the installations of the dockyard and its defences along the Charente River (including the iron belt, which is a network of redoubts and forts), but also the roadsteads and islands, the estuary itself, and the marshes along the river. The psyche of the place asserted itself and grew in size.
The nomination will not be accepted as other sites such as Chatham Arsenal (United Kingdom) or Karlskrona Harbour (Sweden) already bore this ‘outstanding universal value’. Nevertheless, this nomination has had the merit of setting out the cultural and evolutionary value of the Arsenal site, and it has also made it possible to define a perimeter for reflection through the buffer zone that will be included in the future Opération Grand Site. Furthermore, this unfortunate candidature had the ambition to find an economic model that would respect the site with commitments to mediation, enhancement and planning of this cultural landscape. The frustration of this failure gave rise to three impulses in reaction. A safeguarded sector was delimited in 2009 and the classification of the Charente Estuary as a site (on 22 August 2013) brought the first recognition of “the value of a singular and remarkable landscape ensemble, combining nature and culture” which will be renewed in an Operation Great Site.
The studies of the Safeguarding and Enhancement Plan (PSMV) for the old centre of Rochefort, including the arsenal, and those of the Major Site Operation are then concomitant. Let us begin with the PSMV, the elaboration of which was based on the historical stratification of the site from the great seigniorial park (which existed before the establishment of the arsenal town of Rochefort since it was mentioned as early as the 16th century) to Bernard Lassus’ “millefeuille landscape”. Starting from the observation that these historical strata were present on the site but not very legible, a planning and programming orientation frames the tourist development by the valorization of the scientific knowledge of the Arsenal, and renews with the great botanical tradition of Rochefort. It also commits to the preservation of the heritage of the Returns Garden.
The Grand site de France de l’estuaire de la Charente was labelled in 2020. It highlights the different natures of the area from the barely domesticated banks of the Charente to the classic garden (that of the Hôtel de la Marine overhanging the Returns Garden) and the Dutch developments of Little Flanders (the Rochefort marshes). The territory seeks to explain its relationship with nature with an oceanic reading (the estuary seen from the pertuients) and a fluvial reading (by going down the Charente). Above all, it is a demonstration of the “alliance” between culture and nature, which is not unlike the concordance of times in Bernard Lassus’ garden. The “spirit of the place”, sought after in both the listed site and the large site, can be compared to the collective unconscious latent in each place.
The tourist impulse
At the same time, however, the arsenal is undergoing a major change in terms of tourism. The actors of the site are trying to diversify the offer with the support of the communities. The most structuring project is to create a museum complex around the Hermione Adventure by highlighting the boat’s navigation. This project will take a long time to implement and the waiting time is taken up by an attraction that will take place as early as 2020 in the form of a night light trail. The Quebec company Moment Factory and its Lumina route were chosen for their approach to the site:
“An exceptional testimony to France’s maritime history, the Rochefort Arsenal awakens the imagination. (…)
This is why we have decided to bring the sea to Rochefort by creating an enchanting night-time route that will plunge visitors into a fantastic world inspired by the oceans. Rather than a didactic or interpretative tour, we offer a sensory, immersive and above all emotional experience (…) A true visual and living poem, this tour will be a lyrical evocation of the most beautiful legends of the oceans. »
The latter proposal focuses on experience and emotion. It also has a universal character because of the very broad imaginary that it intends to develop around the poetics of the oceans in a discourse accessible to the greatest number of people. The ambition is therefore to move towards generalist tourism and to offer an experience worthy of a cinematographic Blockbuster. This positioning is interesting insofar as it reinterprets the spirit of the place — after all Rochefort was a port — while carrying out a semantic reduction which effectively accompanies the development of contemporary tourism.
All over the world, ports have been reconverted with the transformation of international trade with high-profile successes such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor at the end of the 1960s, the London Docklands, Expo 89 in Lisbon, or the nearby Euroméditerranée in Marseilles. The playfulness of the coastline by the seaside had until then been contained in the resorts that had often been created from scratch. Because of its distance from the shore, the difficult reconversion of the city and the late transfer of the site by the Ministry of Defence, the Rochefort arsenal site is only now being tempted by a massive tourist offer. The transfer of the management of the site from the commune to an inter-communal body with economic competence symbolises, if need be, the path that managers and local economic players now wish to follow.
If we take a step back, it is therefore easy to understand the tension between the site’s heritage and the development of tourism. But are things always so clear-cut?
