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Erwan Lauriot-Prévost                                                              Guillaume Herissson (Source : private)

Who is Jean Zeitoun ?

1. His landmarks

1.1. A family history in Tunisia in the ’40s

Jean Zeitoun was born in Tunis in 1941. His mother, Anna-Reine, was of Italian origin and his father, Meyer, of Tunisian origin. He has an elder sister Simone, one year older. His younger sister Marlène was born after the war. Jean likes to claim his half Italian origins and cherishes them. He speaks Italian, above all, the street language, as he will later say. In fact he finds an echo in his mother's distant ancestors' history. In Florence, they owned a printing company for many years. During the 16th century, Italy dominated the book industry and Florence was the third Italian city for printing and producing books, behind Venice and Rome. Florence itself boasted 40 printing companies which released 4,000 publications. Together these three cities contained some 300 printing companies making more than 38,000 publications. In this country, "it is easier to become a printer than a baker" as Erasme is supposed to have said [1]. Is this the heritage of his remote filiation but Jean likes paper, all kinds of paper, vellum paper, laid paper, parchment, notebooks - which he collects - books - as much for the object itself as for its content - and also pens... He writes numerous letters, for his enjoyment from the paper as much as for the recipient's pleasure. 


Jean Zeitoun's family is caught in turmoil at the time of his birth. The anti-Semitic laws voted under the Vichy regime also apply to Tunisia, as well as to Morocco and Algeria. On 8th November 1942, Germany invades the country. Ninety thousand Jews live in Tunisia. One month later, the first round up of the Jews by the SS starts. At the same time, work camps are established on the Tunisian ground. “5,000 Jews will be interned in these camps, before the first deportations to the European extermination camps begins.”(1)  Jean Zeitoun's father is among those 5,000 Jews interned in a work camp. The house where they live as well as their car are commandeered. Only the lack of ships and planes already mobilized for military needs limited the transfer of Tunisian Jews interned to the extermination camps of Germany, Austria, and Poland.


[1] Source : The Times of Israel, 25 février 2017, Colonne de Juifs sous les yeux de la population musulmane, en Tunisie, en décembre 1942. (Crédit : Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J20384/CC-BY-SA 3.0/WikiCommons)

The Times of Israel, 25 février 2017

Source : The Times of Israel, 25 février 2017, Colonne de Juifs sous les yeux de la population musulmane, en Tunisie, en décembre 1942. (Crédit : Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J20384/CC-BY-SA 3.0/WikiCommons)

His father manages to escape the work camp and comes back home, his feet bleeding from having walked bare-footed for a hundred kilometers. Jean will never forget this round up, though his father never referred to this period within the family. The only reminder is this constant pain in his feet, which makes his walking difficult but he would never complain. Some forty years later, he will confess to his daughter Marlène that this aching is the after effect of his return from the work camp.

Jean Zeitoun would never forget this. 


Jean Zeitoun spends his childhood and his teenage years with his family in Tunis in the European district, near the Belvedere Park. The seashore, the beach and the waves are close by. These waves for which he holds no nostalgia as he retains some painful memories: Jean nearly drowned twice in dangerous currents. He used to say that these accidents had given him a profound dislike of claustrophobic situations, of whatever kind they might be. His school mates are Maltese, Italian or Tunisian, and they all speak a mix of languages.

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Jean with his 6th form class in Tunis, 10th December 1951, with Mr. Couffignal.

Jean could have followed their career path and like them, stopped studying to start working.

But he was very gifted in mathematics.

And yet, during all his school years in Tunis, the only books he possessed were the ones he was awarded for excellence at the end of the year. Never mind. He is able to develop his autonomy and his free spirit. This is why, later, he would always refuse to follow the sheep-like trendy movements. He would always form his own opinion through analysis and thinking. Jean remained faithful to his own reasoning rather than that of Sartre, Lénine or Castro (whom he met in Cuba while travelling with Régis Debray...).

His father, a very clever man, very skilful and meticulous, initiates Jean into the intricacies of mechanics, to clock movements as well as to machinery and mechanisms of all sorts. In fact, Jean is already an engineer and a scientist at heart: all his further years of apprenticeship will only make for more precise and refined skills. But the essential matter resides here: questioning, method, discipline, curiosity, skill and ... tenacity.

1.2. One objective for Jean Zeitoun: France, a dream beyond the horizon

In Tunis, as it happens elsewhere in French rural areas of the ’50s, Jean will meet “his” Republic “black hussard”. They do exist also in Tunisia. Indeed at this time, the academic level is very often higher than in French academies and the teachers are exceptionally qualified. One evening, after the class, his teacher talks to him privately: “You must carry on studying.” Jean has already skipped two grades. He would be eternally grateful to this caring teacher. But to carry on with his studies, he has to leave Tunisia.

Jean prepares his registration application by himself and takes it to the Lycée Carnot administration without knowing where this will lead him. He will keep a fond memory of this independent action. One could say that it helped him leave his childhood behind but in fact, he had already left this childhood behind years ago. Aged 5, he already feels clear-headed: he has assessed the limits of some of the adults whom he meets outside the family circle. All that without any arrogance or wickedness. He feels uneasy with these men and women entangled in too concealing and austere clothes, which he interprets as a narrowing of attitudes and feelings. He equates this with a kind of mummification of minds: too many beliefs, dogmas, rites, superstitions that he can't help knocking down. He already anticipates the limits and myths of a harmonious co-existence of communities. It is always that same claustrophobic feeling.  To get out of this and in the quickest possible way, this is his objective, despite the boundless affection he feels for his family. In spite of this painful separation for everyone, his family never try to hold him back. On the contrary, he is encouraged to leave.

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1959 - Tunis airport: :Jean leaves for France

(Private source)

As he is heading for France, he dreams of freedom, of discoveries and of keeping an open mind. His beginnings in the real world in Paris will be much more shaded than in his dreams.


When he arrives in Paris, autumn is already there; it keeps raining, and the air is cold. It is only later that he will appreciate the poetical aspect of Saint-Vincent Street’s wet cobblestones or the nostalgia of the street lights reflecting on the Grands Boulevards pavements. The scholarship he has been granted does not allow any indulgences. On festive days, he enhances his menu with sausages, mustard, and chips! On Sundays he meets with his cousin Jacqueline for a hearty lunch in his attic room. He will always be more drawn to simple Bistrot menus rather than to sophisticated cuisine. 

In fact, he does not care about these contingencies. The world of Antoine Blondin is not far but this will be without "l'humeur vagabonde" which goes with it [1]. One day, he receives, like a punch in the face, being addressed as "a raghead", not by an anonymous pedestrian from the then dull Saint-Michel district but from one of his comrades in the preparatory class. Too bad for this guy, he does not know that Jean is quick to pass from the metaphorical to the literal, punishing the racist insult by a punch in the young collegue's face. It will end in a proper fight which is not at all metaphor. The sanction will be heavy but even more tenacious will his resentment be.

During the two years of monastic life of preparatory classes at Lycée Saint-Louis, he studies for “the” entry exams.

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Preparatory class - Lycée Saint-Louis 1960 -1961

(Private source)

In 1961, he passes the entrance exam of Polytechnique school. In fact, he had chosen this school nearly by accident. When he arrived in Paris, he had no notion of what Polytechnique was. Nobody had told him anything about it. Only when he joins Polytechnique, he finds to his utter surprise that it is a military school...

Jean Zeitoun, X, Promotion 1961 (Private source)

Jean Zeitoun, l’X, Class 1961 (Private source)

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1.3.  Republican meritocracy

When he enters l’X in 1961 Jean Zeitoun does not have any career plan. In fact, he never had one. When he left Tunisia, he was very clear about what he did not want any longer, but on arriving in France, he does not know yet what he wants. He starts with reading, anything and everything - essays, literature from all over the world, biographies, technical books, research works - . . . everything.

