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Studio trip 2018: Allies and Morrison voyage à Paris

The Eurostar rolling out of St Pancras station at 2.22 one September Thursday was packed with enthusiastic participants heading off on the Allies and Morrison annual office study trip, which this year took us to Paris.

This annual event provides a welcome opportunity to explore current practice in architecture and urbanism, and learn from other sites, cities and approaches, as well as to catch up with colleagues old and new.

Nothing says getting to know a city like negotiating its public transport system in rush hour, and Paris’ Metro proved no exception. Once checked into our various hotels we split up, free to spend the evening exploring the delights, gastronomic and otherwise that the City of Light has to offer.

Reunited early the following morning, and expertly marshalled by our group leaders, 14 different groups set out to explore Paris’s outer edges where a series of new masterplans and developments which are radically changing the character of the city’s periphery.

Paris’s motorway ring-road (la péripherique), a band of light industrial sites and the infrastructure that once serviced the French capital have left their mark on this area. Now largely redundant, these sites are being reconsidered and redeveloped to provide new housing, public space, offices and facilities such as schools and retail – a blast of modernity encircling the historic city.

Mirroring the interests of the practice and projects such as King’s Cross and the Olympic Park, we were keen to see how similar concerns are explored and developed à la française.

However, as Pierre Alain Trévelo of architectural practice TVK would later explain at our lunchtime talk, whilst London and Paris share many traits, they are fundamentally different cities. Paris is smaller, denser and its boundaries physically and administratively constrained. This was an opportunity to see how architects and urbanists have responded to this very particular context.

Our groups visited Boulogne Billancourt, the left bank and TGB, Clichy Batignolles, Boulevard Macdonald, Pantin, Boucicaut, and the Cité Universitaire, while others learned from the old city.

Having built up a healthy appetite we rounded off the morning with lunch at La Coupole, grande dame of Parisian cuisine and impressively large enough to seat and feed all 300+ of us at the same time. The delicious meal was the chance to reflect on what we had seen with the added useful insight provided by Pierre’s talk.

An afternoon of sightseeing, shopping and enjoying getting lost and it’s safe to say that the train home again was significantly quieter than on the way out….