Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jussieu Campus / Institut du Monde Arab

The Jussieu Campus looks like one of those projects a student might put up on a wall that would create a conversation which assumes it would never be built and is more about an idea of architecture. Well, it's built. It's in Paris, and it's generally considered a failure. Nobody really knows about it even though it is directly across the street from the well known and visited Institut du Monde Arab.

From Google Earth

The entire project is an extruded grid standing on pilotis. I went to see it, because I wanted to see what happens when such an abstract architectural thing becomes reality. I was intrigued by the images from google earth.

It was not so great. After seeing one courtyard, I'd pretty much seen them all and the construction made it impossible to move around the way one is supposed to. However, there were a lot of interesting little moments where the ground was shaped and became an ampitheatre or the ground opened up into a lowered courtyard. There were stramps (stair-ramps) leading into a giant glass pyramid, and all these other little things that I've seen people put into their architecture to add interest. It was hard to say whether these things were successful as the campus was closed and unoccupied, but you can look at some renderings from AS Architecture, the people working on the renovations now.

Next stop was across the street at the Institut du Monde Arab by Nouvel. There's a great elevational view of it from the Jussieu campus, as you can maybe tell from the above photo.

Looking down from the 6th floor to the ground floor entry

I wasn't too interested in taking the hundred millionth photo of the front of the building or the mechanics from behind. There was nothing surprising there. What was surprising was the lightness of the hollow core and the stairs which were made important by being one of the places where one could get right up against the facade.

Markings of Time (Paris city wall)

Wall of Philip II Augustus

Before leaving, I put together a list of places people had suggested I go see. Each person had a few favorites, but every single one also said to just walk around and discover. Here's a little remnant of Paris' past that I discovered while walking.

Walls have made a big impact on the Paris of today. Ring boulevards are constructed in places where walls once stood; different cultural neighborhoods now meet where there used to be a wall separating; and the city, which is very compact, grew efficiently as a response to the hard boundary.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Friday Jazz

Two champagnes at the office brought my total to three champagnes at the office for the week. After work, everyone at the bar down the street for terrible beer and some shots to send a coworker off. Then, a small informal Jazz concert. Music and wine to end the night. First week accomplished.

Colors in Paris

I was compelled to stop and take this picture because it was so non-paris, and sometimes the best way to understand something is by what it is not. What I mean is, 'check out the color'! For the most part, my experience of Paris so far has been like the appreciation of a really well detailed black and white drawing. There is very little color in the buildings around here, but they have a lot of depth, there's always smaller scale articulation and it gives a sense of beauty and warmth to the streets.

(Anybody know what the yellow/green building is on the left?)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cathédrale de Notre Dame

Since my apartment is right in the 3ème arrondissement, these first few days I've spent my time completely within the confines of the old Haussman-edited city. This may explain why upon arrival at the Notre Dame Cathedral, I was first struck by how out of place the shiny tower in the distance looked and only then by the size and detail of the cathedral.

The contrast reminds me a bit of the drama surrounding the building of the Hancock tower in good ol' brick, stone, and concrete Boston, except much more extreme.

Although 'contextual' is often subjective, it would be hard to argue that Notre Dame is not one with its context. Spatially, it is presented to the viewer by the openness around it that is partially afforded by its position within the Seine; it's a development on a whole list of preceding French cathedrals; and it has been a heavily charged political space physically representing the circumstances of the French people.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Musée du Louvre

Je ne sais pas pourquoi, mais jusqu'à present, chaque fois que je visite un monument, j'arrive de l'arrière. Au Centre Pompidou, je m'attendais à voir la place. Au Louvre, les pyramides. Mais au lieu de cela, j'ai été accueilli par un champ de métal. Je n'ai aucune d'idée ce que c'est, mais je pense que si je reviens là aprés quelque semains, je savent.

I don't know why, but up till now, every time I go to visit a monument, I arrive from the back. At the Pompidou Center, I was expecting to see the plaza. At the Louvre, the pyramids. But instead, I was greeted by a field of metal. I have no idea what it is, but I figure if I go back in a few weeks, I'll know.

