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A Parisian Flaneur

27 Jan 2006

There may be no slurring of ‘Lang Syne’ or kissing of strangers but Paris at New Year offers many alternative delights to satisfy even the most demanding visitor.

The bibliophile, for example, can browse through several sizable architecture bookshops including the capacious Le Moniteur, while the Francophile can dissect an 11-page retrospective on Le Corbusier’s legacy in Le Monde. The aesthete can marvel at the fastidious restoration of Le Petit Palais, which houses the treasures of the Musee des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, while the fashionista can admire Starck’s Cocteau-esque refit of the Musee de Baccarat. Meanwhile insatiable materialists can queue alongside the Japanese tourists for an hour (in the snow) to view the new flagship Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysses.

Choice appears to be endless but Paris is celebrated for its museums, both many and varied. In the 4th Arrondissement, for example, the Pavillon de l\'Arsenal has an absorbing exhibition entitled Actualites Parisiennes II, which presents 37 current projects encompassing the methodology and minutiae of design in the French capital.
There are four themes: regenerating the inner suburban belt, occupying the enclaves, extending the inner suburbs, and restoring the postwar city. According to the curator, this exhibition should be seen as a promenade “…around the Paris that will emerge over the coming years, and a tool for understanding and analysing a way to create a city facing a contemporary situation in which we are now led to view the capital as the heterogeneous centre of a conurbation whose destiny it shares”.

The exhibition comprises a mix of urban design and architectural projects and offers us a voyage through a landscape of models, sketches, illustrations and graphics. The exhibition and its installation (designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects) endeavours to encourage citizens to participate in the process of urban transformation, affording Parisians a more analytical reading of the evolution of the city’s urban fabric. In the 12th Arrondissement, the Cite de l\'Architecture et du Patrimoine occupies the Palais de la Porte Dorre, built in 1931 for the International Colonial Exposition. The French appear relatively relaxed about the historical residue of their colonial past and this imposing Art Deco edifice currently houses the exhibition Encore Moderne? Architectures brasiliennes 1928-2005.

This exhibition looks at the history of Brazilian architecture and explores the relationship between the founders of Brazilian modernism and the current protagonists. It presents more than 100 projects, including residential, public, commercial and cultural and is divided into three sections: modern, vernacular and contemporary. It pays particular homage to Oscar Niemeyer (seen as an irrepressible catalyst) but highlights other notable figures such as Roberto Burle Marx, Lina Bo Bardi, Lucio Costa, Affonso Reidy and Paulo Mendes da Rocha.

The work of Mendes da Rocha is particularly emblematic and confirms his ability to absorb the lessons of the early masters of modernism and re-present them with a contemporary edge. He was awarded the Mies van der Rohe Award for Latin America in 2000 for his Sao Paulo Gallery (1993).On a more personal note, it was immensely encouraging to see not one but two Scottish projects feature in the exhibition Panorama de l’architecture europeenne: Prix de l’Union europeenne pour l’architecture contemporaine Prix Mies van der Rohe 2005. Koolhaas may have scooped the prize itself (for his Dutch Embassy in Berlin) but congratulations to EMBT/RMJM and Sutherland Hussey Architects for being included in such distinguished company.

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