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Jean Zeitoun, 1961 (Private source)

Beyond this reading and exploring frenzy, what Jean wants is never to cease learning, understanding, confronting, questioning, again and again, whatever the field is, the subject is immaterial for him.

Going through these years at l'Ecole polytechnique is like possessing a magic wand for Jean: the universe and all its possibles are at hand. He meets with exceptionally talented teachers — some having been awarded the Fields Medal in mathematics — such as Louis Leprince-Ringuet, personality who will impress him forever (the astrophysics especially!), or Raymond Aron. Fifty years on he retained unforgettable memories from these studies (he often gathered notes). But not only from the teaching, there were also Raymond Aron's conferences. In another field, he attends Jean Vilar, Jean-Louis Barrault or Salvador Dali's performances. Everything is possible, so open and so lively. He even enjoys seeing, at the end of every school year, Louis Leprince-Ringuet and tennis champion Borotra playing a doubles match against the two best tennis players of that year who have been selected after the elimination rounds. Louis Leprince-Ringuet was an excellent tennis player.

 Students at l’X can undertake research projects. They are given the support to do so. In return for this opening, there is a huge demand placed on them (the merit is still a notion at this time), they have to offer a personal commitment to an outstandingly high level, which implies tenacity, determination, courage, a will of iron and real stamina. 

But that time, Jean is not working alone: he is joined by his friends Jean Dupont and Charles Abulker whom he has known since he was 18, true friends who will never let him down. There are also all the other connections he formed during the preparatory classes, like that with Bernard Schaefer or, at the Ecole polytechnique, with mathematicians, keen musicians like himself.


As a matter of fact, Jean lives with music since he was a child in Tunis. When a teenager, his father pays for him to have guitar lessons with a teacher who comes to teach at home; he knows and remembers all the songs from the forties and the fifties which he hears on the radio. He will be able to sing them in extenso all his life through. When at Polytechnique Jean founds a jazz quintet; he plays trumpet. A few years later, he will adopt the harmonica and will never give it up.

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Jazz Quintet at l’X in which Jean Zeitoun plays trumpet

(Private source)

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(Private source)

Jean Zeitoun enters l’École nationale des ponts et chaussées in 1963. However, as the Ecole de médecine is located in the same street as the Ecole des ponts et chaussées, he makes inroads there and attends medical courses in parallel for four years.

At the end of this course, he does not consider a management or administrative career, all duties he avoids. In so doing he responds to the wishes of some teachers from l'X which will later be structured around Laurent Schwartz's battle "Against the waste of brains" when leaving l’X[ 1].  Jean loves most of all to formulate, conceive, imagine, look ahead then elaborate, realize and develop. He will create for himself all the conditions to make this possible and the same all through his professional life.

During that time, he will also travel, first within an intership in a factory in Israel. With his friend Bernard Shaefer, who accompanies himthey travel to Israel by car via Greece and carry on up to Neguev desert and Eilat to the South, reaching the Lebanese border to the North. Brazil is the next destination; he takes part in the construction of a dam.

[1] Bibliothèque de la SABIX, Société des amis de la bibliothèque et de l’histoire de l’Ecole polytechnique, article de Jean-Louis Basdevant, 2020 :

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Jean Zeitoun (Private source)

In 1963, Jean Zeitoun obtains French citizenship. His pathway is a prime example of what the republican merit can produce at its best. The words “integration” and “assimilation” are not taboo words nor shameful for him. On the contrary, he considers them proudly. He never forgets that the “Déclaration des droits de l’homme,” which he adopted when he came to France, is also the “citizens” declaration, with their history, their language, and their culture. As a staunch defender of a universalism without concessions, he deplores the phasing-out of the "citizen" notion, which is left by the side of the road and so badly handled by an approach to human rights oblivious of its responsabilities. He will become more and more disappointed over the years. On top of that, are the new forms of antisemitism happening in France. After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 in New York, a world city that he is very fond of, Jean looks at the rising of new kind of anti-semitism with worry. Resistance is his concern — never compromise in any way with stupidity, obscurantism, or cowardice.


Jean has a vivid and sharp sensitivity, like a diamond that has been cut with a thousand facets and reveals a sparkling yet painful transparency. The realm of the personal will be his shelter.

2. Innovating and relaying

From the 70s, Jean Zeitoun elects lifestyle choices which will always enable him to defend his professional convictions, to support projects in which he is interested and believes in. He certainly is not a half-hearted person and he can manifest intransigence. But the future often reassures him, even belatedly, as by that time, he will already have resolved the issue and has already focused on something else, while others are still treading water. His objective is not to innovate just for the sake of innovation but to create and develop the areas he explores.


As a good scientist, Jean specifies, experiments, demonstrates, verifies and, once the process comes to fruition, he transmits. This is one of his great strengths. An excellent pedagogue, he is also a teacher and will keep teaching until his last days. Transmitting is essential for him. He will never abandon this component, whatever his many activities might be. He is a tireless teacher, whether it be with young audiences throughout his life - or with less young ones in his last, but still active days.

Let's focus on his professional activities. These cannot be summarized in functions, tasks or roles as Jean keeps weaving many more threads into this colourful tapestry: his enthusiasms, his emotions, music - that he plays, sings or listens to - his favorite readings, the houses he builds, the landscapes he cherishes. Jean is a multifaceted  man. He is able to handle four thoughts at the same time: solve an equation, recite one of La Fontaine tales - he knows a lot of them - make his shopping list for building a piece of furniture or think about the specification of a piece of software. And all this in the most discreet way, without making a fuss and very kindly.


For Jean, to choose is not to renounce. In fact, he lives several parallel lives. He pursues several lives in parallel - lives that can only be summed up incompletely. We have explored documentations centres, archive collections and specialised schools during several weeks. We read all the books, essays, articles and publications that focus on his work, because Jean himself kept nothing or so little. He was conservative but not an archivist. His friends, colleagues and relatives also helped us to trace back his career, using their own resources but also working from memory. Please forgive us the possible mistakes in the chronology of his career. Jean dropped little white stones in all directions, always determined and generous. We have preciously gathered a few of them, to share with you and to keep them alive in our memory, for as long as we will be able to do so.

3. Byways

Right from the beginnings of his working life, Jean Zeitoun prefers byways to clearly defined paths—with a special liking for those that require considerable expertise, whether it is scientific, mathematic, or methodological and also an indefectible discipline.

He does not select his professional paths just by chance. They are supposed to guarantee his freedom of movement, his freedom of speech and even more. There is a risk sometimes of flying too close to the sun, for, as it will be appreciated, Jean is not a great diplomat. First of all, one wipes the slate clean (but always through demonstration and argument), then - eventually but not always - one negociates.


Even if he had fancied multiple other professional paths: surgeon or joiner (he already is one), astrophysician (he enjoys Einstein's equations), hermit on a desert island (but with his best friends), screenplay writer for movies (he writes songs and scenarios), Jean is first and foremost an engineer, demanding, intense, inquisitive about all subjects and not afraid of anything, especially the unknown. He has a fondness for unchartered territories, generally for the best and fortunately rarely for the worse.

3.1. His first research laboratory, the centre Méthodologie, mathématiques, informatique (MMI) - Institut de l’Environnement

The decision to create an experimental and interdisciplinary organization dedicated to planning our living environment is to add to André Malraux’s credit, then Minister of Culture in 1969. It will be called l’Institut de l’Environnement. The idea is to associate the professions of architecture with environmental design and social sciences, among them experimental psychology, sociology, economy, audiovisual communication, and semiology. A completely new approach in France.

In the late ’60s, the goal is to address the shortcomings of this sector regarding industrial design, while other countries like Italy, Germany, and anglo-saxon countries are considered as being ahead of France. These models already include IT tools. They develop a rational and functional approach while associating social sciences, especially sociology and economics. Jean has understood the challenge and the opportunities that such a decompartmentalised and multi-dimensional vision offers, a very uncommon model in French academic circles as well as at universities, both being very monolithic and resistent to these collective perspectives.


