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Gilles Trehin: The City of Urville

Gilles Trehin has been drawing since age 5, but at age 12 he began designing an imaginary city he named URVILLE, which is described in great detail on this posting, and on his own linked website as well. The background of the evolution of Gilles’s talent in his childhood years is described on this posting as well by Gilles’s father, Paul. Gilles has presented his remarkable work at a number of autism conferences and conventions. They are always well received, and he very much enjoys sharing with his work with those audiences.
— Darold Treffert, MD

My name is Gilles Tréhin, I was born in 1972, I live in Cagnes sur Mer, near Nice, in south-east of France.  I have been drawing since the age of 5. I have always been fascinated by big cities and aeroplanes.

Since 1984, I started to be interested by the conception of an imaginary city. I called it Urville, the name comes from “Dumont d’Urville”, which is a scientific base, in a French territory of the Antarctic. Since then, I am doing some drawings on this city and I am actually writing a book with an historical, geographic, cultural and economic description of Urville.
(Urville website http://urville.com )

The History of Urville’s Creation in my Mind
Since the age of 5, drawing has been my passion. My drawings were mainly airplanes, airports and cities.

The idea of Urville came very progressively. When I lived in the United States between 1978 and 1981, I was fascinated by New York City and its skyscrapers. At this time, I decided to build skyscrapers in Lego bricks, but I did not have a precise objective then.
I was not just fascinated by skyscrapers but also by airline aircrafts : the first word I said when I was a child was “Avion” (airplane in French). I like airplanes because it is easier to go to the United States by the air than by sea. I lived five years in the USA with my family, not far from New York City.

It’s in 1984 that the idea of an imaginary city became concrete, during one of my vacation journeys back in New York city. After this trip, I lived in London between 1984 and 1986. During this period, I bought a large number of little die cast aircrafts for which I built an airport model, using Lego bricks. I decided then to build a large city that was going to need such a big airport, still in Lego. I even tried to write a schedule brochure for the flights departing and arriving to the airport.

But during those two years, I didn’t have any definite idea of what this city was going to look like, until I made the first building which symbolises Urville, “Year 2000 Tower.”

After leaving London in 1986 and coming back to live in Cagnes sur Mer, near Nice on the French Riviera, I imagined some other buildings : the “Twin Towers,” the “Mégalopolis Tower” and the “Olympic Stadium.”

I was building the airport very close to the city because it was only possible to use the space of my bedroom.

Then the city was only taking second place after the airport in my mind, but I was thinking that if there was a large airport, it must be next to a very big city.

After 1987, there was a big evolution in my conception of the city. I realised that I could expand the city in my mind without necessarily building it in Lego bricks, and compensate this by drawing. I started to base the city on the planning of the streets. In 1991, in my conception of the city, I stopped using lego, and had made some drawings. Until 1992, I built little by little the city concept starting with the subway map and I started writing the history of the city in a general way.

Starting in 1993, the drawings of Urville became more frequent, with the first global view of the city.

It was the first click because with the help of illustrated books on real cities, I discovered new techniques which helped my drawing. During this same year, I started to study history because I realised that it was an important element of knowing a city, and history offered me the possibility to learn even more things.

Introduction to Urville 
Urville is a city with 11 820 257 inhabitants (1999), its the largest city of France and even of Europe for the population. It is the capital of the administrative region ” Insular Provence” which counts 14 275 960 inhabitants. The city is divided in 35 sections.
Urville has the highest level of jurisdiction institutions, several Universities, an Archbishop palace as well as many other public service administrative services.
Urville is the economic capital of France. It hosts the headquarters of the large enterprises (banks, insurances, nuclear industry, petroleum companies, computer and electronic industry, chemical and pharmaceutical. Industrial activity (chemical and pharmaceutical, equipment, textile, agro-alimentary, consumer products…), regardless of its decline since 1975 still represent 28% of Urville’s economic activity.

Urville is also the financial capital of France, It is the largest stock exchange market of the country. The media and press sector is very important, Urville hosts the headquarters of more than 400 revues and magazines, 30 national newspapers and more than 100 publishing companies.

Urville is an international cultural capital and it possesses important museums as well as more than 300 theatres. A large number of cultural events such as concerts, exhibitions, festivals and international trade shows are organised on a regular basis.

Urville was founded in the 12th Century BC by the Phoenicians under the name of «Qart-Sous-Yam» (Carsucia). The name was changed in Urbis (Urville) in the 1st Century BC under the Roman occupation. Urville was the 3rd city of the Roman Empire until the 5th century AC. In the 3rd century AC, it had already near 250 000 inhabitants.

