Thursday, 22 January 2009

Swimming in the Seine

I met a guy from New York a few days ago who had just been to Paris for the first time. I asked him what he thought of the city and he said, "it's too flat - where are all the skyscrapers?" What's the point in having cities look the same? Even if Paris has been stuck in a bit of an architectural time warp since the late 70's (there's a reason there aren't any skyscrapers in Paris and it's called the Montparnasse Tower. It's hideousness led to the banning the 1977 of buildings taller than 25m (82ft) in the centre, 37m (121ft)farther out) it ain't anymore.

Take Jacob Macfarlane's new Cité de la Mode et du Design. Built next to the Gare d'Austerlitz on the Seine, there's no way anyone is going to miss this. From the river side, it looks like an electric green Gumby is doing the breaststroke in the Seine (Cf. There are so many brilliant conceptual ideas in this building, all amazingly carried off in completion. The Cité houses the most prestigious fashion school in France as well as a new design gallery. But it's not a building for entry badges and students only: cut through it at ground level a wide arcade continues the Seine-side walkway. The strange, undulating green tubes house a network of paths and stairs that wander up and down the building and over the Seine. One of the best bits, however, is where you can't see - on the roof. There's a massive public square covered in decking and planted artificial hills, housing a restaurant, offices, and terraces. The views of the Paris roofscape and the Seine are meant to be fantastic. I can't wait to see it for myself.

Who needs skyscrapers anyway?

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