The Solar Decathlon, another Threat to the Park in Versailles

1. Map of the Solar Decathlon 2014 in the Park in Versailles

We know that François de Mazières had supported the pernicious "urbanisme de projet" of Benoist Apparu, in his capacity of "Mayor of Versailles, President of the Agglomerated Community of Versailles Grand Parc, President of the Cité de l’architecture et du Patrimoine". Apparently, the return of favors did not take too long as the Deputy Minister in charge of Housing has now granted Versailles a "Solar Village" on the land listed as a historical monument at Mortemets (ill. 1), although it is assigned to the Etablissement Public du château de Versailles (EPV) and adjacent to the Gardens and the Suisses pond.
The plan is to install a Solar Decathlon on the property in 2014 [1]. The first example of this kind, an American invention, took place in 2002 in Washington where it is held every other year (ill. 2). In 2010, a Solar Decathlon Europe, based on the same model occurred in Madrid and will return there in 2012. In 2014, the event will be held in France, at Versailles, after an agreement signed on 21 March by the Ambassador of the United States in France and Benoist Apparu, with the backing of notably Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, then French Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development as well as Valérie Pécresse, Minister of the Budget, but also a deputy from the Yvelines department.

2. View of an Edition of the Solar Decathlon in Washington
Photo : U.S. Department of Energy

The goal of the operation is to reward the winner out of a selection of twenty international universities for producing the best example of a passive solar-powered house with positive energy [2]. The houses are open to the public for visits (ill. 2). To prove that the project is a deplorable exercice in hypocrisy, we need only remember that the United States refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol in 2011 and that the city of Versailles has chosen not to apply the agreements of the Grenelle II de l’Environnement in its PLU [3]. The arguments justifying this circus act, a few steps away from the château, are particularly misleading, even ridiculous [4] : the solar panels are legitimate because Versailles is the home of the "Sun King" ; Americans can dispose of the park at will because John Rockefeller helped in restoring the château ; the exhibition "Sciences et curiosités à la Cour de Versailles" demonstrated that technological innovation was always present in the domain of Versailles... In fact, this is just an attempt to use the image of an internationally known heritage site for an operation which has nothing to do with its context and which will contribute to deteriorating its environment [5], a procedure described in Economy as "parasite".
Interestingly enough, we should note that this project has now replaced that of Roland-Garros, with the video (see below) entirely "recycling" the beginning of the one vaunting the qualities of the site for the tennis tournament.

There is no guarantee that the installations of the Solar Decathlon will be taken down once the event is over, nor that this will not be repeated in the future. The idea is to use the land at Mortemets as a huge trade fair exhibition space, thus conforming to the intentions the mayor has for future use there, in the best of cases, although this is not part of the city. Obviously, he is confusing Versailles with the exhibition space at the Porte de Versailles in Paris. An over-crowding of this listed area of the domain can only be cause for serious concern. Traffic access is planned from an already saturated D10 (see ill. 1), a strange way of showing attention for an "ecological" display.
This obsession with using Versailles for events which have no place there has been steadily growing. We know just how reliable Benoist Apparu and François de Mazières are. The PLU (although now before the courts thanks to various associations) in fact now authorizes building without any restrictions at Mortemets and for all kinds of purposes. This precedent of an "ecological" use of the Domaine nationale is worrisome for Mortemets, but also for Matelots and Pion where the installation of a "green campus" in association with the business area "le vivant et la ville" [6] has been suggested [7]. The proximity of INRA and also the Ecole nationale du paysage (both whose sites have been promised to the EPV) justifies, in the eyes of the mayor, the creation of a "green cluster" inside the Domaine national which, just like all the others, should be intended only for strolling [8].

Last but not least, the organization of this "Solar Decathlon" on EPV land will be in violation of the statutes. Indeed, the "mission" of the EPV is "to contribute to education, training and research" but only in the "domains of history, history of art and archeology, museology, musicology and theater arts.", a statement which is patently obvious [9]. Thus, the EPV is not beholding to sustainable development, except for the necessity of seeing that its installations conform to norm when this is compatible with the conservation of heritage [10]. This is the very definition of the rule of law : a public establishment is entrusted with "missions" which it must carry out "for the State" and is not a "possession" of the president [11], its administrators or a powerful mayor. According to the assignment orders, the land at Mortemets were in fact turned over to EPV "to accomplish the missions entrusted to it [12] ".

If Versailles does in fact organize this event as it would seem (since the Minister has committed France by signing the agreement), then so be it. But it should not take place in the park of the château. We hope in any case that the corresponding associations will speak out firmly against what appears to be a trial balloon, a revealing attempt at instrumentalizing an abstract idea of ecology (lower CO2 emissions) as opposed to the real presence of nature, that of a park which is supposed to be revived.
We will conclude our article with a reference to the tribute paid to us indirectly by Benoist Apparu. In the text prepared for the speech (p. 8, § 1), we read : "I know that Versailles will also know, thanks to the fact it has welcomed this contest, how to develop a process of enhancement, - if in fact this is still possible, Mr. Mayor...". We should indeed remember that the project for Roland-Garros was to be accompanied with incredible "complementary programs of 30,000 m2 of net overall surface area enhanced by the EPS [Etablissement Public de Saclay]" in close proximity to the Grand Canal [13]. Benoist Apparu did not pronounce this sentence finally as we can see on this video (at 7’44) and we all know that only the spoken word is binding. However, the text always remains...

Version française

Didier Rykner et Julien Lacaze, lundi 7 mai 2012


[1] See the internet website here.

[2] This means a house which produces more energy than it uses thanks notably to the sun and insulation.

[3] See here p. 35. This Grenelle agreement largely consists of an absurd opposition between heritage and ecology which Versailles refused to apply, but this fact does not really convince us of any particular commitment on their part. Simply, their readiness to welcome Solar Decathlon is totally inconsistent with such a stand.

[4] Let us remember that the château was supposed to welcome Roland-Garros because of the Oath at the Jeu de Paume and the king’s taste for this game...

[5] We are already familiar with the trend of real estate developers to promote that which they are destroying : "Résidence du château, du parc..."

[6] This structure, created by the mayor, is to regroup companies specialized in "ecological engineering and the chain of urban installations" (see here).

[7] Toutes les Nouvelles, l’hebdomadaire des Yvelines, 15 February 2012, n°3347, p. 12, a proposition of the association Essor de Versailles, (p. 7).

[8] This idea developed in late 2010 at the time of a colloquium called "le vivant et la ville", the prelude to the creation of the business cluster of the same name. See here.

[9] Decree n° 2012-1367 of 11 November 2010 in reference to the Etablissement public of the château, the museum and the national domain of Versailles, article 2, 5°.

[10] As set down in 2011 (pp. 15 and 16).

[11] We tried to ask Catherine Pégard, the president of EPV, to react to the subject but were unable to reach her.

[12] See for example, in the case of Mortemets, the assignment orders of 26 August 2002 and 26 January 2006. This provision was actually superfluous

[13] This was in order to create activities "in the domains of tourist hotels and accomodations, including innovative and high-end installations, and in the commercial domain. Services can also be offered for well-being and health with a medical or fitness center". Former Versailles Roland-Garros website, heading "FAQ", question n° 5.

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