During the Middle Age, Urville was successively dominated by the Ostrogoths, the Francs, the House of Arles and the “Angevine Dinasty.” During this period, after the successive crises of the 5th and 10th century, the city expanded thanks to its flourishing maritime trade in the 12th century and, inspite of the crises of the 14th Century, it became again flourishing during the second half of the 15th century.

In 1480, Urville gets under the domination of the Kingdom of France.

In 1789, during the French Revolution, Urville has 2.8 millions inhabitants, but the number of habitations became too limited to host the huge population growth due to the Industrial Revolution. In order to cope, the authorities of Urville call upon the famous town-planner Oscar Laballière (1803/ 1883) to start gigantic urban projects which are still outlining Urville even today.

As much as the city was spared during the 1st World War, It suffered bombing during the 2nd World War. However, the people of Urville paid a high human price : nearly 300 000 people were killed during the 1st World War and more than 200 000 people during the 2nd World War.

After the 2nd World War France knows a huge move of people from the countrysides to the cities. With this phenomenon Urville population went from 7.9 millions to 1.6 millions inhabitants, in 1990, just 40 years later.

“Urville’s Guided Tour”
In the book I have writen, “Urville’s Guided Tour,” it wasn’t possible for the moment to put all the major quarters of Urville because the whole of Urville is still not completely drawn.
All the drawings, more than 250, come from the 5 main very large general views of the different sectors of the city. There is an example of a large view at the beginning of this text. Each of the smaller views show details of the streets, squares and various monuments of Urville. For each of them I have written a text giving more information about the history of the place.

I hope that the book will be published very soon.

Gilles Tréhin, 58 av de la Gare, 06800 Cagnes sur Mer FRANCE


The following text is written by Gilles’ father.

Background on Gilles’ Evolution

Gilles was diagnosed with autism at about age 8 by the team of the Yale Child Study Center by the late Professor Donald Cohen. We had had previous imprecise formulations of a diagnosis: “Autistic like behaviour.”

His developmental history has been quite exceptional. He started with a typical “kanner autism” and evolved quite positively through childhood and adolescence, then to adulthood, making astonishing progress.

We discovered through time that Gilles had several talents. These really helped him build a rather good self esteem. Some even helped him to socialise.

Music: We noticed that Gilles had perfect pitch when he was very young. He would come to me begging that I play a music tune, humming it as he had very limited speech. When I sat at the piano or took the guitar, he had been humming it exactly in the tone I usually played that piece of music. He was becoming angry when music was played on a turntable not rotating at the right speed. He learned much later on to play electric bass guitar without having any serious lessons. Limited fine motor skills stopped him from playing the guitar. He took on from that knowledge, and here absolutely without lesson, to play the upright bass, playing with me some very sophisticated pieces of jazz or “bossa nova” music with complex harmonies.

Mental Calculation: At about age 6 he surprised us by answering questions on the multiplication table which we were asking his sister for rehearsal… She told us that Gilles knew more, when we asked what she meant, she said “he knows 12th 13th 14th multiplication tables,” we tried, (with a calculator) and indeed Gilles could multiply, actually he was only stopped as he didn’t know how to express number larger than 1000…
Later on the same year, he discovered all by himself the concept of prime number… He was fascinated by them. He could tell immediately if a number was prime, he used to say: “In 4187 there is nothing” — “What do you mean, nothing,” — “There is no 2, no 3 no 5, no 7, no 11, no 13.”

Drawing: Coming back in time, at age 5 we discovered that he could draw in 3D, actually going directly from scribbles to 3D. Drawing has been ever since his forte, combined with a fabulous imagination. He used it to invent an imaginary city he called Urville and on which he is still working. His invention goes far beyond drawings, he has invented names of personalities and events that made the history of Urville. He has now lost most of his capabilities with multiplications and prime numbers even though he still feels rather comfortable with numbers.

He is still very good at music, but doesn’t play as much as before.

He is now almost completely concentrating upon drawing and writing about Urville.

Current Situation: Gilles lives now in France, near Nice. He is fluent in English since we have spent five years in the USA near New York City and two years in England in London. Some of the inspiration of Gilles drawings certainly owe to these cities famous monuments but he added to them and created some completely new.

We are trying to help Gilles, who would like so much to make a living out of his art. So we are trying to inform as many people as we can about it. Gilles likes to travel to new cities. He likes to make presentations about his imaginary city. He has done so at several autism congress and conferences. Quite honestly, his presentation of Urville is a real show, even though he is not aware of it… One can just walk through the streets of Urville as if it was real.

We hope that you will find his work interesting.

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For more information, please contact:
Darold A. Treffert, MD
St. Agnes Hospital, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison
Personal website: www.daroldtreffert.com
E-mail: daroldt@charter.net