Patrimonializing the shifting
A landscaped heritage
As time went by, the restoration of the Corderie Royale and Bernard Lassus’s Jardin des Retours (the two appear inseparable today) increasingly appear to be a 20th century heritage. The restoration which, starting from a ruin, has restored an original symmetry (which perhaps never existed in such a perfect manner), marks an era. But it is above all the garden that has been the focus of attention since Bernard Lassus’ landscape drawings were integrated into the permanent collections of the Pompidou Centre.
In 1981, during the competition for the Jardin des Tuileries, Bernard Lassus suggested:
“The very place of the tileries is the sum of the thickness of the places and events, each as significant as the other. To reveal this multiple place, we had to pose in a new way the concepts of restoration, rehabilitation and reinvention. We restore what is known within the limits of available sources. We rehabilitate what is too poorly known to allow the complete restitution of the space by reconstructing known layouts and making spaces whose development is not known and land available for new, more or less ephemeral uses, recalling by their treatment or design the period of origin. The logic of articulation between the successive compositions of the site over the course of its history is reinvented through contemporary creation, what is known as interlacing. »
Rochefort’s landscape intervention will use the principle of interlacing historical strata. It is posed as a plastic work (Bernard Lassus himself describes himself as a landscape artist) in the sense that it proposes a process of rehabilitation of the history of the site while concentrating the intervention on very precise details of implementation (such as the equipment of the retaining wall or the borders of the flowerbeds). Finally, it stands out in its time by marking the history of landscape design. The Garden of Returns appears to be unique in that it is the only work by Bernard Lassus created on this scale (his proposals for the Jardin des Tuileries, the garden at La Villette and the Ruhr were not accepted). From then on, the question arises of the conservation of this garden in its original state while taking into account the natural evolution of the plants (visiting the garden in the spring of 2019, Bernard Lassus said he was very satisfied with the maturity of the subjects planted thirty years ago) and the uses.
Towards a third stage anticipated by Lassus
Throughout his reflection — which naturally goes beyond that of the garden of returns — the landscape gardener Bernard Lassus has forged a few concepts that highlight his approach to places. Hetoredite, for example, designates heterogeneous but organized places. The minimal intervention consists in bringing other sensitive dimensions to the already there. And above all the inflexus, which is not part of the composition of the development project, since it is a position that can be set in motion and combined with existing or future processes. These terms and neologisms — heterodite, minimal intervention and inflexus — should lead us to consider the garden of returns not as a development but as an active manoeuvre (what could be less surprising in a former port where the manoeuvre was intended to regulate the movement of ships).
Let’s start with minimal intervention and take the example of the Virginia tulip-tree ramp. The high retaining wall that separates the city from the dockyard is consubstantial with the creation of the latter. The king’s garden was established in the upper part, while the cordage was built in the lower part. This wall was laid as a break from the conception of the city. While the other projects of the competition envisaged a central access to the corderie, thus affirming Blondel’s symmetry, Lassus chose a lateral movement made of a wide planted ramp. In addition to the significance of the acclimatization of the tulip trees, there is here the landscape designer’s famous discrepancy between the visual perception from the high garden and the path to be followed for a tactile perception of the entrance to the building. Moreover, this lateral access offers a sliding vision along the industrial building, which is lost in the Charente. Lassus manoeuvres the visitor’s body to offer an experience that reveals the multiple historical strata that he treads on with his feet. The intervention is minimal — a simple, straight, planted ramp — but accompanies the perception of the building for what it is: a machine for making ropes for boats that will take to the sea along the banks of the river. Let’s take another example with the lawn that links the river and the rope factory (so on the other side of the ramp). This vast grassy esplanade seems to float above the archaeological layer of cobblestone alleys to the point of erasing them from view by its slight uplift. This esplanade, which the eye perceives as a horizontal plane, is in fact slightly sloping, where the low point would be the façade of the cordage. Almost imperceptible, this slope leads both the eye and the body towards the building and magnifies it. This is all the art of Lassus which resides in an infra-thin by Marcel Duchamp or that almost nothing by Vladimir Jankélévitch. His art lies precisely in his literal and minimal approach to situations.
