Traveling Architect: Postcards from Paris
For me, Paris is more than just one of the world’s great cities — it’s a source of endless architectural design inspiration. I have been fortunate to spend a significant amount of time there as an architectural student, living with my parents when they were on sabbatical, and visiting friends I’ve made through the years. Consequently, every visit is a chance to relive fond memories and create new ones.
Recently I spent five days in the City of Lights. Each day I visited a different area and immersed myself in the history, culture, and awe-inspiring visuals of the place. Below are my notes from a truly epic exploration of some of the most amazing sites in the city.
Day 1 – Eiffel Tower
Named for the engineer Gustave Eiffel and built between 1887 and 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, the wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars wasn’t warmly welcomed by many of the country’s leading artists. Despite their objections, it has become one of the most-visited and most-recognized landmarks in the world. Stand beneath and look up at it or go to the upper visitor area and look down and you immediately understand why. In that visitor area there are architectural drawings and a replica of Gustave Eiffel’s office. Other impressive buildings in the area include the Musee du Quai Branly (architect Jean Nouvel, 2006) and the Centre Spirituel et Culturel Orthodoxe Russe (architects Wilmotte et Associes, 2016).
Day 2 – Château de Versailles
Built circa 1624-1698, the Château de Versailles or Palace of Versailles is an excellent example of French Baroque architecture. Located 20 kilometers (around 12 miles) from Paris, the majestic structure and most famous of royal residences in France leverages the architectural theme of “creation by division” which features rhythmic repetitions marked off by the large windows. Both the exterior and interior of the Palace are absolutely breathtaking.
Day 3 – Sacre-Coeur Basilica on Montmartre
The basilica was designed by architect Paul Abadie in 1873 and built between 1875 and 1914 on a site that archeologists say was occupied from at least Gallo-Roman times. In fact, excavations in the area in 1975 uncovered coins from the 3rd century and the remains of a major wall. The style of the basilica reflects Romano-Byzantine influences, which are interpreted to be a reaction to excesses of the neo-Baroque style. The structure, with its multiple domes reaching for the sky, is impressive from any angle but especially as you trek up the stairs toward its imposing silhouette.
Day 4 – Musee Rodin
The Musee Rodin is a museum dedicated to the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Opened in 1919, it is located in the former Hotel Biron, which was saved from demolition by Rodin and other artists. Rodin used the Hotel Biron as his workshop beginning in 1908 and ultimately donated his sculpture collection, as well as paintings he had acquired by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet to the French State with the agreement that the building be turned into a museum to display his works. Designed by architect Jean Aubert and built from 1727 to 1732, the museum, like its contents, is an incredible work of art.
Day 5 – Le Marais
Le Marais (or “The Marsh”) is the first protected historic district in Paris, France. A very aristocratic area of Paris, it is home to many buildings of historic and architectural importance, as well as a number of small museums including the Paris Historical Museum, the Picasso museum, and the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Jadaisme. The district traces its history back to 1240, when the Order of the Temple built a fortified church just outside Paris, in the northern part of the Marais. Walking around the area you can’t help but feel transported to the past by architecture that is as impressive now as it surely was when it was built.
While I truly love where I am and what I’m doing today, a part of me will always be in Paris. Find more entries from my Traveling Architect series here.