Tag Archives: paris

M3A2 – Cultural and Community Tower

M3A2 - Cultural and Community Tower in Paris, France by Antonini + Darmon Architectes, 2011.

Paris Diderot Unversity, which bills itself as "the multidisplinary university in the heart of Paris," is located on the Left Bank of the Seine, just south of the National Library of France, the building designed by Dominique Perrault that opened in 1995. The university is expanding its facilities in this "new fast-developing part of Paris," which it has called home since relocating there in 2007. One of the six original campus buildings is the massive Halle aux Farines (Flour Market), which dates back to the 1950s but was overhauled by Agence Nicolas Michelin & Associés. A small corner lot abuts the market, what is now occupied by the M3A2 - Cultural and Community Tower.

Designed by Paris-based Antonini + Darmon Architectes, the sliver building takes on a strong presence through its height and the articulation of the exposed facades. The main elevation (facing left in the photos here) faces north, so then the narrow elevation on the street faces west. A generous park -- Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet -- parallels the Flour Market to the north. This open space, combined with the Jardins Grands Moulins Abbé Pierre to the west, ensure that M3A2 is highly visible. At night the building acts as a beacon for the university.

[M3A2] acts as a light, gravitational counterpoint [to the Flour Market]. An architectural dialectic and emulation come into play much like a castle and its keep, both intrinsically inseparable. -Antonini + Darmon

The building, which totals 550 square meters (almost 6,000 square feet), stacks seven enclosed floors above an open ground floor. Eight round concrete columns mark the latter, as does an open stair that lands at the northern end of the building. The north facade of the Flour Market is visible through the base of the building. Above, each floor plate is approximately 6.5 meters by nearly 18 meters. A glass wall enclosure with operable windows occurs at this point, but a perforated corrugated skin projects approximately a half a meter in front of each elevation. This skin is what gives the building its character and presence.

The architects wrap the raised box with dark and light rectangles; as the building rises it shifts, at least on the north and west, from mainly dark to mainly light. The appearance of each section of the facade varies according to one's angle and the time of day. At dusk and later the light and dark blocks of the facade act as a foil to the bands of light that wrap the building; they create variety where it otherwise would not exist. Atop the building is an open floor, which makes the structure for the outer skin readily apparent. It gives the impression that this perforated skin is slid over another object; and to a certain extent that is what is happening.

50 Avenue Montaigne

50 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, France by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, 1993.

Although the idea of a rooftop garden is not new, it is becoming a solution for both architects and city planners in addressing sustainability concerns. Their popularity is not just new buildings, but old buildings as well, the greening of the City Hall roof in Chicago a good example of the latter. In these "green" instances, practical issues (weight, irrigation, drainage, etc.) tend to take precedence over design. When accessible and highly visible, though, a rooftop's design should ideally synthesize the architecture with the raised landscape - and vice-versa - to create a satisfying environment that becomes an oasis in the city.

The garden rooftop at 50 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, France by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) addresses both the practical and aesthetic concerns of constructing a garden on a roof. Regarding the former, many site adaptions were required, including new soil mixtures that would not put a burden on the structural system, subsurface drainage and a complex irrigation system for the rows of trees and plantings. The latter, aesthetic concerns, focused on the visibility of the garden from offices above and pedestrian movement through the garden.

The garden design uses rows of alternating hornbeam and espaliered trees to create an informal setting that belies the formal underpinning of the geometrical plan. Soft plantings are offset by the hard, architectural materials of stone and metal, the latter primarily used in the animal-like benches designed by Boston artist Judy McKee.

Although a simple and modest garden design, the rooftop at 50 Avenue Montaigne provides lessons for architects dealing with issues that are becoming mandated by local governments, mainly the manipulation of roofs for environmental health. By achieving a balance between practical and aesthetic concerns, the finished design places direct human experience (visual and movement) on par with those greater environmental concerns.

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Exhibition Hall

Exhibition Hall in Paris, France by Architecture Studio, 1998.

Often with an exhibition hall commission the architect's job is limited to creating simple, column-free spaces, that allow for large exhibits within neutral surroundings, and clad the exterior in an interesting manner. Architecture Studio's design of an Exhibition Hall in North-Paris, France is not an exception, but its treatment of interior and exterior surfaces sets it apart from its counterparts.

The architects developed their design from the exhibition hall's intention to feature innovative products under the conditions more "tempting" than the typical exhibition hall. With a focus on innovation the use of new materials and new technologies informs the expression of the facade. The undulating, copper-clad facade appears softer than the actual material, resembling a curtain or, along the lines of the architects' intentions, a vertical landscape. Whatever the connotation the image of the facade is strong and memorable, ideal for the client who wants to tempt people inside.

The bi-directional undulations of the facade appeal to the senses but also indicate the various entries and loading access on the main elevation, as the metal "curtain" rises at these locations. Therefore the facade acts like signage, or a map, in addition to its practical (thermal) and aesthetic roles.

Inside the column-free space uses lighting to focus attention on the floor and the exhibits on display, as well as relating to the exterior with the undulating line between light and dark on the wall. Color is used, with the bright red doors, to signal access back outside. Overall the building uses a limited palette of material, light and color to separate itself from other exhibition halls and provide an environment tempting to the industry and the public alike.