Les pyramides étaient beaucoup plus grands que j'ai prévu, pleine de lumière et l'espace. Pour être à l'extérieur et encore pouvoir faire l'expérience de l'échelle et l'activité du Musée était fantastique. Quand on regarde vers le bas, la vue est plus privilégié q'un vue à travers une façade vertical vitrée, et la hauteur des pyramides apporte l'activité du musée à l'extérieur.

The pyramids were much bigger than I expected, full of light and space. Standing outside and yet being able to experience the scale and activity of the museum was fantastic. Looking down into a space makes for a much more privileged view compared to looking through a glazed vertical facade, and the pyramids sticking up into the space of the plaza effectively brings the activity of the museum to the outside.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pont Des Arts

Le Centre Pompidou

I have to admit, this project baffles me just as much as it impresses. Once settled into my apartment and rested from the travel, I headed straight for the Centre Pompidou. Not only did I feel obliged - given that I'll be working for Renzo over the next six months - I also just needed to see it with my own eyes. Was it like the photos? How did this abnormality fit with downtown Paris?

This was my first glimpse of it. From the rear. First thought: I can't believe I'm here! Second thought: Well, looks like hvac... smells like piss, and it's providing a fine shelter for some of Paris' homeless population. Third thought: This is kind of amazing; incredible precision, incredible statement, and people really do sit on the hard paved plaza just because it's sloped.

From the exterior, the plaza is what really ties the project back to the the city. It is surrounded on three sides by general Parisian life. There's an overflowing of souvenir stands, but not all of the stores are there for tourists; and of course, inside the Pompidou is program and space for the city as well.

I'm looking forward to using the space; it sounds like there's some pretty great things happening inside.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Extension (Pre-Paris kick-off)

(It's been two years since I was last active on a blog. It seems like generally nothing changed between then and now, nothing to bring up if someone was to ask me, 'what's new', still mostly just living a studio based grad school life since 2010. At the same time, reading back just a few entries, I know that I've changed. I don't see eye to eye with the me that wrote some of the older posts; I guess that means that even if nothing has changed, really everything has.)

The big 'what's new' is starting tomorrow. It's also the reason I'm considering bringing this blog back to life. I'll be getting on a plane, flying to Paris, and not coming back for six months.

As a kick-off event for my internship at Renzo Piano's office, I went to visit his extension to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Both of the images above were taken from the "living room". A comfortable and colorful space with books, birds, media and staff who are available to chat about the museum and its collection. While the idea behind the program is quite fascinating; the room seemed underused and difficult to understand. I only wandered into it by accident on my way out, after having already retrieved my belongings from the coat check. Upon entering the room, I was unsure of what I was supposed to do. This was a good example of my general confusion on how to move through the space of the new addition.

I don't often start my way through small museums by looking at a map, and at the addition this led to me ascending the stairs to a number of 'staff only' closed doors, not exactly the way I wanted to begin my visit. Fortunately, the stairs themselves afforded a framed view of the old museum, a nice touch for one building in support of another, and a perfect way to start my visit.

I loved the transparency and views from space to space; views toward the old museum, but also layered views, like the ones I took from the living room, crossing through the 'umbilical cord' (connecting the two buildings) and looking into the restaurant beyond. Renzo talks a bit about the transparency of the project in an interview which you can find on the building project website.

photo by Nic Lehoux

The performance hall was also quite delightful. A striking space lit by a large skylight and circled by intimate, one row deep seating on the upper floors. Though geometrically simple (a cube), this, to me, was the most innovative space of the project. It reminded me of the way one circles around the central courtyard garden of the Gardner house, looking at the flowers, but also seeing the other visitors peering in from other sides.

photo by Nic Lehoux

In general, however, it was difficult to make the connection between old and new. This is one of the major critiques I've heard from others who have visited. None of the hyper quirky spirit of the old museum makes it to the addition, but maybe that's okay. By placing a gap between the two buildings it's already obvious Renzo was not trying to unify the two. Isabella imparted her spirit to her architecture and now Renzo to his.

Tel Aviv Museum, Transformations