In 1969, a building dedicated to the "UFO", that the Institut de l'Environnement was then, is provided by the Ministry, with the participation of the architect Jean Prouvé. It will be located in the rue Erasme in Paris.

[1] Anne Philippe L’Institut de l’environnement ou la puissance d’un cadre , dossier sur le thème : Cine-urbanisme ou l’Institut de l’Environnement comme cabinet d’optique. Site internet : .

[2] Dénommé ainsi en référence aux écoles de design créées à la fin des années 1950 aux Etats-Unis : « Collège of Environnemental Design de Berkeley, Graduate School of Design d’Harvard »,cité dans Tony Côme, « Institut de l’Environnement : une école décloisonnée », Editions B42, 2017,  p. 54

L’Institut de l’Environnement draws its inspiration from l’École d’Ulm (Hochschule für Gestaltung-HfG), located in Germany and based upon Bauhaus. Architecture is no longer the discipline at the top of the pyramid. It is at the same level as urbanism, industrial design, fine arts, graphic design, data processing, photography, cinema, socio-psychology, economy . . . Let's not forget that in the late '60s, there is no design school in France, and similarly, design and IT tools are not part of architectural practise - unlike in Milan, New York or Ulm. Research has not penetrated architectural schools yet.

Jean takes note of that determination to find common ground between fundamental research or experimentation and practical implementation, between arts, sciences and technics, between artist/craftman/engineer. He will be on that side. In 1970, Jean Zeitoun joins l'Institut de l'Environnement as a researcher and brings his contribution to the laboratory founded and managed by Robert Spizzichino: "Logique, Mathématique, Méthodologie", equipped with a computing centre. During all those years, he plays a part in introducing IT practice within the Institut Computer Aided Design, data analysis, graphics processing. He also tries to change the spatial designers’s work method.


In 1971, he produces a research that will become one of his very first publications under the title “Trames planes.”

[1] Jean Zeitoun, Trames planes, Centre de mathématiques, méthodologie, informatique, Éd. Institut de l’environnement, 1971; Editions Dunod, Paris, 1977.

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Thirty years later, this publication is still regarded as a standard and is still quoted in doctorate theses. "Ultimately, thanks to his work on the “Trames planes”, J. Zeitoun is probably the one who pushed theorization to the furthest. By tackling the concept of trame in a general way, J. Zeitoun has initiated the bases of a methodology." [1]

Jean Zeitoun is passionate about his activity at the intersection of sectors, each of them mobilizing his intelligence, his attention, his curiosity: industrial design, its theory as well as its history, semiotics, economics, sociology applied to urbanism and of course, his "core business": the integration of methods, proceedings, computer and mathematical tools in the design and the implementation of space development and multidimensional projects. He will initiate this opening of new disciplines by a thesis and a diploma of Doctor of Literature and Human Sciences in 1997, although a subject far from his initial education.

For those who have experienced it, l'Institut de l'Environnement is an unrivalled intellectual melting-pot. Monique Eleb, a psychologist and sociologist who was a researcher for six years at l'Institut, remembers: "I found myself amidst an incredible environment (...) a wonderful utopia which included art, architecture, multidisciplinarity and research. (...) I even met Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes there. All those who spent time there retain nostalgia for this time» [2]. When sharing this experience, Monique Eleb insists on the innovative character of her working environment: cinematographic workshop, integrated printing facility and ... computing center. She remembers: "Jean Zeitoun the mathematician had a computer installed which would occupy a full office, one of the first to be seen »[3]…

[1] Jean-Claude Bignon, Thèse de Doctorat 2002, Université Henri Poincaré, Nancy 1, École d’architecture de Nancy, Modélisation, simulation et assistance à la conception-construction en architecture : « Si l’on veut bien généraliser la typologie établie par Jean Zeitoun [Zeitoun, 76], on distingue trois grandes fonctions des trames en architecture : La trame de composition (…); La trame fonctionnelle (…); La trame de construction (…). C’est à cette dernière acception de la trame que renvoie le travail présenté ici. »

[2] Monique ELEB, entretien dans la revue « Environnement et Design » intitulé : « L’Institut de l’environnement : une utopie vécue, 1969-1976 » , février 2013.

[3] Idem supra.


In 1972, Jean Zeitoun takes over as the director of the laboratory that changes its name to « Centre Méthodologie, Mathématiques, Informatique (MMI)” . In 2017, fifty years after he had left the laboratory, Tony Côme writes about him: “The polytechnician Jean Zeitoun was one of the first to draw together computing and creation (. . .).” (1)

In May 1972, Jean Zeitoun and his research laboratory the MMI organize a cycle of conferences: "Space semiotics: architecture-urbanism, how to break the deadlock". It is clear: once more, the idea is to push the limits further. Jean Zeitoun's research team gathered at the beginning of the process is small - just half a dozen people - but everyone subscribes to “a simple working principle: think, develop, experiment; the rule of the game has never been abandoned throughout the history of the laboratory. This dynamic challenges the hierarchy, teachers becoming students or researchers, and inversely, students often becoming researchers and teachers [2]». Close observers discern a unique character: "It was the place for non-programmable passionate debate. » [3]

This true pioneer vocation will never leave Jean Zeitoun. In spite of the turbulence, the reluctance, the opposition that he will meet on his route, Jean will push on and keep forging ahead.

In the '2000s, hence thirty years later, works initiated by Jean Zeitoun are still asking questions and generate much analysis. Researchers like him and his teams are labelled as "Methodologists" at the dawn of this new century because their researches being "pioneers in France, deal more with data processing and data management than with graphic performance.»[4] This approach proceeds from a “scientific conception of architectural design (...) which includes mathematics - one of the first research centres on computing in architecture is the Centre de Méthodologie, Mathématique et Informatique (MMI), founded by Jean Zeitoun in Paris in 1971. » [5]

[1] Tony Côme « Institut de l’environnement : une école décloisonnée » p.195, Editions B42, 2017.

[2] Jean-Pierre Cousin, En diagonale, vingt ans de recherches sur l’image au CIMA, in : revue Art Press, numéro spécial Nouvelles technologies : un art sans modèle ? 3ème trimestre 1991.

[3] Idem supra.

[4] Morandi « L’Architecte électronique : de l’automatisme à l’interactivité, ou l’intelligence artificielle et l’architecture entre 1960 et 1990 », 2010.

[5] Revue « 1989, hors-champ de l’architecture officielle : des petits mondes au Grand » dirigé par Anne Debarre et Guillemette Morel Journel, 2020. Chapitre « L’informatisation de l’architecture. Convergences et décalages entre recherche, enseignement, pratique et production » par Leda Dimitriadi. Celle-ci cite les travaux de Morandi mentionnés supra.

In 1973, under his impetus, the MMI center is granted new computing equipment: “Rapidly, groups would come from all architecture schools to be monitored and to  manipulate the computer technology (. . .) The center acted as a hub and a catalyst with international partners like the MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Milan . . .” (2). As a director, Jean was the designer as well as the linchpin. That illustrates his talen: to be able to bring together different disciplines to establish a dialogue.

Jean Zeitoun will maintain solid friendships while working at l'Institut de l'Environnement and also when he managed the laboratory Méthodologie, Mathématiques, Informatique (MMI), for instance the one that he kept for a long time with Manfred Eisenbeis, teacher and researcher from l'Ecole d'Ulm where he had previously been a student. In charge at the Institute of the seminar "Communication", Manfred intervenes on issues of audiovisual, photographic and media aspects of artistic and cultural practise and treatment of space. He has in common with Jean this predisposition for sharing knowledge and transdisciplinarity that they both develop in their sector. Jean will also bond with speakers like Nicholas Negroponte from MIT – Massachusetts Institut of Technology - (USA) with whom he introduces the concept of artificial intelligence at the Institut. During the following twenty years, Jean will pursue this theme with Negroponte through his own endeavours.

