The Brussels-based firm Ouest is one of the ten craft architecture firms that caviar.archi has decided to portray in film. Stéphane Damsin and Jan Haerens tell you all about their interest in architecture in front of Mister Emma’s camera. They describe their day-to-day work and practices. Quality architecture, architecture in good taste, but what does creating architecture ultimately mean?

Stéphane Damsin, Jan Haerens
Ouest

www.ouest.be
info@ouest.be

Technical sheet of this architecture video clip
Journalist : Emma C. Dessouroux
Cameraman : Mister Emma

Editing : Emma C. Dessouroux / Cristina Dias
Direction : Emma C. Dessouroux
Production : Les Délires Productions

Translation : Strakermedia – Comtrans
Rereading : Serge Ryckoort / Emelire
Subtitles : Les Délires Productions

English Subtitles

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I got into architecture
through literature,

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and a love for the city.

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I’m fascinated
by the energy of the city…

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and in a way,
I really like Brussels, because…

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it’s so diverse, a bit chaotic sometimes,

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and you want to be involved
without trying to fix it.

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This fascination for the city…

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drew me to architecture.

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One day, I was lucky enough
to get a call from Franz Claus,

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who is the founder-owner
of Ateliers Claus,

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a cultural space here in Saint-Gilles,

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and he asked me to do
a project for Ateliers Claus.

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That’s the moment you say:

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« Right, time to stop doing extensions

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on Sundays
as well as my work in a practice,

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I’m going to try to build it. »

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So, it was built very quickly indeed,
almost like a film set.

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So, I made up some business cards,

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back then, that wasn’t so old-fashioned,

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and set up a jack-of-all-trades
type of practice.

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I was on my own then,

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but for me, it wasn’t about having

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a practice built for me alone
or revolving around me.

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I always wanted to…

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have a practice with many outside players.

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But then, at that moment,

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the friends who I hoped
to be able to work with,

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were busy with other projects,

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and so I started alone,

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hoping that one day others would join me,

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which is what happened.

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We met each other by chance

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a few years ago, when Stephane

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was working on the Ateliers Claus project.

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That’s how we started
and came to take part in the competition

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for the Rideau de Bruxelles theatre.

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Since then, we’ve worked together
on a number of projects

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and officially, it’s been our studio
for a few years now.

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I met Jan through mutual friends
at weekend gatherings.

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His experience
is very complementary to mine,

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so we quickly became partners.

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I’d learned to build a practice

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from zero to 1,000 square metres,

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like a craftsman,

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because I was kind of self-taught,

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with little experience behind me,

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while Jan had done…

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he’d been a project manager
at big practices,

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and worked on large-scale public projects.

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Our architecture…

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is characterised by a contextual approach.

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We’ll never impose an idea on a project.

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We try to work with what we find,

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the elements or starting points
that we have

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and that can be very broad.

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It can result from the client’s character,

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the materials we find on the site,
or buildings that inspire us.

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Ouest’s architecture,

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I think, can be described in two ways:

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on one hand, somewhat ironic,

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so you don’t really notice it
in public spaces.

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We did…

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A few months ago, we did…

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quite a fancy portfolio
thanks to Wallonie-Bruxelles Architecture,

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and in ten years of architecture,

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there aren’t many things
you can see from outside.

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Also, we’re always seeking projects

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to do in sometimes chaotic contexts,

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but which create
a kind of clear intervention.

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There’s no formality,

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and there is an interest in the city,
an interest in waterways,

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the dense urban context,
particularly in Brussels, but not only.

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I’d say the architecture is not
necessarily characterised

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by big bold gestures,

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but rather by a desire for pertinent
and firm relationships

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between the existing and the new.

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Our architecture isn’t very recognisable

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at first glance.

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There is no kind of formal blueprint

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which is always applied,

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but the intentions are often very alike.

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In many projects,
we spend a lot of time seeking

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the right connections
between different spaces,

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the right relationships.

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What opening should we create
so that the project can begin to work?

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How can we make our projects
as precise as possible?

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The intentions are very similar,

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but it doesn’t mean that the end result
creates a really obvious signature.

French Subtitles

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Je suis arrivé à l’architecture
par la littérature

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et par l’amour de la ville.

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Je suis quelqu’un de fasciné
par l’énergie de la ville et…

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et quelque part, à Bruxelles,
je suis très, très bien, parce que…

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il y a ce côté un peu hétéroclite,
un peu foutraque parfois,

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dans lequel on a envie de venir intervenir
sans essayer de tout corriger.

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Cette fascination de la ville me…

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m’a attiré vers l’architecture.

