WG+P’s trip to Paris

Published 30 November 2015

‘I blame the architect’,

WG+P rewarded our recent hard work with a group trip to Paris. Architects reading this may recognise the format; the early start, the excitement of a day away from the desk, the excesses of a group night out vindicated by being ‘on the office’. It wasn’t until the end of the following evening after a long day walking and looking (avec hangover) that we came to realise how much more there is to Paris than first meets the eye.

Looking south from the top of Montmartre the centre of Paris is a tasteful patchwork of grey and beige. Greige, as an interior designer once described. Gothic spires occasionally punctuate an otherwise uniform townscape, from this distance at least. Then, looking like some kind of spaceship landed in the midst of the 4th arrondissment is the ever colourful centre Pompidou.

This building was in fact where we started our office tour upon arrival in Paris the day before, including lunch surrounded by blue ductwork followed by some time spent exploring the building, as only architects do.

The Pompidou has long been a favourite of the more senior staff and so it was with some surprise, disdain even, that less than glowing comments were received from more junior staff:

‘The entrance is a bit of a non-event’,

‘the space outside is barren’,

‘its falling to bits’ (NB this was taken as an indirect dig at one of the WG+P directors who is the same age as the building)

How could they say this? The Pompidou might just be unrepeatable, a radical yet elegant pavilion, a building that changed and yet reinforced the character of a city, a public resource, an embodiment of Egalite fraternite et liberte…

Albeit you have to pay to ride the escalators now.

Back to the morning after the night before, it was with sore head and dehydration that we set off to experience the buildings that had only been viewed in print until now. This involved venturing beyond the immediate centre of town and into the unknown.

Love it or hate it, there’s plenty to amuse at Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette (why hasn’t London dared to create a park like this?) which happens to contain an exhibition centre equal to the Pompidou that we later discover was touched by the same masterful hand of Peter Rice.

To the east of the centre on the north bank of the river Seine we visit monumental developments which, on face value, appear post-modern in style. Perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation but these buildings seem dignified, refined even. Not words commonly associated with this architectural movement in the UK.

The more recent Bibliotheque Nationale on the south bank of the river was also a sight for sore eyes. The gigantic sunken garden or ‘Jurassic park’ as one of our pt 2s aptly put it, a genuine marvel.

And of the Pompidou centre? Only now one realises how the impression of an entire city can be distorted by a fascination with one building alone; in recent years every visit to Paris has centred around paying homage to this building above all else, sadly at the expense of exploring more of this fascinating city. How could this have happened? I blame the architect.

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