But interdisciplinarity is not a spontaneous approach in France and transdisciplinarity even less; as for collective work... L'Institut de l'Environnement, after a number of problems, will have to close its doors permanently in 1976. However, Jean pursues his activities in his laboratory. In 1979, MMI laboratory becomes CIMA (Centre informatique de méthodologie en architecture) and Jean Zeitoun is reappointed as the director.

[1] Jean-Pierre Cousin, En diagonale, vingt ans de recherches sur l’image au CIMA, in : revue Art Press, numéro spécial Nouvelles technologies : un art sans modèle ? 3ème trimestre 1991.

[2] Idem supra.

3.2. An achievement : the CIMA, Centre informatique méthodologie en architecture

3.2.1 When CIMA, the laboratory managed by Jean, becomes a topic for theses


The CIMA research and studies monitored by Jean Zeitoun, between the late 1970s and 1991, are a topic for doctoral theses, analysis, and exegeses to this day. Jean would never have imagined that. His career path brings to light the fact that his visionary expectations from the 1970s to the 1990s were totally justified, and they opened the way for numerous developments.

During the '2000s, observers note that " the researches of architects, especially those of CIMA, go in the direction foreseen by engineers ten years earlier  [including Jean with the MMI]: with the use of computers to treat, organise, combine data relating to the properties of components offered by the industry, typologies, rules of assembly, and dimension constraints, within systems which present a modular discontinuity. »[1] »

In 2011, Christian Morandi wrote a thesis centered on the works produced by CIMA— then led by Jean Zeitoun—through “the history of three computing laboratories in architecture schools in France.” He notes that “The 1980s are marked by the numerous experiments to create the ‘expert’ softwares based on knowledge in architecture. The progress of software engineering (oriented language object), the contribution of cognitive science, the improvement of computer hardware (. . .) will provide architecture schools’ computing laboratories with the resources to design software and prototypes as diverse as instrumentation of architecture drawings or the ‘new images.’” (4)

[1] Revue « 1989, hors-champ de l’architecture officielle : des petits mondes au Grand » dirigé par Anne Debarre et Guillemette Morel Journel, novembre 2020. Chapitre « L’informatisation de l’architecture. Convergences et décalages entre recherche, enseignement, pratique et production » par Leda Dimitriadi.

[2] Christian Morandi, thèse en Histoire de l’Architecture : Les nouvelles technologies dans la pratique professionnelle des architectes, 1959-1991. "Les méthodologistes" Histoire de trois laboratoires d'informatique dans les écoles d'architecture en France.  [dont le CIMA] Ecole nationale supérieure d'architecture de Versailles,  2011.

In 2015, a new doctoral thesis that deals with the emergence of synthesis images in France [1] spotlighted the pioneering role of CIMA in the development of the very first software[2] and especially the one that is considered as “the first turnkey French system dedicated to digital animation” that “will have an impact on the first years of French synthesis image (. . .).” This document published in 2017 highlights the CIMA work and its role in the emergence of synthetic images in France: "With a joint team of computer scientists and engineers, the centre led by Jean Zeitoun focuses its work towards the analysis of graphic representation while developing its own tools suitable for the architectural project design phase. (...) Several dedicated pieces of software are developed". Cécile Welker notably traces back the history of the very first software developed by Jean's teams within the CIMA [2] and she notes: “the first French turnkey system dedicated to digital animation. It will mark the very first years of the French synthetic image (...)". Nearly twenty years after CIMA has stopped existing, the explorations that Jean Zeitoun and his teams led are still acknowledged and analysed.

In 2018, l’Histoire française de l’animation numérique,[3] published by Pierre Hénon, brings to the fore “The pioneers time” and the time of the “forerunners” of whom Jean is an integral part of: “In Paris, in 1971, Jean Zeitoun creates the MMI within the Institut de l’environnement, to be called the CIMA in 1980. A lot of studies are undertaken on creation methodology (. . .) then on software development”[4] with the conception of the « first French 3D software »[5] (Imagix3D).

Still in 2018, the whole of the document library as well as the studies and research of CIMA and of that laboratory managed by Jean were indexed and catalogued by l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Paris Val de Seine, which has inherited the collection. That approach is justified according to the authors as “The research that have been conducted [at CIMA] from the 1970s to the 1990s, reflect the first ‘real hopes’ in the implementation of computing serving.”[6].


[1] La fabrique des “nouvelles images”: l’émergence des images de synthèse en France dans la création audiovisuelle (1968–1989), Cecile Welker, 14 mars 2017, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3.

[2] Logiciel de synthèse Imagix3D.

[3] Pierre Hénon, Une histoire française de l’animation numérique, Paris: Edition École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs, Paris, 2018.

[4] Idem supra.

[5] Idem supra.

[6] Laboratoire EVCAU, École nationale supérieure d’architecture Paris-Val de Seine, rapport d’étude “Numérique et architecture: champs et projets des origines,” indexation du fonds documentaire provenant du CIMA (1971–1991) Camille Laurent, Laurent Dewaele, sous la direction d’André Del, septembre 2018.

3.2.2   Approaching synthesis image and digital simulation

In the early 1980s, for Jean Zeitoun, it is obvious that the CAO-DAO tools, if they are relevant for producing plans, are totally inadequate for the process project conception and creation at the start of implementation. They are too rigid and they don't allow the creative process accompaniement.

The image tools are essential at the conception phase of the project :« ”Architects manipulate not only shapes but also colors, light, and textures.” This is the reason why “from now on, the (CIMA) team gets involved to synthesis image technology development.[1]

[1] Laboratoire EVCAU, École nationale supérieure d’architecture Paris-Val de Seine, rapport d’étude « Numérique et architecture : champs et projets des origines », indexation du fonds documentaire provenant du CIMA (1971-1991) Camille Laurent, Laurent -Dewaele, sous la direction d’ André Del, septembre 2018

[2] Sabine Porada : « Architecte et peintre diplômée de l'Institut d'Architecture de Moscou (Master of Science in Architecture), chercheur au CIMA et ARCIMA, enseignante à l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles. Dans les années 76-94 chargée d'expérimentation des outils de CAO et de l'image de synthèse, appliquées à l'architecture au Centre de recherche CIMA (Centre de l'Informatique et de Méthodologie en Architecture (…). » Sabine Porada Témoignage - Histoire 3D -

[3] Christian Morandi,  L’Architecte électronique, 2010, revue fabricA.

[4] CIMA – Histoire 3D Wiki,

Photo 15 - equipe Jean CIMA 1.PNG

Members of the CIMA team (1982 ?) standing in the middle, Jean Zeitoun and among people sitting, Sabine Porada and Mikael Porada.

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CIMA – Mikhael Porada, Jean-Louis Schulmann, Sabine Porada,

Jean Zeitoun, Alain Buis. 1980  (Source : CIMA)

Meanwhile, under Jean Zeitoun’s supervision, CIMA keeps training future designers and users of digital images software. Among them, École d’architecture Paris-La Villette (UP6) students who attend a computer programming course in his laboratory.


After this program, Olivier Emery and Pascal Terracol will issue in 1984 “Imagix3D, the first French turnkey 3D animation software français.”[1] This software “will enable many French companies (. . .) to produce affordable 3D [2] . An element which is essential for Jean, those tools are not only available for computer programmers but they are also offered to graphists, designers, and plastic artists.


CIMA is hence a pioneer for the first colour graphic station named Color-X[3] soon followed by Color X second generation.[4] It makes it possible to produce images suitable for television standard definition. His laboratory contributes to conception and programming of several digital image softwares which will be once more among the first on the market, notably IKO (IKOgraph, IKOlight) and OPEN-DESIGN (Spring, on PC and SUN) softwares. Michel Bret and Sabine Porada will be the main designers.