The 1980s were marked by important debates about landscape. Postmodernism and typo-morphism dominated the debates and the garden was seen as an artefact whose theatricality guaranteed simulation. The other responses to the Charente garden competition were also along these lines. But the temptation to return to nature was already appearing, a trend that Michel Corajou brought to France at the time. Bernard Lassus explores another path. His first years as a painter are essential to understand his posture. He questions the essence of things in an attitude that is at the same time aesthetical and almost childish. It is enough to convince himself of this by visiting his garden of hypotheses in Chaumont sur Loire. The garden, small in size, is discovered through metal tree silhouettes with subtle tones that form a screen. The rear part of the garden is only accessible from Japanese steps lifted about ten centimetres from the ground. This path leads to weather measuring instruments (in the meteorological sense) while the grassy ground remains untouched by the footsteps of visitors. One must observe the jubilation of the children as they “fly” over the ground. They need no explanation to engage in the sensory experience intended by the landscaper. For here, as elsewhere, this garden is a “machine”, a device and a process both physical and psychic (but can the two be separated in the appreciation of a landscape?).
Bernard Lassus worked at length on what he called the landscape dwellers, those gardeners who sometimes exuberantly transform their small garden into a popular use of topiary and rockery, which are normally assigned to more noble gardens. His anthropological approach goes far beyond the appearance of things. He will retain a founding principle that is the immeasurable, a sort of relationship of scale between the smallness of the plot and the vast world that it hosts as an echo.
Why is it necessary to be interested in the work of the landscape gardener to understand the future of this garden? After all, the trees grow, the ramp and the paths remain. So the garden is there. Of course, the entropy has done its work and the rigging area is closed to the public, the admirals’ flames have been put down and the plant maze is not in great shape. The vast deserted esplanade is attracting interest in new recreational activities.
Yet the answer is simple. To paraphrase René Magritte, this is not a garden but a vegetable and mineral machine whose engine is none other than the psyche of the place. The garden of returns is a “revelatory” process that addresses the body and mind. It is constantly evolving and adapting because it draws its substance from the depths of the land. The questions that arise after its realization still find answers within it, as if the inflexus were perpetuated. Let us recall that when Lassus proposed to find the link with the river, whereas the expectations of the competition were to link the arsenal to the city, it only prefigures what will become a UNESCO candidature and today a Great Site of France. Rochefort’s relationship with the sea is included in the garden’s work. The same applies to the relationship between naval production and leisure. The garden preserves the memory of the workers by presenting the rope factory as a factory and not a castle while offering a vast esplanade for the relaxation of the people of Rochefort. The corollary of this psychic mechanism is its delicacy. The minimal intervention, as its name suggests, is based on “almost nothing” and can therefore be easily undermined.
Having established the return garden as a process, the question of its preservation now arises. Can we really make the shifting part of our heritage a heritage? Or to put it another way, what would it mean to preserve a dynamic process? Let us operate by deduction. This Garden is not a conventional garden in the sense that it abstracts itself from the dogma of composition to become a process (it nevertheless takes up the codes of the classical garden to reinterpret them). Nor is this garden a work of plastic art that one could not touch because that would be to have understood nothing at the inflexus. What remains is the inucuum of iconoclastic thought. It should therefore be protected as the sole testimony of an era and a creator.
On the other hand, the recognition of the garden — process should lead us to preserve its dynamic potential. If its engine is the local psyche, there is little risk of its disappearance! But the risk would be to forget it and relegate it to more instantaneous, even mercantile considerations. For my part, I am convinced that the spirit of the place is like a source and that it springs forth no matter what happens, even in a place where it is not expected. But Lassus’s admirable transitional mechanism remains in all the arrangements put in place. Some are obvious, such as the visual breakthroughs to discover the rope works from the Charente, even though navigation on the river appears more and more as a model of virtuous development. Others are more complex such as the nudity of the esplanade or the historical references included in the choice of species. However, all these intentions together form the complex clockwork of the garden — process. It is indeed these cogs that we must preserve. Other historical strata can be added to the garden. It does not constitute an end of history, since it is precisely as a time machine conducive to the simultaneity of eras in the interweaving. On the other hand, we must preserve this mechanism of monstration.
The problem of the site is therefore based on two dialectical couples. The first one is the concomitance of objectives between the playfulness and the valorisation of the site. The second, more subtle, is based on the necessary distinction to be made between protection and patrimonialisation. Protection does exist (PSMV and classified site) but heritage recognition is struggling to develop. The mythical reminiscences of the 17th century colonised the imagination and the “pioneer spirit” of 1666 became the only attribute of the site, with the high seas as a backdrop. The adaptability of the practices deployed there and its permanent evolution (in its very dimensions) has deserted minds and historians find it difficult to recall them. The UNESCO candidature of an evolving cultural heritage seems itself a long way off.