Travels Part 2 – Paris

Taking a short break from all the school work, I’m going to try to catch up on some posts from our travels over the past month. We saw a ton of stuff, so the posts will be pretty long and picture-filled, but may take a while to get on the site.

After spending some time in Venice at the Biennale, we headed out to Paris for more field studies work and some good food. We stayed at the BVJ Hostel (near the Louvre), which was a decent hostel that I stayed at when I was in Paris 2 years ago. It wasn’t quite as nice as some of the places we stayed before, but we had a much tighter budget in Paris because 1) everything is more expensive and 2) we spent 7 nights there. But the location can’t be beat – literally a 5 minute walk to I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre.

Our first day we met up with Olivier, our visiting professor from USC who took us around for the 2 week trip. He grew up in Paris, and only moved to LA 12 years ago, so he knows the ins and outs of Paris extremely well. He worked for some pretty prominent architects in Paris and the Netherlands as well (Piano, Koolhaas, and Nouvel – where he was a partner), so his knowledge of the architecture, both new and old, was pretty amazing. Also, because of his connections, we were able to visit the offices of some incredible firms (Jean Nouvel, MVRDV). Keep in mind that Paris is a gigantic city, but within 10 minutes of starting our walk around Paris, Olivier runs into an old friend from work walking down the street. This would happened about 4 more times in the week we were there. Pretty cool. The man is well connected.

Anyways, one of the first projects we went to see was the Pompidou Center, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. At first glance it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing building from the outside, but once you understand the reasoning behind the confusion of the facade, it makes a lot more sense. All of the utilities and major circulation are pushed to the exterior of the building and its structure. This allows for the interior of the building to be completely pristine and uninterrupted by noisy and obtrusive mechanical equipment. Perfect for a museum gallery.

It houses a pretty extensive collection of modern art, including works from Picasso, Dali and Miro to name a few. But I think riding up to the top of the building to see the view is worth the entry fee alone. The building is 2 stories taller than entire city fabric of Paris, so once you ascend to the top floor, you can see out across the whole city, from the Eiffel tower to Montmartre and beyond.

Because of Olivier’s connections at Nouvel’s office, he was able to get someone to give us a tour around the office. It sits at the end of a small alley through an arched opening, making it a pretty secluded place.

There were separate wings for different operations, with Nouvel overseeing everything. Unfortunately he was not there when we were. But we got to see some of the work spaces and projects, but not very much because they were working on some competitions. And were only allowed to take pictures in very un-interesting places. But here’s what the lobby looked like at least:

We then visited one of Nouvel’s projects, l’Institut du Monde Arabe (built in 1987). This was one of his most important projects, that sort of catapulted him into the upper stratosphere of architects. It is basically a center for Arab culture from around the world, housing a library, work space, conference space, and two restaurants. Because of construction adjacent to the building (and rain), we weren’t able to get good photos of the whole exterior of the building, so here is a site that has some more into and pics – Here are some of my photos:

The view from the roof terrace is pretty spectacular. Once we got up to the top, the rain had stopped and the blue sky poked through the clouds. Oh, and we also ran into a group of Olivier’s former students from UCLA up there.

Sketching the facade details:

Nouvel worked with an aerospace engineer on the mechanical apertures that cover the entire south-western face. They used to be motor-driven to open and close depending on the amount of light desired on the interior, but they are no longer operable.

Next, Olivier took us to a pavilion across the Seine after that housed information on current urban architecture in Paris as well as a large collection of competition entries for such projects. It also had a giant model of the entire city of Paris, which was pretty awesome.

We then made our way to Île de la Cité, stopping briefly at the Memorial to the Martyrs of Deportation (post-WWII). It was a very small, quiet and reflective space occupying the east corner of the island.

Then it was off to Notre Dame:

Notre Dame was one of the places I was most eager to return to on this trip. Partly because it’s an amazing place, but also because this time I have a much better camera. Thanks to my parents’ generous gift, I have a Canon Rebel XSi DSLR, which has been the reason for all of the great pictures. One of it’s most important features though is it’s ability to take pictures in low light (ie. the interior of Gothic churches).  So, now I am able to actually document places like Notre Dame without having just collection of blurry/dark photographs. Also, as a result of getting the camera, I took a class (ARCH 421, Digital Architectural Photography – I highly recommend it) at USC which taught me how to actually use the camera. One of the techniques we learned was called HDR – High Dynamic Range photography. Basically, you take 3 different pictures of the same exact thing – one underexposed (darker, less light), one normal, and one overexposed (brighter, more light), and then use a program to merge them into one photograph. This allows you to capture a broader light spectrum than a single photograph can capture. HDR is particularly useful for high-contrast situations, for example when the sun is really bright, or there are bright interior lights in a dark interior space. Your eye can adjust the different light levels instantly, but a single photograph can only capture one instance. I’ve already posted a few HDR’s, if you have noticed, but here is an example. The image above is a normal photograph within Notre Dame, and the next one, below, is an HDR:

The goal, obviously, is to be able to take photographs that don’t need HDR. However, sometimes that is impossible. Also, HDR has become a style in itself. Google HDR images if you are interested. You can do some pretty crazy stuff. Here are some more pictures from Notre Dame:

We had a delicious dinner (I had this salmon dish) and then met the rest of the group on Montmartre at night (it was super cold and rainy… not great).

The next day we explored Poissy, visiting Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. It’s probably the most iconic of Corbusier’s projects, who is probably the most iconic architect of the past century. It embodies his “five point of new architecture” 1) Piloti (columns) 2) roof garden 3) free plan 4) free facade and 5) strip/ribbon window. If you’re unfamiliar with any of that, here is a site that explains it pretty well – Here are some pictures of our visit:

One of the most impressive aspects of the project that I didn’t realize until this visit is the quality of light. The colors of the interior materials in concert with the windows and the orientation of the whole building make for some incredible naturally lit interiors.

This is only about half of our week in Paris. I need to get back to work for a while, so I’m going to break this post up into two parts. Check back for the rest soon.

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2 Responses to Travels Part 2 – Paris

  1. Abby says:

    Ian- Beautiful photos! At your suggestion, we did go to the Pompidou Center this summer and it was fantastic. I’m glad to see you’re enjoying your travels… I’m a bit envious.


  2. Pingback: Eurotrip Part 2: Paris (1 of 3) « barcelona

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