1st year students from the BA (Hons) Spatial Design have just returned from a study trip to Paris. 36 students and 3 tutors in total. We left from Kings Cross International via Eurostar on Monday 23rd March. We arrived at our hotel late afternoon and, after check in and dropping off our luggage, we made our way to Pont de L’Alma to take a Bateau-Mouche for a trip on the river Seine in central Paris. It’s a great way to see this beautiful city and the grand buildings that line the river front.
The next day, after a quick group photo session, we spent the morning at the Citée de la Science et de l’Industrie, located directly opposite our hotel. The Citée is a vast complex of buildings that include a science museum (with a really good section on perspective and another on acoustics), a greenhouse, a planetarium and the Geode, a 3D cinematic experience located inside a huge metal sphere. The screen is the biggest one in Europe and surrounds the viewer to provide a highly immersive experience. We were presented with a powerful intro sequence before a more tranquil film about sea life. Definitely worth going to, the details are amazing. I filmed some of the intro sequence though of course the reduction to a small 2D screen cannot fully express the intensity of the experience. We also went to the planetarium to see a beautifully made presentation about our galaxy. Unlike the Geode, where the seats are placed on a very steep slope, the seats in the planetarium invite you to recline for a more relaxing type of immersion, to gaze at the stars.
In the afternoon we took the Metro to Citée, which is the station on the Ile de la Citée, the island at the heart of the river Seine. We chose to go there because it has one of the very few remaining original Art Nouveau station designed by the architect Hector Guimard. Students had studied Art Nouveau as part of their Contextual and Theoretical Studies on the course earlier in the year so this was a great opportunity for them to see Art Nouveau design in context. Notre Dame, made famous by Victor Hugo in his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is also located on the Ile de la Citée and we visited its atmospheric interior before a welcome break at a café brasserie nearby.
Next, we walked along the river Seine, pass the Louvre museum and the Tuileries gardens and spent an afternoon studying Parisian branded spaces. The BA Spatial Design includes four pathways and so, wherever possible, we aimed to link our visits to one of the pathway and explore the connections to our curriculum. The first place we went to was Colette, the famous curator of iconic brands Faubourg St Honoré. We then went to the Galleries Lafayette, the department store famed for its exceptional stained glass dome ceiling. While walking the streets of central Paris, we realised that unlike central London, where the same ubiquitous few brands have overtaken the high street, Paris has retained the originality and uniqueness of independent brands and for that reason, the streets are lined with branded spaces designed with the imagination of people whose passion transcends commercial interests. Amongst the many we saw, our favourites were the original and eclectic design of a tapas restaurant, a small pen and stationary shop where the owners displayed a real passion for writing and a chocolate shop with wonderful smells and beautiful displays.
On the 3rd day we had an appointment at the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Neuilly sur Seine, Bois de Boulogne, on the edge of Paris. We had to get up quite early to make the 10am appointment but everyone agreed that it was well worth it. Designed by the architect Frank Ghery and only recently opened, the Foundation is an amazing building where the seemingly disconnected forms emulate the shape of an upside down boat. The interior is equally impressive and houses the company’s art collection, including an amazing light and mirrors installation by one of my favourite artist, Oliafur Elliasson. The panels are angled differently and placed in such a way that when standing on one particular spot, people can see their reflection multiplied across every single one of the 43 mirrored panels. In just over 60 years time, when the lease of the land onto which the building is built expires, the company will donate its Foundation to the city of Paris and it will become a public gallery for all to enjoy.
That day we had a free afternoon where everyone could choose what they wanted to see or do. Some went to the Musée du Quay d’Orsay, some visited Montmartre, others went to La Défense. After a long and rather enjoyable lunch in a typical French brasserie, a few of us chose to go the the Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s paintings, les Nymphéas, of his garden in Gyverny. I had previously visited the garden and Monet’s house so I was looking forward to see the paintings. Made especially for the space, the paintings follow the curve of the oval rooms in which they are housed. There are two rooms in total with three paintings in each room. Daylight coming through the skyline is filtered through translucent fabric hung across the ceiling. The effect is restful and stimulating at the same time and allows visitors to fully appreciate the beauty of the painting and the absorbing qualities of the colours. The Museum also houses the art collection of Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume whose study is reproduced in minute details in a maquette on display at the museum.
During our last day in Paris, we went to the Pompidou Centre, a multi-cultural complex designed by the architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano in 1977. Its unique high-tech architecture contrasts greatly with the surrounding stone buildings and one of its key attraction are the escalators located on the outside of the building. As people slowly go up, Paris reveals itself in all its splendour and, should the weather be favourable, offers a vantage point to see a beautiful sunset on the horizon, which, in March, is almost directly behind the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately for us it was raining that day but I’d had the opportunity to see the sunset while on a previous visit a few years ago. There is an unusual sculpture fountain to the side of the building created in 1983 by sculptors Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle. It is called the Stravinsky Fountain because it is inspired by Stravinsky’s work, notably the Right of Spring.
Our final destination was Gare du Nord where we boarded the Eurostar to return to London in the afternoon of the 26th. Everyone had a fantastic time and there was a great atmosphere during the journey back. We were really touched when, before we parted at Kings Cross, students presented each of us with a thank you card they had all signed. It was such a lovely gesture and we’d also noticed that throughout the trip, all students displayed genuine enthusiasm and interest for what they did and saw. Study trips are a lot of work to organise but this shows that they are definitely worth it. As well as a great learning opportunity, they also provide an platform for students to interact outside the classroom and although we also regularly go out on day trips in London and the UK, a few days abroad bring a new dimension to the students’ experience. As the course is fairly new, this is our first trip abroad but our aim is, for each year of the course, to go on a study trip so that by the time students graduate, they will have gone on three trips abroad as part of the course.
While in Paris students were asked to record their experience using photography and film to make a 2 minutes film that summarises their experience of the trip. They worked in small groups and the films will be presented on the 4th of May when students will vote for their favourite film. Each member of the winning team will receive a voucher for 1 hour of laser cutting in our 3D workshop. We will upload the best films to this blog after the 4th of May so… to be continued…