Ilôt de Candie

Ilôt de Candie

Ilôt de Candie in Paris, France by Massimiliano Fuksas, 1995.

Director of this year's architecture section of the Venice Biennale, Massimiliano Fuksas posed this theme to international architects: "Citta: Less aesthetics, more ethics”. Unfortunately most entries did not directly address his demand, due to the decreased role in architecture affecting social change ever since Modernism "collapsed". The recent strain of simple designs, popular all over the world, echoes this -ism without concerning itself with the social concerns that Modernism embraced. Architects are fine with this situation, comfortable with society's dismissal of architecture as no more than mere fashion. This generalization is at the root of Fuksas's direction behind the Biennale, giving architects a chance to embrace technology (much as Modernist architects did) towards social causes.

More interesting than analyzing the works of the Biennale is looking at one of Fuksas's designs, to see if his words extend into built form. The Ilôt de Candie, a block+ development in Paris (opposite the Sainte-Marguerite church), is a good project to examine, due to its size and integration with an existing city fabric. The program contains a gymnasium and support spaces, apartments, and offices. The first gives the project its expression: a zinc-clad roof that waves up and down over the gymnasium and then up again to create part of the volume for the apartments.

Looking at the Ilôt de Candie in terms of Fuksas's directive, three important parts of the design stand out: supplying the neighborhood with usable amenities (gymnasium facilities), responding to the context with a similar scale, and creating unique buildings that give vitality and energy to the area. The first part is the most important: part of a development giving back to the community, instead of merely finding a way to maximize profits (apartments and offices solely, for example). Ideally, the two other parts should be balanced to find an appropriate expression of the program (part one), something Fuksas achieved with a simple articulation of the roof line.

Evidently Fuksas does attempt to deal with ethics in his commissions and designs, though naturally it is not an easy position. Typically the commissions architects will receive will be persons and groups that can afford architects: retail, commercial and residential developers. But the cynicism that exists regarding architecture's role in society needs to be reexamined. While Modernism tried to improve society through building and technology, ultimately failing, it should not be assumed that it is not architecture's place to improve lives. The lessons learned should be instructive, not dismissive, so that architecture may someday evolve into a practice that benefits everyone, not just the client and the architect.

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Musée D’Ethnographie

Musée D'Ethnographie

Musée D'Ethnographie in Paris, France by Peter Eisenman, 1999.

By showing the different ways in which people represented their faces and their bodies, and the ways they used nature and negotiated with the supernatural, the museum of humankind served to cultivate universal sensitivity and render thought on our common condition more acute. -Jean Jamin

Assuming that a museum of ethnography has as much right to be as, say, an art museum, defining the role of the former in a given culture is a difficult objective. Most of these museums transplant artifacts from ancient cultures to locations displaced from their origin, for example tools from an extinct African tribe on display in the United States. The tool or piece of art is dislocated from its original purpose and meaning, on view as an aesthetic object subject to aesthetic criticism. What can be learned from these objects in this context?

The recent competition for a new Musée D'Ethnographie on Paris' left bank near the Eiffel Tower, replaces the old museum, once at the Trocadero but since demolished. Peter Eisenman's entry (second to Jean Nouvel's) fills the bending site overlooking the Seine, creating a dialogue between the museum and the existing, adjacent structures, typical Parisian buildings. Eisenman's design meets the roof lines at either end of the site, curving in section to accommodate the different heights. Like many of his designs this is all he concedes to any contextualism with the process taking precedent over any ideal. The projects bends and warps through the site (almost an advanced Columbus Convention Center) exhibiting a life of its own, as if the final design of the end product of the building linking itself to the existing buildings.

Typical of many Eisenman projects, architectural typologies do not exist. Walls, roofs and floors all blend together, blurring any distinction between these elements. Naturally the infusion of program into his designs creates flat floor plates within the shell (the biggest weakness of Eisenman's design philosophy). Here, the ground plans becomes roof which becomes wall, all penetrated by slender, warping skylights. Inside the circulation follows the site, continuously moving the visitor around the museum in ever-changing relation to the objects exhibited. The varying sections of the roofs, coupled with the two long skylights, add a strong dynamic to the interior, helping to focus the design on the relationship between visitor and object.

Let's return to the question, "what can be learned from these objects in this context?" Part of Eisenman's design ideas, and the strongest case for this design in relation to the program, is his belief in a universal architecture. Instead of being specific to a place, his design's use mathematical equations and other means to create projects separate from, but influenced by, the site. The way the design meets the roof lines indicates a similar process. With the tools and artifacts contained within a "universal" environment, as opposed to one clearly different from the objects' origins, we may be able to look more objectively and attempt to learn how human expression in another place and time can influence every place at any time.

The Tao of Architecture

Steedman Competition

The Tao of Architecture by Amos Ih Tiao Chang, 1956.