This step precedsthe introduction to the CIMA, in difficult conditions, of items which will be referred to as "foreign" by  the Ministry of Equipment. It is only thanks to Jean Zeitoun's persuasive power that this new equipment can be obtained and installed.


As technology evolves, many artists and graphists are welcome at CIMA and contribute to production on the laboratory hardware, such as Jean-Baptiste Touchard, Manfred Mohr, Estarose Wolfson, Marlène, Nicole Stenger, Marc Checinsky, but also Jean Nouvel, who at first confessed he was resistant to digital technique! Sabine comments about her experience at CIMA: "During these heroic times of synthetic image, we worked together with Michel Bret on the same workstation. We worked 24 hours a day as we only had one single workstation for the image at CIMA. During the night he would develop new functions and I would use them during the day, very often refining them for the requirements of the decor design. We always got unexpected results. And so much the better!»[1]. 


For television she creates the decor, totally virtual, of Pergolèse's opera La Serva Padrona in 1985, a "first in France» [2] from the initial version of the sofware just developed at the CIMA. The opera is presented in a preview in December 1985 at the Carrefour International de la Communication at La Défense then it is broadcast on Canal+. Other animations from this artist/architect will follow, in particular creations produced for the Centre Georges Pompidou exhibitions: "Labyrinthe" (1987) for "Les chemins du virtuel", then "Nil novi sub solo" at the Palais de Tokyo (1990) and "Descente au paradis" in 1992. Sabine explains: "Virtual scenography confirms the idea which has guided researches on spatial design at this time, that the study of urban dramaturgy is at the source of architectural design inspiration. My animated 3D films (...) stem from our research work on the tools for the assistance of architectural design. » [3]

The Ministry of Culture, for the moment, supports these meetings between artists, engineers and industry, in order to generate fertile ground for "the emergence of a techno-artistic sector adapted to the market » [6]. With this in mind in 1983 and 1985, the Ministry commissions the CIMA for several surveys. [7]

The "Architectes et Architecture" magazine - N°188, June 1988 - testifies to the contribution to the profession of these tools developed in Jean Zeitoun's laboratory: "Alain Sarfaty for example, propelled himself straight into the digital image, skipping all the steps of CAD, to conceive his competition projects with IKO Light, the image software developed by CIMA, through striving to recreate with Sabine Porada the "haziness" conducive to sketching. »[4]

In 1986, Jean Zeitoun, with his CIMA co-authors, writes: "Introducing the fundamental dimension of language as a relationship between the cultural models of artistic representation and the logical techniques of their implementation, should make it possible to go beyond the classic opposition between art and science. The design of synthetic images, then the infographic films, which belongs to the art domain as much as to the digital techniques of representation, can contribute to this approach.»[1] Not only can it but it does. The logic of hybridisation implemented by Jean in his researches, the gateways he has set up between disciplines, all this is effective, while shaking up some dogmas. Indeed it is more comfortable to stick to the principle of "being the master in one's own house" or of "each discipline is self-sufficient" as it is often told to him, than to open oneself to discovery. Jean cannot help generating a kind of hostility (or jealousy?), often frustrating and incomprehensible to him.


The CIMA track record is very positive. Jean makes this possible thanks to an approach which is very unique in France and associates research, experiments, and developments. Jean-Pierre Cousin, a journalist who specialized in computing notes about CIMA teams, “Without being the inventors or the only users of digital images, they were the rare ones to deal with the methodological aspects of using this media ”[5]. “CIMA has worked in an original way and achieved producing tools, services, results, propositions at every stage of the development of digital images, including at the creation level. This multiple experience is exceptional in this field and at the international level.[6]


[1] Idem supra.

[2] Idem supra.

[3]  La fabrique des “nouvelles images”: l’émergence des images de synthèse en France dans la création audiovisuelle (1968-1989), Cecile Welker, 14 mars 2017, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3.

[4] Notamment par un informaticien du CIMA, Philipe Toth.

[5] Jean-Pierre Cousin, En diagonale, vingt ans de recherches sur l’image au CIMA, in revue Art Press, numéro spécial Nouvelles technologies: un art sans modèle? 3ème trimestre 1991.

[6] Idem supra.

3.2.3 Artificial intelligence and natural language: the new perspectives offered by CIMA to spatial creation

CIMA’s work lets a new and dynamic architectural scenography take place, in which the decor becomes a full part player. “Iko software, as well as Michel Lebret’s own productions and those coming from CIMA have changed the scene of graphic computing. They will create the surprise at the Imagina exbibition in Paris.”[1] For Art Press, they will also surprise the USA and the Pour Art Press, SIGGRAPH. 

From 1985, CIMA researches aim to experiment in artificial intelligence techniques input or spatial design. They pursue the objective of managing the fusion between "infographic scenography " “ and "intelligent scenography".  

During that time, Paul Braffort, a specialist in artificial intelligence, joins CIMA and contributes to enrich the laboratory researches.

Paul Braffort is also a longstanding member of OULIPO[1] to which Jean contributes regularly.

A pioneer in this domain, he published in 1968 the first book on this subject "L'intelligence artificielle" (Presses universitaires de France). From 1988 to 1991, Paul Braffort acts as "expert with Jean Zeitoun at CIMA. »[1] His anteriority in the artificial intelligence domain contributes to fuel the researches at CIMA and to formalise new techniques.


[1] OULIPO, Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, groupe créé en 1960 par deux mathématiciens épris de littérature, François Le Lionnais et Raymond Queneau.

After twenty years of research and innovations in space design and multidisciplinary creation, the contribution of laboratories led by Jean Zeitoun is now unanimously acknowledged. “With a limited budget compared to the one richer American centers have at their disposal, CIMA has reached an undisputed control of the field. The secret for this success is simple—it relies upon the ongoing reconciliation, over ten years, of research on the processing of graphic components through artificial intelligence, of research on language and the approach to natural language and of the actual research on image established on strict methodological bases.”[3] 

On the 4th December 2018, L'Ecole nationale supérieure d'architecture-Paris Val de Seine (EVCAU) organises a seminar entitled "Retour sur le CIMA" which is dedicated to the Centre d’Informatique et de Méthodologies en Architecture (CIMA), a pioneer laboratory for research in computer science for architecture". Here again, the analysts try to decipher, 30 years later, what has made the success of the alchemy between research and design, methods and procedures, experimentation and industrialisation at CIMA.

The professionals equip themselves with appropriate tools and the academies integrate this teaching. Awareness flourishes. [5] Besides that, the end of the decade has seen the emergence of the internet, the Web and the networking of information.

Nethertheless, the CIMA adventure will end in 1991. The conviction and pedagogic phase connected to the necessity of introducing new technics in design and production in tertiary and industrial will come to a stop. For Jean Zeitoun, it is time to move on.

And so, Jean heads to Venice, a city favorable for reflexion, especially in the heart of winter...


[1] Jean-Pierre Cousin, En diagonale, vingt ans de recherches sur l’image au CIMA, in revue Art Press, numéro spécial Nouvelles technologies: un art sans modèle? 3ième trimestre 1991.

[2] OULIPO, Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, groupe créé en 1960 par deux mathématiciens épris de littérature, François Le Lionnais et Raymond Queneau.

[3] Jean-Pierre Cousin, En diagonale, vingt ans de recherches sur l’image au CIMA, in revue Art Press, numéro spécial Nouvelles technologies: un art sans modèle? 3ième trimestre 1991.


Jean Zeitoun (Private source)

3.3.  New adventures in the domain of linguistics: Most, Textagent, and other companies

At the very beginning of the 1990s, Jean Zeitoun decides to change scenery, and he takes up a new challenge. He founds MOST company, whose aim is to explore the applications of artificial intelligence and natural language in industry as well as in services. He focuses on the development of linguistic search engines that are still new in France.

