Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Grey Building for A Grey Day

I didn't so much have a bad day today as a day that feels quite overcast. The sky is quite overcast, which is perhaps why I feel this way. But I think primarily it's a matter of realising my own ideas about living in Paris probably won't match with the reality.

I was offered one job today and told that the company I interviewed with yesterday weren't interested in hiring me, which promptly had me questioning whether I was skilled enough to actually take the job I was offered, since they're similar positions. My main ideas about childcare in Paris are derived from the film 'Flight of the Red Balloon' and as I remember it the sky is often overcast in that film too. All the journalism positions I've seen advertised don't pay at all (which is usual when you're young but still depressing) and Paris is a really expensive city.

Anyway, I walked past a building today that I felt generally matched my mood: grey, interesting, unusual, but ultimately not much fun.

This is the Erik Satie Conservatoire. I'm tempted to think it was just my mood and the colour of the sky that led to my initial judgment of the building as a little overcast itself. I was, of course, interested enough in the building to stop, take photographs of it and note down the name for further research.

Nonetheless, this isn't, from the outside, one of Christian de Portzamparc's most exciting buildings. I noticed the building (at 135 Rue de l'Université in the 7th Arrondissement) without knowing it was by de Portzamparc, who is one of my favourite contemporary architects working in Paris. I'd been expecting somebody of his ilk, though perhaps not de Portzamparc himself for the simple reason that I usually like his buildings much more than I liked this, though I can't judge entirely as I didn't see the interior. 

My favourite of his projects, Les Hautes-Formes, could as easily have been built in the 1930s as the 1970s, which is partially why I like it. It feels more purely playful than this, which has the sort of jaded playfulness of postmodernism; it feels less like joy. It also doesn't have the excitement of his larger, later (1990) Conservatoire de Paris, which steps back from the street and sails upward, tiles catching the light. 

Anyway, the Erik Satie Conservatoire was built from 1981-1984 and is interesting in that it's a stepping stone from de Portzamparc's earlier work toward something more obviously postmodern. I'm tempted to say this building was a false step but it does help make sense of the architect's journey toward 2005's beautiful Philharmonie Luxembourg. Christian de Portzamparc, since 1981, has become increasingly expert in designing buildings for music and performance.

This building, tucked away on the corner of two narrow street in the 7th Arrondissement, was the first of de Portzamparc's work in this field. He followed this with some prestigious projects. In 1983 he did the Paris Opera's School of Dance in Nanterre, with a large spiraling interior staircase that seems in appearance appropriately energetic for dancers. The Cité de la Musique was begun in 1984. I visited in January and enjoyed the peppy, light-filled foyer and lack of intimidation in the architecture. My companion thought it a bit too fussy.

The Cité de la Musique's Restaurant/Café
This ceremony can be found in the neighbouring Conservatoire de Paris, with the aforementioned uplifting facade, opened in 1990. He went on to do a number of projects overseas, including in Japan and New York, and Les Champs Libres, a cultural complex in Rennes which, while not a music centre, utilises the ability to integrate a variety of different functions in a way that's architecturally complex while elegant and easy to navigate, a talent honed by his work at the Cité de la Musique. 

And then, finally, in 2005 he designed what's almost certainly his best building in the form of the Philharmonie Luxembourg. Even if the Erik Satie Conservatoire itself isn't cheery, it's uplifting to think about the path on which it set Christian de Portzamparc.

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