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Un jour, j’ai la chance d’avoir
un coup de fil de Franz Claus,

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qui est le propriétaire fondateur
des Ateliers Claus,

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un lieu culturel ici, à Saint-Gilles,

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et qui me propose de faire
un projet pour les Ateliers Claus.

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Et ça, c’est le moment de se dire :

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« Bon, maintenant,
j’arrête de faire des extensions

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juste le dimanche
en plus de mon travail dans une agence

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et je vais essayer de la construire.

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Et donc, ça s’est construit
très, très rapidement,

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quasiment comme un décor de cinéma.

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Donc, j’ai commencé à faire
une petite carte de visite,

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à l’époque, c’était encore
plus ou moins… pas désuet, comme objet,

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et à inventer un bureau qui était…
l’homme-orchestre.

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J’étais tout seul à ce moment-là,

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et le but n’a jamais été pour moi
d’avoir un…

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un bureau construit
par moi tout seul ou autour de moi.

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J’ai toujours voulu…

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avoir un bureau
avec plusieurs personnes extérieures,

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mais là, un peu dans l’urgence du moment,

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les copains avec qui je pensais
peut-être pouvoir faire des choses

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étaient occupés dans d’autres projets,
et du tac au tac, j’ai démarré tout seul.

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Avec l’idée qu’un jour,
d’autres me rejoindraient,

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ce qui s’est passé.

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Nous nous sommes rencontrés par hasard,
il y a quelques années, lorsque Stéphane

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travaillait sur le projet
des Ateliers Claus.

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C’est comme cela que nous avons commencé

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et que nous avons participé
ensemble à un concours

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pour le théâtre Le Rideau de Bruxelles.

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Depuis lors, nous travaillons
ensemble sur divers projets

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et depuis quelques années,
c’est officiellement notre bureau.

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Jan, on s’est rencontrés

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via nos compagnes
dans des fêtes les week-ends.

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Et il a une expérience
très complémentaire à la mienne,

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au-delà du fait qu’on est très vite
devenus assez complices,

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c’est que lui, alors que j’avais appris,
moi, à construire un bureau

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de zéro à 1.000 mètres carrés, on va dire,

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un peu comme un artisan,

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parce que j’avais un peu appris tout seul,
comme ça, sans grosse expérience derrière,

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tandis que Jan, lui, avait fait des…

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avait fini chef de projet
dans des bureaux de grande échelle,

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avait travaillé sur des projets publics
de grande échelle, etc.

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Notre architecture…

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se caractérise
par une approche contextuelle.

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Nous n’allons jamais parachuter
une sorte d’idée sur le projet,

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nous allons toujours essayer de travailler
sur ce que nous trouvons,

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quels éléments ou quels points de départ

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nous avons et cela peut être très large.

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Cela va du caractère du client

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au matériel que nous trouvons sur le site
ou dans les bâtiments qui nous inspirent.

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Caractériser l’architecture de Ouest,

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je crois qu’il y a moyen de le raconter
un peu de deux manières.

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Il y en a une un peu… ironique,
c’est de dire

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que ça ne se voit pas vraiment
de l’espace public.

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On a fait…

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On a fait il y a quelques mois
un portfolio un peu soigné

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qu’on a pu faire
grâce à Wallonie-Bruxelles Architecture.

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Et on s’est rendu compte qu’en fait,
en dix ans de travail,

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il n’y a pas beaucoup de choses
qui se voient de l’extérieur.

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Et par ailleurs,
nous sommes constamment en recherche

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de projets à réaliser
dans des contextes parfois chaotiques,

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et qui pourtant créent
une sorte d’intervention claire.

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Il n’y a pas un formalisme,

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et il y a un intérêt pour la ville,
l’intérieur d’îlots,

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le contexte dense et urbain,
notamment de Bruxelles, mais pas que…

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et donc je dirais
que l’architecture se caractérise

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pas forcément
par des grands gestes spectaculaires,

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mais plutôt par des envies
de relations pertinentes et affirmées

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entre l’existant
et les nouvelles interventions.

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Notre architecture n’est pas
très reconnaissable au premier abord,

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il n’y a pas une sorte de langage formel
qui est toujours appliqué

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mais les intentions
sont très souvent similaires.

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Dans de nombreux projets, nous passons
beaucoup de temps à rechercher

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le bon lien entre différents espaces,
les bonnes relations.

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Quelle ouverture devons-nous faire pour
que le projet commence à fonctionner ?

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Comment pouvons-nous
rendre nos interventions

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aussi précises que possible ?

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Les intentions sont très similaires,

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mais cela ne signifie pas
que le résultat final crée

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réellement une signature lisible.