MOST operates in industry, in particular aeronautics with the help of specialized engineers (probabilists, statisticians) and of linguists and IT developers, among them Guillaume Hérisson, who will be the key person in Jean’s team for a long time. Guillaume will first establish himself in Paris, then he will work from Rio de Janeiro, Montreal, and New York, where he has decided to live.

The developments focus on the conception of software dealing with the reliability process of space launching. They also contribute to the implementation of safety in software using natural language.


Jean Zeitoun (Private source)

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photo 18.JPG

Jean Zeitoun - New York (Private source)

From the 1990s to the 2005s, Jean carries on research and development activities dedicated to language, data bases, and information processing.

In conjunction with MOST, the team designs TextAgent, a software suite for surveillance, processing, acquisition, publication, and information sharing which can be operated by agents.


At this time, with Guillaume Herisson and Ben Epstein's help, the team installs a structure based in New York and aimed to host, using internet servers, intranet and extranet.

Photo 31.jpeg

Guillaume  Hérisson  (Source : privée)

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 Erwan Lauriot-Prévost  (Source : privée)


Last but not least, the company develops a meta search engine - named Billy – on the internet (PtoP) enabling the user to create his own data research, classification and indexation system via this software. Erwan Lauriot-Prévost is then one of Jean's business partners on these subjects. He will quickly become, like Guillaume, one of his close and reliable friends.

These long friendly complicity calls for a little more personal parenthesis on Jean Zeitoun.

The conversations between Jean, Erwan and Guillaume can last for hours, mixing software specifications, talk of music - one of Erwan and Guillaume's passions - or political analysis.

These long friendly complicity calls for a little more personal parenthesis on Jean Zeitoun.

For Erwan, Jean represents “ this dazzling French intelligence, collected and visionary. He was a mentor to me, " he tells us, " a sun, leonine in the noble sense. An extraordinary intelligence, a culture, a history. I am convinced, he will be one of the last to take such human excellence with him ”.

From his uninterrupted conversation with Jean for thirty-three years, Guillaume retains " a permanent joy of the spirit ". He says he is " fascinated by his energy and the proliferation of his ideas " from the moment Jean takes him under his wing and until these last days. In addition to humor, " it is also a similar conception of friendship and loyalty that brought us together " he tells us all. Because Jean is one of those men who, even adults, continue to pursue both an ideal of moral code, that of the Knights of the Round Table, honor and fidelity, as well as a quest for enchanted loves and perfect friendships. The most astonishing thing is that, throughout his life, he finds them.


Sabine Nayrat, who worked for a while at MOST with Jean, is still struck today by the way he was so present during meetings with his teams: “ His listening was incredible! Everyone felt that their work and thoughts were important and decisive for the future of the company. And then Jean was a humanist with a phenomenal culture: the future of computer science was far from being his only topic of conversation, there were also Brahms and Montaigne. But whatever the topic, he did it with so much passion that we were seized with it. And necessarily ready to get involved.  "


But let's close this intimate parenthesis, too intimate for Jean.


Finally, throughout these years, Jean Zeitoun provides close advice to the management of large industrial or service groups on their policy of integrating communication technologies and modernization. It has a global and long-term vision of the sector and its areas of development. His prodigious memory and his method of reasoning, sometimes destabilizing for uninformed interlocutors, allow him to open up new avenues and lay the foundations for multiple developments at the crossroads of natural language and artificial intelligence.

3.4.  A new opportunity to develop software dedicated
to digital communication networks 


Jean Zeitoun ( source privée)

From the 2000's, simultaneously with his activities in the natural language and artificial language field, Jean Zeitoun pursues a new professional involvement, this time in the digital communications field.

The sector is booming, and consecutive regulatory openings encourage local and territorial communities (regions, councils, and cities . . .) to develop the digital planning of their space. City and district networks spread, mostly in optic fiber (FTTH) (1).

[1] FTTH, Fiber To The Home, fibre optique jusqu’à l’abonné

At the dawn of the 2000s, Comptoir des Signaux (CDS) company is one of the very first IT consulting and engineering companies in France (founded in 1987). It is in demand for software adapted to those new scales of network design. Jean Zeitoun will bring the solutions. As a business partner of CDS from mid 2000s, he designs and adapts the adequate software with the support of the very first consultants of the company who are now partners, Sébastien Godin, CEO, Sébastien Moine, manager, and Alexandre Zbinden.

This is the case of METTEOR©—Modélisation Economique Technique et Territoriale d’Optimisation de Réseaux. This is an intelligent software that enables design or control of FTTH network implementation.

Jean builds precious bonds of friendship and esteem with the partners and consultants of the Comptoir des Signaux, first with Sébastien Godin, the exceptional senior consultant who he talks to as much about the comparable merits of bourgogne and bordeaux (Sébastien is an excellent wine connaisseur but he prefers bourgogne to bordeaux, to Jean's great displeasure!) as about the specifics of fibre optic networks. Then, with Sébastien Moine with whom he shares an office. This young novice is a little confused when he starts in the company in the '2000s, although he will soon be beguiled by Jean's thorough work methods. He will appropriate them very quickly and will evolve with great maturity in the company, ending by occupying a key role. Jean will be delighted to witness this successful knowledge transference to Sébastien and not have to miss the humourous conversations they often share together.

Meanwhile, with Agnès Huet's assistance, Jean will "put into orbit" other beginners like Clément Verhille. After internship at Le Comptoir des Signaux in the '90s, Clément will then accomplish most of his career in a big company, thanks to Jean Zeitoun's recommendation. Jean is able to detect and encourage the potential of all young engineers. Usually, they will never disappoint him.

The approach Jean Zeitoun proposes for the Comptoir des Signaux is innovative in France in the fields of financial modelling, telecommunication engineering and control of fibre optic networks installation, whether local, metropolitan or long distance. It results from the specialist work accomplished within the Firm in terms of the configuration of network modelling functions, established on the basis of a study of several thousands connections. For Jean, this forward looking approach can't be dissociated from a constant technological and strategic watch. To respond to the demand of a major French advertising company which is rebuilding its headquarters into a latest generation smart building, he does not hesitate to take the whole team to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Francisco to see the architects of the best American advertising agencies and the building designed by Frank Gehry.

[1] SEPTET : Systems Inc. dirigée par Ben Epstein, Acting Chairman and Président :

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Jean Zeitoun ( Private source)

4.  Paving the way


From the late '70s, research expands in the domain of space processing, the living environment and architecture. From the '80s, it gains recognition and connects the academic world (training centres and schools) and professionals, with their industrial requirements. As described above, Jean's actions largely contribute to this and in November 2020, that is still remembered. The magazine Transmisson indeed indicates that, at that time: « important French personnalities: Huet, Boudon, Barthes, Damisch, Ciriani, Bois, Deleuze, Guattari, Derrida, Cauquelin, de Certeau, Fortier, Foucault, Allégret, Bourdieu, Épron, Lefebvre, Baudrillard, Zeitoun (…) who, in the history of art, in semiology, in philosophy, in sociology, in anthropology, in engineering sciences, in psychology, in geography, in urbanisation, stimulate the institutionalisation of architectural research in its already complex relationship with the academic world and the professions (…). »[1] It is also during that decade that the Doctorate in architecture is born.Beyond his professional activity,

Jean Zeitoun gets seriously involved in teaching. As usual, he opens the path, formalizes, structures and teaches disciplines not yet developed.

  • ·       L’Ecole nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris-La Villette :

From 1969 to 1985, Jean teaches at l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-la Villette. 


