Thursday, January 31, 2008

Architect as Tour Guide

Jean-Paul Viguier spent most of our two days in Paris taking us on guided tours of several of his projects, starting with an urban park set along the Seine. Parc André Citröen encompasses about 35 acres in the 15th arrondissement at the western edge of the city.

Shown here from the far left are Frédérique Chiffard, an architect with Viguier's office; Alastair Gordon, who writes for Architectural Digest, Town & Country, and The New York Times; Jean-Paul Viguier; Suzanne Stephens, deputy editor of Architectural Record; Edward M. Gomez of Art & Antiques; and Anya Eckbo of  Architectural Digest Mexico & Latin America.

After strolling through the park, we saw Viguier's headquarters for France Télévisions, a large and compact wedge-shaped building that houses the offices for three state-owned TV stations.

Like the television headquarters, most of the Viguier buildings we viewed were solid bastions of corporate prestige and authority. Their exteriors of metal and glass and polished stone reflected the dull winter skies, causing their bulk to almost disappear into a uniformly gray cityscape. Coeur Defense, (the towers shown here) designed for Tanagra/Unibail in the La Defense district, is an example.

But two other projects stood out as being more tactile and human-scaled. The first was a relatively small industrial building called Metropole 19 built in 1987. Note the Roman brick in a red color reminiscent of my earlier entry on Toulouse, which, if I heard correctly, is the home base for Viguier's client. 

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Day Three: On to Paris

We started our third day of the trip by boarding the TGV in Avignon for a 2.75-hour ride to Paris. One of three recently completed in various French cities and designed by Michel Maillard, an architect in the offices of the French National Railway, the station evokes the spirit of high-speed travel on one of the world's fastest trains.

As the rocky, scrub-dotted landscape of Provence receded while we zoomed northward, we passed through miles and miles (er, I mean, kilometers and kilometers) of farmland surrounding idyllic villages. Signs of the city soon appeared and we found ourselves pulling into the Gare de Lyon. We were picked up and driven to our lodgings at the Hotel Pont Royal, on the Left Bank of the Seine just a block of the Rue St. Germain de Pres.

That evening we were welcomed to Paris by Jean-Paul Viguier and his wife, Annie, at a reception in their apartment in the central city.

On Friday morning we met Viguier at his office, where he just happened to be meeting with the French Minister of Culture, who is gathering information about how her country's top architects might help Paris increase the density of its inner city. Later in the morning, Viguier toured us through several of his urban projects. (In the photo, can you spot the Frenchman?)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day Two: South to Avignon

After seeing Viguier's museum project in Toulouse, we were driven south toward Avignon and along the way realized we would be passing the "restored" city of Carcasonne. We all agreed that we should stop. The photo below shows the narrow streets inside the defensive walls, rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century under the direction of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc whose recreation of the fortified city was based less on factual evidence than his own idea of how the ruins should be reconstructed.

Our next stop was Nîmes, originally built as a Roman outpost on the frontier. This was the city for which the Pont du Gard aqueduct was built. One of their temples, erected about 2,000 years ago, still stands near the center of town. In this photo, the new municipal library (designed by Norman Foster and Associates) is in the background.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pont du Gard

Later on our second day, after our tour of the Natural History Museum, we traveled by VW van to the ruins of the Roman aqueduct now called the Pont du Gard where Viguier designed two buildings, a visitor center and a separate conference facility. Our tour guide was a young staff member with the Pont du Gard, which is similar to one of our national monuments with natural areas traversed by hiking trails.

The aqueduct was built in the first century B.C. to carry water from a spring to the Roman provincial city of Nîmes on the Mediterranean. Anonymous Roman engineers successfully designed a 50-mile channel to satisfy the city's thirst for lush gardens and public baths.