This is an excerpt from Amos Chang's The Tao of Architecture, words that stand up on their own and ring true today, as much as they did when written, in 1956. Chang uses Lautzu's Tao-Te-Ching as a template for a text on creating architecture, specifically intangible content's importance in architectural composition over tangible form. The illustrations are a project I completed for the 1998 James Steedman fellowship competition, sponsored by Washington University in St. Louis. The multi-use project is located on the Seine River, across from Notre Dame in Paris.

The means for architectural composition is something conceivable. To achieve the end of a composition concerns personal creativity and is beyond our knowing. It seems, however, that Lautzu's thinking is also helpful in this respect.

The way to learn is to assimilate. The way to know is to forget.

Consistent with the philosophy of non-being, to forget is regarded as an affirmative and constructive action. This is obvious to anyone who has experience in creative work. It is so, not only because we believe that there is a creative power existing in our subconscious mentality, but also because the more forgetful a man is, the less he will be inhibited by his knowledge which may and may not be helpful in a new problem.

Knowing that the living part of nature exists in void, one would believe that knowledge is subordinated to creative forgetfulness. Analogously, knowledge is similar to solid, creative forgetfulness is similar to void. They are both needed for construction of a creation, but each has a different contribution to make. In he infinite garden of creative forgetfulness where the soil is fresh and resourceful, one will find countless possibilities for a composition. Knowledge is profitable but usually of such rigid formation that one's creative imagination and thinking cannot freely within its limitation. Similar to the relationship between void and solid, knowledge can always s penetrate in to the emptiness of creative forgetfulness. While materially man moves and sees through void, mentally he imagines and thinks through creative forgetfulness.

Art is artifact that grows. Unlike science which gives form to what is formless, art releases what is artificially captured. From a positive point of view, it is right to say that form usually follows function. In order to release aesthetic and character expression from the prison of functional formalism as well as to tolerate physical limitation, it is equally profitable to know that human adaptability has no definite limit and that function may well follow form. It is when rationality and irrationality compromise each other that the art of architecture acquires its first liberty of growth.

Parc de la Villette

Parc de la Villette

Parc de la Villette in Paris, France by Bernard Tschumi, 1992.

Architecture only survives where it negates the form that society expects of it.Where it negates itself by transgressing the limits that history has set for it.   -Bernard Tschumi

Bernard Tschumi's theories on architecture, developed in the 1970's through gallery installations, texts and "advertisements" (left) focused on contemporary society's disjunction between use, form and social values, rendering any relationship between the three to be both impossible and obsolete. His thoughts on disjunction led to the design of the Parc de la Villette in Paris, in which he won a competition for construction in 1983. The Parc consists of 35 red follies, sport and recreation areas, playgrounds, a science and technology museum, and a music center. Tschumi was in charge of planning, in addition to the design of the follies, and superimposed three ordering systems: the points of the follies, the lines of the paths, and the planes of the sport areas. This network questions the order that is inherent to architecture with a superimposition that attempts to bring together three non-related systems. The process and arbitrary result ignore the basic tenets of architecture throughout history-composition, hierarchy and order. Each follie is based on a cube and deconstructed, according to rules of transformation (repetition, distortion, superimposition, interruption and fragmentation), without any functional considerations.

The grid of red follies create reference points and are non-contextual in their form and color, in favor of an intertextuality that leads to a dissolving of a priori meanings. The forms of the follies become signifiers as opposed to signified (which carries meaning) in order to mean nothing. The process of shaping the follies, and the ideas extrinsic to them, represents a conscious reaction to multiple meanings associated with Jaques Derrida's philosophy of Deconstruction. It is futile to attempt a summation of Derrida's philosophy, but this text defines it as the impossibility of one meaning in a text, or language in general, due to a deconstruction of language to its foundation, where multiple meanings can be found. Unlike many of his contemporaries, though, Tschumi's references to Deconstruction take place at more than a formal level. Although the follies are physically deconstructed, their intended lack of meaning relates his use of the philosophy to its essence, not stylistic applications.

Derrida...asked me why architects should be interested in his work, since, he observed, "deconstruction is anti-form, anti-hierarchy, anti-structure-the opposite of all that architecture stands for." "Precisely for this reason," was my response.   -Bernard Tschumi

The assertion that the follies lack any historical precedent is important to the idea of "non-meaning" and valid in terms of classical styles and their parts (columns, arches and so forth). When looked at in relation to Constructivist architecture, though, the follies have a definite influence in the formal characteristics of the Russian movement earlier in the century. The similarities are evident in the drawing style and form, as well as the use of structure, evident in his sketch at left with its similarities to Chernikov's drawings from the early 20th Century. The influence of the Constructivists is apparent in the formal qualities of the Parc and Tschumi's desire to upset the traditional aspects of architecture, though he is never explicit of this influence. Instead he relates his work to French philosophers; such as Bataille, Foucault, Baudrillard and, as mentioned, Jaques Derrida.

It is through these and other sources (mainly philosophic, literary and cinematic) that Tschumi witnesses a disjunction between architectural space and the events taking place within them. This realization, coupled with his belief that architecture should import from other fields of culture in order to influence society, has contributed to an architecture that responds to the disjointed nature of the contemporary world to upset the conventions that have been passed down through history.

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