The list of courses and themes that he tackles at this time is the perfect illustration of his constant concern to lay the foundations of fundamental knowledge while opening the students' minds to new horizons. From the teaching of the Eléments de combinatoire à l’usage des professions de l’environnement from 1969 to the Notion de générateur in 1984-1985 by way of L’architecture comme système d’informations and la Représentation architecturale et informatique in 1979-1980, he prepares for the appropriation of digital techniques by the profession. [2]​

[1] ACS – Revue Transmission, dirigée par A. Debarre et G. Morel Journel, 1989, hors champ de l’architecture officielle : des petits mondes au Grand, Jacques Fol, Directeur d’ACS, ENSA Paris-Malaquais, novembre 2020.

[2] Contributions de Jean Zeitoun aux enseignements de l’Ecole nationale supérieure d'architecture de Paris-La Villette : Zeitoun Jean, Eléments de combinatoire à l'usage des professions de l'environnement (s.d) (1969-1974) ; Zeitoun Jean, Instrumentation en Conception architecturale (1974-1975) ; Dupont Jean, Lelong Claude, Zeitoun Jean, Conception architecturale et formalisation (1972-1973) ; Zeitoun Jean. Trames (1976-1977) ; Dupont Jean, Lelong Claude, Zeitoun Jean, Typologies des formes (1977-1978) ; Zeitoun Jean, Exercices de géométrie (1978-1979) ; Dupont Jean, Lelong Claude, Zeitoun Jean, Architecture et formalisation (1979-1980) ; Dupont Jean, Lelong Claude, Zeitoun Jean, L'Architecture comme système d'informations. (1979-1980) ; Zeitoun Jean, Représentation architecturale et informatique (1979-1980) ; Zeitoun Jean, Présentation de SM 11 : Trames, Réseaux, Pavages (1980-1981) ; Dupont Jean, Lelong Claude, Zeitoun Jean, Notion de générateur (1984-1985) ; Dupont Jean, Lelong Claude, Zeitoun Jean, Nombre d'or et tracés régulateurs (1984-1985).


  • ·       L’Ecole spéciale d’architecture (ESA) :

From the 1980s, he teaches at l’Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture (ESA). This very old institution has welcomed architects such as Robert Mallet-Stevens (1906) in its Classes.


But in the early 1980s, as in other architecture schools, ESA is behind regarding the use of digital equipment in the architectural or urbanistic process. Jean then equips ESA with its very first digital terminal.


Then he founds the computing laboratory of the school in 1982 with the help of people such as Dominique Clayssen, architect and teacher who became Jean's associate and long time friend. Dominique Clayssen remembers: "The computer terminal was located in a 10 m2 cramped room, an ancient kitchen at the school. Jean did not wish to teach computing science, he preferred to let the students get acquainted with these tools themselves. Which they will manage to accomplish perfectly despite the difficult conditions. » [1].

They also orientated ESA toward a new research and teaching line—“Architecture des lieux de travail”—factories, industries, depots . . . They join forces with Gabriel Guenoun, an architect who shares their vision. He will remain just like Dominique, a friend and constant support for Jean, all along his career path. The result of their studies has been brought to the fore in several publications.(20)

At ESA Jean Zeitoun meets with Anatole Kopp, architect and ex-student, who has also been a manager of the school. Similarly trained at MIT, he is above all a great specialist of architecture in the USSR. Jean will remain one of his great friends. His acts of war during the Paris Liberation had indefectibly impressed Jean.

  • ·       L’Ecole nationale supérieure de création industrielle :

In 1984, Jean Zeitoun move to another institution. He creates a department, “Design and information and communication technologies,” within l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle which had just been founded  (1982).


Several members of CIMA are sent to the school to assist the students in their understanding of these tools. Jean, on his part, provides teaching and research supervision at the school. By introducing computer technology applied to industrial design he contributes to increasing the opportunities and methods of creation.

Gilles de Bure [1] explains: "The school acquires the equipment progressively. In the middle of the '80s, the first computers appear". "Jean-Louis Fréchin remembers Jean Zeitoun's theoretical computing courses (...). However, it was still in its infancy and if the "bitty boxes" were starting to populate the school, computing was still negligible there." The School will have to wait another 15 years after the introduction of these courses by Jean Zeitoun before a digital design workshop (Atelier de design numérique - ADN) was created.

Jean also had the opportunity to teach at l’IRCAM, Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in 1988. 

Finally, he brings his contribution to the creation of several scientific communities within SIGGRAPH[1] and takes part in its first conventions (Boston, Detroit, Anaheim, and Las Vegas).

Among Jean's numerous public addresses to seminars and conferences over this decade, he delivers a speech, in July 1983, at the inaugural session of the « Informatique et Culture /Computer Culture » [3] conference on the theme « Rethinking Culture and Technology » with Jacques Rigaud, Vilem Flusser and Richard Hill. He also lectures on the theme « Computer Image and Artistic Creation ». His purpose is to open the windows, to offer a new air to breathe, for all the professionals under constraint and those who are keen to share practises and knowledge between the scientific and artistic cultures. Jean is all about his passion for transmission and multidisciplinarity, free from any limits or dogma.

Jean Zeitoun also takes part in many work groups. In particular, he is a member of the Industrial Design think tank organised in 1990 and 1991 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication.

Dominique Clayssens who took part in many of Jean Zeitoun's adventures and is a long time friend, wonders today: " Why does Jean decide to create, at the dawn of the '70s, one of the very first digital research laboratories in the field of architecture and planning? Why does he choose to teach mathematics and methodology in this domain? Why does he not follow, like so many of his colleagues, the red carpet to the key government positions or the leadership of large companies? Besides this, it can't be chance only that makes him meet the handful of people who, at this time, dream of pursuing in Paris the Bauhaus epic, eight decades after its foundation? " For Dominique, Jean Zeitoun "has a gift for taking a long term view, for anticipating the potential of new tools." He also possesses a rare quality, the capacity for "thinking against his brain" as Gaston Bachelard would have said. Far from stereotypical ideas, assumptions or prejudices, Jean favours scientific reason, in an open and creative way and consequently he could only walk on the byways.

[1] Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.

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Ecole spéciale d’architecture, première de couverture d’un projet de fin d’études, 1981, Bertrand Albertini Maîtrier, Atelier Jean Zeitoun, Directeur d’étude

Ecole spéciale d’architecture,

4.2. A selection of his publications

[1] Gilles de Bure, Le design fait école, L’Ecole nationale supérieure de création industrielle, Paris : Gallimard, février 2007.

[2] Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.

[3] Organisée à Villeneuve-lès-Avignon par le Centre international de recherche, de création et d’animation ( CIRCA) et Photo/Electric Arts Foundation. 

4.2. A sélection of his publications

-        1974, Instrumentation en Conception Architecturale, Introduction, Jean Zeitoun, édité par l'Ecole Spéciale d'Architecture, novembre 1974

-        1975, KOPP ANATOLE, CLAYSSEN DOMINIQUE, ZEITOUN JEAN, 1975, Recherche de pré-définition sur l'innovation en Europe de 1920 à nos jours, UDRA Unité De Recherche Appliquée de l'ESA ; Ministère de l'Equipement..., 1975, Cote : A-UDRA-KOP

-        1977, Jean Zeitoun, Trames planes, Collection Aspects de l’Urbanisme, Editions Dunod, 1977

-        1979, Jean Zeitoun, Utilisation potentielle de l'informatique dans la conception en industrialisation ouverte, CIMA, 1979

-        1984, Eléments d’architecture et composants. Recherche pour un inventaire permanent, Dominique Clayssen, Jean Zeitoun, Gabriel Guenoun, Cuno Brullmann, rapport de recherche, Comité de la Recherche et du développement en architecture (CORDA) Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture/Unité de recherche appliquée (UDRA),

-        1984 : Utilisation de nouveaux outils de visualisation dans les projets d'aménagement urbain, recherche PLAN URBAIN, J. ZEITOUN, C. MOISSINAC, S. PORADA

-        1986, De la pierre au pixel, Jean Zeitoun ; Saint Etienne, actes du colloque Imaginaire Numérique, Paris, Hermès, 1986

-        1986 : Langage de création et rhétorique de l’image de synthèse animée : sous la direction de Jean Zeitoun, Directeur scientifique, ministère de la Culture, Mission de la Recherche, Paris

-        1987 : Les nouvelles images : introduction à l’image informatique, Jean Zeitoun, Dominique Clayssen, Dominique Lobstein, Paris, France, Editions Dunod, 1987.

