2 Weeks in Paris – Day 2: Architecture

My second day in Paris began with a brief search for food. A few of us walked around the nearby area scouting for cafés and pâtisseries. We ended up going to a very small branch of Brioche Dorée where €1 bought me an espresso and a pain au chocolat. It was time to head up to the terrace to soak in the morning sun.

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The courtyard of Reid Hall.

The walk to Reid Hall – one of the Columbia Global Centers – led us through the Luxembourg Gardens once more, this time appearing much greener and fresher. Following shortly after the obligatory introductions and formalities, our first seminar of the trip was led by Professor Gordona Fontana-Giusti on the work of the Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi.

Tschumi believed two things, made known in his collection of essays in his Architecture of Disjunction (1996):

  1. Architecture must be based on concepts or ideas rather than form.
  2. Architecture cannot be dissociated from events and the movements of the bodies that inhabit it.

In works like The Manhattan Transcripts (1976-81) Tschumi would disseminate the forms present in a photograph – this may be of a city plan or a body part – anticipate their trails of action or movement, and incorporate these resulting forms into his architectural designs.

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A section of The Manhattan Transcripts, 1976-81. Image via www.tschumi.com.

Taking his famous Parc de la Villette in Paris as an example, Tschumi had an insistence to impose a grid within his designs, disguised in the form of red architectural follies. These follies act as points of reference for passing visitors, engaging interaction – a kind of “enforced freedom” – and allowing the architecture to ‘exist’. They are also representations of Deconstructivism, a movement which challenged the limits of rendering space, influenced by the limit-experience works of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Michel Foucault.

We also had a relatively brief history of Paris, beginning with the origins of its name – it was named after a Celtic tribe called the Parisii before Roman occupation – to the late 19th century and the choices and concepts behind the Tuileries Gardens – basically a love for geometry and perspective, largely guided by the Palace of Versailles.

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View of the retrospective exhibition Bernard Tschumi: Concept & Notation. Image via www.grahamfoundation.org.

After some lunch in the form of Wok Box takeaway noodles, we headed over to the Centre Georges Pompidou – designed by Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini – for the retrospective exhibition of Tschumi’s works, entitled Bernard Tschumi: Concept & Notation (30th April – 28th July 2014). The layout of the exhibition is loosely based on his system of grids where red display cases act as substitutes for Tschumi’s actual follies, guiding us through the exhibits of architectural designs and models in a system of interaction that underlines his approach to architecture. As usual, I ended up buying the exhibition catalogue for additional research.

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Centre Georges Pompidou.

We then made our way to the top floor via the escalators that travelled through a transparent tube visible on the outside of the building, taking aerial photographs of the city as we went along – many ‘selfies’ manifested that afternoon. We also visited the permanent collection, arranged to show Multiple Modernities in chronological order from 1905 to 1970. A range of artists were exhibited – Henri Matisse, Fernand Leger, Wassily Kandinsky, Giacomo Balla, Jackson Pollock – and I had a few moments of fame explaining works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian.

Escargots and duck confit

Escargots and duck confit.

Dinner was determined by a recommendation to the Bouillon Chartier, founded in 1896. I finally had what I had been waiting for for a very long time: escargots, later opening up many discussions about what they actually are and how tempted some people were to try them. My main course consisted of duck confit with potatoes – very tender but a little too salty – alongside a glass of red wine. When we came back to the hostel, the terrace was the only place I wanted to go, wine in hand. However, I soon embarked on my first proper evening stroll across the city as the sun attempted to set behind the rather dense clouds.

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The whole group at Bouillon Chartier.

I made my way down to the Seine – after bumping into a few colleagues who were out to buy ice cream – passing the gilded gates of the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle. On the way I browsed the contents of a second-hand bookshop attempting to find some cheap yet valuable French literature or English books that were of interest to me. I made no purchases.

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Second-hand bookstore.

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Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle.

I walked along the lower banks of the island surrounded by the Seine, eventually reaching the tip of the Square du Vert-Galant, passing many locals – and tourists – who laid down their bottles of wine and crates of beer to converse and socialise along the breezy riverbank. An equestrian statue of Henry IV overlooks the Seine from the area above and it would seem that the act of leaving ‘love-locks’ applies to all walls and bridges with a wire fence.

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A middle-aged couple rests by the edge of the Seine.

As the day turned to night, I decided to head over to the Musée du Louvre to see the steel-and-glass Pyramid designed by a Chinese architect called Ieoh Ming Pei, better known as I.M. Pei. There is a strange harmonic balance of grandeur between this architectural feat and the classicism of the Palais du Louvre that surrounds it. Being a well-known tourist attraction and incredibly beautiful site I wasn’t surprised to see at least three Chinese couples having their wedding photographs taken, with the bride wearing a lucky red dress.

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Equestrian statue of King Louis XIV.

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Musée du Louvre.

I continued along the Quai François Mitterrand, merging into the Quai des Tuileries, and made it with a few minutes to spare at the other side of the Tuileries Gardens, overlooking the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysees. At midnight, the Eiffel Tower sparkled in a radiant display and the Pont de la Concorde was a prime location to see it with the also-lit Pont Alexandre III.

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The glistening Eiffel Tower and the Pont Alexandre III.

Astonishment succumbed the unbeknownst Japanese tourists beside me for a brief moment, and on the walk back along the Boulevard Saint-Germain a young man from Giverny approached me – after saying his goodbyes to some friends – asking where the nearest Metro station was. Fortunately, Boulevard Saint-Germain was a long, wide street, leading me to assume that there would undoubtedly be several Metro stations along the way. I was right.

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The silent Boulevard Saint-Germain.

One of the beautiful things about walking at night in this wonderful city is just how quiet it is. By around 8 or 9pm the streets are practically empty and by midnight, when the night is pitch black and the street lights are the main source of illumination, the entire atmosphere of the city changes. Busy tourists are replaced with the sound of the passing wind and the rare footsteps of locals buying late-night groceries. In this graceful silence I was able to recollect my thoughts, my visual perceptions heightened, and my mind was allowed to drift through multiple trails of consciousness.

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Midnight café-culture at Café de Flore.

It was a long while to walk back to the hostel but along the way I saw the café-culture of the city. Parisians sat in the chairs outside of the restaurants, bars and cafés, facing the open street. Some had company in which I’m sure many matters of life have been discussed between them; others were alone, yet it did not look like they felt alone, merely deep in thought as the cars passed by. I am yet to join these strangers on a quiet night out, gently sipping a cup of coffee, reading a book and losing myself in my own imagination.

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The moon overlooks the sleeping city.

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