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Author(s): FABRIQUES Architectures Paysages
Contributor: Frédéric Bonnet Obras, Collectif AJAP14

“Through the laws and increased collective awareness of the value of landscapes, biodiversity and local agriculture, agricultural areas previously often considered in urban planning documents as simple residual zone for urban development have become high-quality areas and a reflection in itself.” [1]

The conservation of the agricultural sector is vital to respond to the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s population. However, we now know that the domestication that we enforce on territories cannot be carried out without consideration if we do not want to cause irreparable wounds to the planet, the landscape, biodiversity and large natural spaces.

Today’s challenge consists in “no longer seeing agricultural land as real estate reserves for urban sprawl [or tourism], but as reserves of lands for the needs of agriculture and the preservation of environmental functions.”

We could add: reserves of natural landscapes, whether organised by man or not, are vital to preserve the archetypal landscapes of our regions, and are also the lungs of our artificial territories. Thus, it is our responsibility to decrease the input use that is still widely being promoted today. However, the agricultural sector is genuinely initiating its mutation. Agro-ecological installations and organic cultivations flourish.

Beyond this issue, let us not forget that agricultural activities participate to preserving the characteristic landscapes of our regions and biodiversity. Pastures and late mowing prevent natural risks, and agricultural works maintain forests and the land. Hedges, cultivations and prairies allow settling in many animals and plants in a global, circular system.

In the mountains and sloping areas, hay making helps preserving a wider diversity: we have identified more than 50 different species of flowers on a mowed prairie against five on a field abandoned to wild grazing, as the animals select and unwillingly help to make the species disappear.

The price of land weakens agriculture

The price of land and buildings is constantly mounting. Whether the pressure is for the benefit of the habitat, consumption or tourism, farmers and breeders find it increasingly difficult to buy or buy back their installations.

This situation sustainably impacts the agricultural dynamic, which implies resorting to public policies to ensure the duration of the activity whilst committing to long term and proactive solutions to keep jobs.

Bonneval-sur-Arc: an agricultural project conveyed by the public

The legend says that the cluster of nine livestock buildings started when the small high-mountain commune situated at an altitude of 1 800 meters installed a new snow canon in the early eighties. The snow spurting out of the canon directly came from the Arc and emerged as brown sludge, illustrating the immediate need to change the habits of the sector. Indeed, existing livestock buildings in Bonneval adjoin housing and there is no system in place to recuperate the effluents that are directly rejected into the river.

For decades, the village was directly impacted by tourist development2. Manna of revenue for mountain farmers who often work several jobs, tourism also fed a housing speculation depriving the new generations of working space during the various heritages.

Moreover, the existing installations were old and not functional for the breeders with buildings built “at horn’s height”, or about one and a half meter under ceiling.

In response, the various actors of this territory put in place an innovative project reaching a multitude of subjects to affront head on:  natural risks (landslide, flood), environmental risks (effluents), landscape risks (we are at the foot of the Vanoise National park in its adhesion area) and social risks (departure of the breeders) were all integrated into a global approach. A social project made possible by grants…

In a first while, the city hall took charge of the launch of the ambitious project before delegating the project structure to the Regions Committee. To ensure that the breeders would stay in the village, the mayor’s office chose to remain the owner of the buildings, and the farmers became leasers of their work tool. The decision and the grouping of the livestock buildings on one site allowed for a sharing of costs and, thanks to a mechanism of subventions, a sustainable investment at the scale of a commune of two hundred and fifty inhabitants.

The project was financed through some specific agricultural aids stemming from the Montagne Law (1985, DATAR3 revised since) that allows to help “generously” the gems of the Alps: here, livestock is essential to produce an AOC cheese of international repute, the Beaufort… all in the extended area of the first French National Park.  On this operation, seventy percent subsidies supported this project.

The guarantee of durability obtained allows livestock breeders to sustainably settle in the valley, pursuing a dual career between tourism and agriculture: breeders, rescuers, ski monitors who can also breed cows, goats or chicken.

Setting up a shared project

The project was carried out in collaboration with many actors: the Chamber of Agriculture, the Architects of French Buildings, the Regions’ Committee, the Town Hall, the users, the architects and both team of engineers to complete the project Merlon against the risks of landslides and floods.

The laureate architect of the competition, the Janin brothers’ Fabriques agency, took advantage of all these competences to put forward a complete, holistic project.

