Monday, November 14, 2005

20th century version of the passage

Besides the shopping mall, its obvious descendant, this reinterpretation of the Marché St.-Honoré by Jean Nouvel has got to be the closest thing I have seen yet to a homage to the 19th century passage. And yet (maybe this is the problem with focusing too much on forms from the past) it is not at all well-beloved by Parisians, unlike some of Nouvel's other buildings such as the Fondation Cartier in the 14e or the Institut du Monde Arabe (which I am constantly being asked if I have been to... hm). A woman I stopped on the street told me it had "sterilisé" the neighborhood, which (she continued) as I could see had no life left. She was right: the cold steel and glass was not pedestrian-friendly, and the light structure hardly protected us from the sweeping wind or cold, unlike the small and cozy 19th century passages which blocked out the outside world and became a world of their own, like aquariums. In fact at first sight it was hard to tell if the building had been finished or was still under construction -- which would have explained its eerie emptiness as pedestrians rushed to get past it back to the livelier streets. One expected a security guard to declare it off-limits, or a corporation to own the unpublic public space. Still, this building was exciting to me not only for the pleasure of discovery (I had no idea it would be there) but also for the way it turned the city into undulating images on its glass, steel, and net screen -- or series of screens.
Inside, it was filled with stores selling furniture and design -- not decor -- items for modern living. How appropriate -- like the surrealists said, to be really modern you must learn to live in a glass house.


Here's one site with Nouvel's biography and works:
http://www.archinform.net/arch/301.htm?ID=bFY8ccRzSU1H4a7I

as well as his own, slow-loading one:
http://www.jeannouvel.com


Meanwhile, today is the first day of the year that I have turned the heat on. The radiator is making a burnt electric smell while a small blue japanese bowl filled with water balances on top of it, and I listen to my neighbor the trumpet player practicing his scales.

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