Opening of the Cité national de l’architecture et du Patirmoine




Last night Lorenzo (a fellow engineer from work) and I blagged our way into the opening of the permanent exhibition at the newly refurbished Cité National de l’architecture et du patrimoine, France’s national architecture museum. Neither of us had thought to check if this was and invite only event and indeed, it was. Luckily, a few charming smiles and a couple invitations made themselves available from the large group loitering outside the front door and then we were in.

The Cité is housed in one of the wings of the Palais de Chaillot, that splendidly curving art deco building opposite the Eiffel Tower on the other side of the Seine. Unlike any other architecture exhibit that I have visited, this one had not one model of a building. Instead, the main exhibition space, itself a long and wide curving corridor, was filled with fifty odd floor-to-ceiling screens onto which a series of short films were being projected. Every film was about a project, but every film had been shot differently: some showed in speeded-up time a building going up, others showed people flowing in and out, the building through the different seasons. There were images taken from satellites that showed whole areas being redeveloped. My favourite was a series of photos taken from a balcony, of an American city skyline. The photos start in the 60s and go on, lets say one a month until the present. As the images tick pass, the downtown skyscrapers grow like mushrooms after a rainstorm. One by one the pop up out of a hole in the ground, until eventually, one pops up right in front of the balcony and the view is completely obscured.

It is not just buildings that are showcased. One video was taken from a car driving across the Milau Viaduct. Another, from a helicopter flying over an offshore wind farm.

I think that the exhibition rather successfully shows the dynamic side to buildings. How they change, during their lifecycle, fro, construction, to use, to decay, to demolition and also how people interact with them. None of these aspects are static and so the moving image is an ideal medium for communicating them. My one criticism of the exhibit is that in the dark room where the videos are projected, it is difficult to read the programme that tells you what the projects are. Maybe you are just supposed to know already. I wonder?

The free lemony champagne was worth the effort it was to get through crowds of people in order to see the exhibit. It is hardly surprising that on the opening night I saw a lot of architects and not a lot of architecture. I shall therefore definitely be making another visit before too long.

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  1. Very cool photos!

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