-        1987 : L’espace de l’image et l’espace dans l’image : vers un écart numérique, Jean Zeitoun, in Imaginaire Numérique, n°1, Editions Hermès, 1987

-        1988 : Scénographie intelligente : contribution à l’élaboration d’un dialogue entre l’image numérique et le langage opératif, Jean Zeitoun, in Revue Informatique et architecture.

-        1988 : Jean Zeitoun, Simulation visuelle et conception spatiale en architecture : les apports de l’image de synthèse en conception architecturale ; Paris, actes MICADO ; Paris, Hermès, 1988

-        1988 : M. Bret, S. Porada, J. Zeitoun et al. Quatre propos pour une image, recherches et expérimentations autour d’IKOgraph ; Paris, actes du colloque PIXIM,1988

-        1988 : Jean Zeitoun, Considérations sur le développement d’applications architecturales de la scénographie intelligente ; Paris, actes de la journée CIAO du CIMA, Hermès, 1988

-        1990 : Jean Zeitoun, Paul Braffort, Applications de méthodes linguistiques en sûreté de fonctionnement : un cadre méthodologique, Paris, actes des journées Advanced Techniques for Quality, Renault et Institut d’Expertise et de Prospective de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure – Paris 1990

-        1993 : Jean Zeitoun, CAO et conception d’objets - Design miroir du siècle, Flammarion, 1993

-        1994, ouvrage collectif Laurent Gilles, Marc Guillaume, Jean Zeitoun, De nouvelles représentations de l’espace, revue Communiquer demain, DATAR, Editions de l’Aube, Paris 1994.

-        1995, Jean Zeitoun, Agnès Huet, Les téléports, nouvelles places de marché sur les inforoutes, Paris : L’Harmattan, 1995.

-        1996 : Jean Zeitoun, Nouvelles représentations de l’espace et matérialité du territoire in revue Quaterni, n°30 – Automne 1996.

5. Live, learn, love

“Let’s not take ourselves seriously, anyway nobody will survive.” (Alphonse Allais)

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Source  : Privée - "Suite"  - Photos Martine Fontaine - 2020

Louis Leprince-Ringuet, one and the same, addressed a comment on a very personal tone, when he was honored at l’X with a ceremony for his 96th birthday: “Even if our work expresses imaginative qualities, critical mind, tenacity, and creative spirit, it hardly reveals and very rarely the inner movements of our soul, all that expresses the most intimate reality, the deepest in our being. In that way, we are not poets, but we celebrate in immense choirs the grandeur of nature.”[1] We can’t say if Jean Zeitoun would have shared this thought, but to find a tiny part of the inner movements of his soul, one must be able to love, to listen, to laugh, to observe, to talk, to keep quiet, to contradict, to espouse, and to oppose, while knowing that all he offers you is a gift of intelligence, freedom and sensitivity.


Jean likes to multiply paths but without giving the map. Either you are with him or against him, you follow or you flee, you love or you hate, he loves or he hates with no half measure and with an infinite depth and fullness, endlessly renewed.  


All these paths which reveals his personality are brought to us by the moments of an ordinary life and not the outstanding adventures. He does not like to travel and yet he loves sharing his discoveries, the landscapes, the gardens, especially the Italian ones, and also the lakes and Mediterranean blue waters just as much as the vivid and green waters of the Dordogne river.   


[1] Discours de Louis Leprince-Ringuet à l’occasion de la célébration à l’X de son 96ème anniversaire, source: Bulletin de la SABIX,

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Jean Zeitoun

He enjoys following the dry stone walls under the bright skies of the Causses and the Lot, he simply adores a duck breast and Côteaux de Glane wine in Bernadette and Joël, Irène and Dominique’s lovely houses in Quercy.

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La Dordogne au Bastit – 2019 (Source : private)

Other times, the checkered tablecloths of Quartier Drouot bistrots will let him indulge himself with his friends Christiane and Nirina most often, but also Gaby and others, the unwavering, faithful, empathic friends with whom he shares his views on “anthropologic regression” that is happening at the moment, the vanishing of the notion of common benefit and the triumph of individual desire.


Christiane et Nirina (Source : private)

Jean is also nostalgic for the Paris of Doisneau and Riboud (he collects old cameras). Finally Jean claims to be at the same time classic and conservative, a free-thinking and wandering spirit but essentially... he does not belong anywhere ! Those later years, he deserted Paris’s cobblestone frantic madness (because of their criminal destruction) for the countryside quietness and the gardens with a fountain, a pond, or a stream. 


He is particularly fond of Françoise and Christian’s garden at Point du Jour.[1] Since the moment they met, some twenty years ago, Jean has kept a special affection for them and a great esteem for their artistic talent as landscape creators. That is why Françoise and Christian have managed a little secret spot for him under the foliage of their vegetal cathedral. This is where he rests today.



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Source : Pépinière du Point du Jour - 2021


It is also under the plane trees, near the stone fountain (dating from XVth century but largely renovated...) that Jean spends hours talking with his sisters Simone and Marlène.

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Je suis un paragraphe. Cliquez ici pour ajouter votre propre texte et me modifier. C'est facile.

Source: privée

They share a lot in common, painful moments as well as cheerful ones. We won't know more as the three of them are very discreet. But what is certain is that they are extremely close. Often emotional, sometimes irritated, they treat the others with a great tenderness as they adore one another.


Jean's grandchildren are in the picture sometimes and to his great enjoyment: Eve and Joshua like to frolic on the lawn or read, quietly curled up in Jean's favorite armchair. Esther and Juliette are both focused and studious and Elie, the chess champion, is already so gifted in mathematics. Jean likes to recall his memories as a young father as he was fully involved in his daughters 'education.


Because Jean Zeitoun is a restless quicksilver, in spite of his health problems, he carries on reading, playing an instrument, singing, and more than anything . . . working, learning, discovering.

If Montaigne, La Fontaine, and Jankélévitch are his favorite authors, he confesses to enjoying reading detective stories or above all Jim Harrison’s books,[1] which he considers to offer more genuine testimonies on the human condition than any other literature.

But more important, those last years were the opportunity for Jean to deepen his favorite subject: sciences of the universe. 

If you think you understand quantum mechanics, that means I have not been clear,” Nobel Prize of physics 1965 Richard Philipps Feynman would say. “I don’t understand anything of it myself. Anyway, no one understands anything of it.” That sounds like a good start to Jean who decides to . . . go back to square one. But he is soon faced, like all the sceptics of this time, with the fact that experiments finally work and confirm theories, even if one does not understand anything.

Jean goes back to his roots with Einstein and space-time properties, the origin of matter, fossil radiation, gravitational waves, the nature of time. He carries on exploring and learning. Jean also keeps teaching and sharing; three mornings a week, he runs “open astrophysics sessions.” Pedagogy, patience, kindness: the classes hosted by Jean are, for those who are lucky enough to attend, great opportunities for discovery with a touch of magic, curiosity, and fascination thanks to his crystal clear explanations. We are looking forward to the next ones . . .

[1] Légendes d’automne, Dalva et tous les autres livres de Jim Harrison

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Source : private

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Source : private

But “The postman never rings twice,” as Etienne Klein would say. As for Jean, we would have liked him to ring one more time and maybe it would be the case. In a fourth time dimension? Who knows?


Source : private

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