Viguier's conference center creates a gateway that begins the short walk to the aqueduct. On the other side of the river is Viguier's visitor center. Designed to disappear into the landscape, the buildings are barely visible even from atop the aqueduct.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Toulouse: L'encore

Our second day in Toulouse took us to the city's Natural History Museum where the institution's expansion by Jean-Paul Viguier is nearing completion. Scheduled to reopen in the spring, the museum was established in the 1800s within a former convent. Viguier designed an arching two-story addition on the south side that calls to mind his project at the McNay, both in his selection of materials and the direct juxtaposition of new and old (but in this case, very old).

The contrast between the load-bearing walls of local red brick and Viguier's new envelope creates interesting moments as one follows the arc into the new exhibition spaces. New gardens just outside entice visitors to follow the sunlight for a respite from static displays of stuffed animals, rock specimens, and recreations of ancient artifacts from the surrounding region.

Friday, January 18, 2008

First Stop—Toulouse

The group landed in Toulouse on Friday morning (1/17) via a short flight from Paris. Our hotel is on one side of a large public square laid out in front of the provincial seat of government. The Place du Capitole (shown above) was built in the mid-1700s to the plans by local architect Guilaume Cammas. The Grand Hotel de l'Opera is off to the right of this image.

Here are two views of the hotel, first from the southeast corner of the Place du Capitole and then as you enter the courtyard. 

Located in the southwest of France not far inland from the Mediterranean, Toulouse is the regional capital of the Midi-Pyrénées region. The Garonne is the river that runs through the city of around 600,000 inhabitants. The local red brick gives Toulouse its nickname, "La Ville Rose."


Sunday, January 13, 2008

McNay Museum Sponsors Architectural Tour

With the McNay Art Museum's new $33.1 million expansion set to open this summer, the San Antonio cultural institution wants to make sure that the architectural cognoscenti understand the significance of its new building. The project is designed by Jean-Paul Viguier, who is not well known in North America although his recent work imbues the cityscape of Paris, his home and base of operations, with a highly refined sense of 21st-century modernism. At present, Viguier has completed only one high-profile building in the United States--the Hotel Sofitel Water Tower that opened in downtown Chicago in 1996.

The McNay expansion is called the Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions. Encompassing 45,000 square feet, the new building will double the size of the McNay. Originally built for arts patron Marion Koogler McNay in the 1920s, the Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion was designed by local architects Atlee B. and Robert M. Ayres. Several additions during subsequent decades have expanded the size of the museum, but the additions have always followed the stylistic attributes of the first building.

Viguier's expansion project -- a sleek, glass-walled rectangle -- will stand in stark contrast to the original McNay mansion. The new building is remarkable for several reasons, least of all it's being a boldly modernist intervention within a city that prides itself as a place defined by its historical and cultural roots to the Spanish Colonial era.

To accomplish its objective of raising awareness of its latest expansion, the McNay invited a handful of architectural journalists on a five-day junket to France, a trip that begins Jan. 17 via a L'Avion flight to Paris. Texas Architect Editor Stephen Sharpe is among the guests, who also include Suzanne Stephens, senior editor of Architectural Record; Anya Eckbo, a writer for Architectural Digest Mexico & Latin America; Edward Madrid Gomez, a writer for Art and Antiques; and Alastair Gordon, a writer for both Town & Country and Architectural Digest. the group is being shepherded by Dr. William Chiego, director of the McNay, and Anne Edgar, a publicist based in New York who has organized the trip. Frédérique Chiffard, an architect with Jean-Paul Viguier's office will guide the tours. Viguier himself will lead the tours of his projects in Paris. 

Immediately upon landing in Paris, the group boards another flight to Toulouse in southwest France to see a Viguier-designed museum of natural history. Completed in 2006, the project is similar to the McNay's Stieren Center in that it juxtaposes a historic structure against an ultra-modern building composed largely of glass.

The itinerary also will take the writers to Viguier's visitor center and museum at the Pont du Gard near Avignon and to several of his projects in Paris where they will spend two days with the architect to learn more about his work.