The Landscape Guide

18.3 Romantic view of Parc de la Villette, Paris

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It being a fine autumn day, let us visit Parc de la Villette and conduct a romantic assessment, thinking only of sensory qualities, disregarding the contextual background. One's first impression, arriving by Metro, is of a splendid canal and near it a dragon slide with children climbing through its spine to spew from a fireless mouth. A small investment in photographer's smoke could make the feature sublime. (Actually, like the canal, the slide predates Tschumi's design.) Attracted by the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, one then encounters the park's most dramatic feature: a great sunken basin between the Géode and the Cité (Figure 18.1). The novelty and drama cause this space to be thronged with people, sometimes. One joins the scene in part realization of a childhood dream of donning skates to swish into a Bruegel winterscape. Resting for a moment, one can contemplate the juxtaposition of the Géode against the monumental columns of the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie. The contrast yields an amplified echo of a classical temple, say from Stowe or Stourhead.

With some reluctance, one feels it is time to explore what appears to be a dreary expanse of flat grass on the other side of the canal (Figure 18.3). This turns out to be the area that Tschumi designed. It is revealed by the plan, on display by the Metro station, as one half of a giant circle, but the semicircularity would be evident only to helicopter pilots. Several cheerful red structures, somewhat resembling cranes, can be glimpsed among the trees. They appear from the plan to be on a grid but, as with the circle, one cannot appreciate their distribution from ground level. Some of the steel structures are closed, one or two serve as cafes, some can be climbed, but the views they offer are unremarkable.

The main path from the bridge over the Canal de l'Orque leads to the Exhibition Hall. It is flanked by a walk with a attractive "sine wave' roof, casting a crinkle-crankle shadow (Figure 18.4). An avenue turns off this routeway and leads to the main car park. At one point, a curious serpentine path (Figure 18.5), paved in ornate pale blue slabs, like a harem, cuts across the avenue and leads to a string of theme gardens. One is full of steel poles and paved with a coarse exposed aggregate slab (Figure 18.6). It seems pointless, but presumably it is abstract art, which often forces one to work to comprehend the designer's mode of thought. Another theme garden, described as the Jardin d'énergie, is filled with solitude and beauty, though there is nowhere to sit. It is exclusively planted with different species of bamboo. They have a charmingly soft, moist quality, accentuated by crunchy gravel and sand. It is an oasis. One is then delighted to find a water temple in the midst of the garden. It is a drum, open to the sky. A canal runs into it. Water runs down grooved rebates in the walls. Concealed speakers play electronic music. Caliban lurks in the undergrowth.

Emerging at last from the path of the blue serpent, one finds oneself in another boring expanse of grass, but with a good view of the Exhibition Hall. Unfortunately, it is closed today.

18.3 Bernard Tschumi designed this space (photo 1991).

Fig 18.4 Sine wave roof

Fig 18.5 Serpentine path

Fig 18.6 Poles and slabs

La Géode et La Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in 2004 - not designed by Tschumi

La Géode in 1991