The project is situated in a plot bordering a river and is connected to a pre-existing agricultural network grid. The programme originally foresaw large surfaces for each function (rearing, barns, composting). The response of the architects and landscapers consisted in leaning on technical works outlining the large territory and to regroup functions vertically to create space and offer the animals larger wandering areas.

The Janin brothers chose to use an agricultural formal language whilst liberating themselves from a potential fake reproduction of traditional stone buildings. The works with the Architecte des Bâtiments de France4 allowed to offer a simple albeit not simplistic architecture, a synergy between “champion of the heritage” and architects allowing to give way and validate an assumed modernity.

The composting volumes in the basement and livestock breeding on the ground floor were made out of raw concrete when the barns dedicated to the fodder in the upper floors were treated in a raw wood structure and cladding. The green roofs can be used as grazing pastures for the animals; the crops sown come from seeds collected in the barns on the site.


The concept of installing functions following a vertical principle is unusual and innovative in these territories. The principle consisted in valorizing the various functions and to encourage synergies to reinforce the autonomy of farmers.

At the top, large airy barns allow to dry hay in bulk, allowing bringing in two annual harvests instead of just one. Thanks to a pincer, this food is directly available to the animals housed on the ground floor under the barns. The basement is dedicated to the collection and separation of the cows’ effluents, allowing to offer two distinct fertilizers: a highly fluid manure used in the alpine pastures and allowing for a good productivity of the fodder and a solid compost allowing for a urban milieu use near the houses.

This organisation also allowed freeing built areas to increase tie stalls for the animals and improving their comfort.

The farmer and the breeder, inhabitants like all others

The mainstream-thinking mode of the past decades championed the efficiency of functions (agriculture, transport, habitat, urban centres) whilst resulting in a total disconnection between the various entities. They are independent sectors that have no reason to meet if a loss of productivity and profit is to be avoided.

Today, public policies5 are starting to promote rural territories as assumed living spaces. Keeping farmers on their land requires thinking living spaces encompassing habitat, services, leisure, culture, including at the heart of our rural territories. The unswerving transformation must allow to no longer consider these territories as auxiliaries of functioning of urban centres, either concentrated or spread out, destined to urban dwellers, but as components of their functioning, with their own economy, and from which the metropolitan dependency is not the sole engine.

These preoccupations meet that of the workshops put in place by teachers Catherine Rannou, Mathieu Le Barzic and Eric Hardy in Brittany in the national architecture schools of Brittany and Paris Val de Seine. In their TRANS-RURAL LAB project, they question the future of agribusiness wasteland. Through workshops on site, they study the possibility to “destroy, rehabilitate, reassign or dismantle” these installations with the objective of a programming allowing to transform these places originally thought as non-functional into multifunctional sites.

Alliance between man and environment

The mountain alone encompasses a quarter of the ecological biodiversity on earth and represents eighty three percent of protected national areas in France6. The Bonneval project falls within the scope of preserving this ecosystem. The effluents recovery system allows generating large quantities of good quality compost that, once spread over the fodder land to stimulate the harvests, allows for a near autonomy of farmers during the winter whilst avoiding a complement of exogenous fodder through two yearly harvests. In summer, the animals are taken into the alpine pasturelands, thus perpetuating a secular tradition ensuring the good treatment of animals.
This project and all its qualities have shifted the lines. Farmers used to work isolated must today learn to share common areas, which is not easy and a veritable mutual aid remains difficult to fathom.

Today, even though the architectonic image is still difficult to appropriate by some, the operation is a success in the opinion of Gabriel Blanc, Mayor of Bonneval: “We only want one thing: make the Bonneval agricultural area into a textbook case. And we want other communes to follow suit. Our agriculture depends on it”.

[1] “How can we conciliate agriculture, urban planning and territories in the Gard?” DDTM, 2011 Nota: Direction Départementale de Territoires et de la Mer (DDTM) (departmental direction of territories and the sea) or Direction Départementale des Territoires (DDT)(departmental direction of territories) are state services operating in every French department. This administration controls the respect of national regulations advices local collectivities on their planning policy.


- Fabriques AP
- Communauté de communes de Haute-Maurienne Vanoise
- Bâtiment d'élevage
- Bonneval-sur-Arc
- 2013
- 7000 m²
- 4.2 M € HT