Well its back to the grindstone – Design studio started this week. We are working in groups of six – five French students and one American student – to explore a constructive figure in an urban site (in Paris) as well as a natural site (on the island Thassos, Greece). My group’s assigned constructive figure is “creuser dans la masse” or carving out so we are studying the ways in which you can carve habitation as well as mixed use areas from a natural as well as an urban mass.
Since Monday was the first school day for the French students, we all met in the school auditorium where the ENSAV and SAPV professors presented the project to us. Afterward we split into groups which was chaotic and it took almost the entire day to straighten out teams so that in each group there was exactly five French students and one American student. My group specifically had a very rocky beginning – not like most groups in regards to finding enough members, but in “clicking” as a team. One of my teammates told me within the first half hour that two of the boys in our group are “paresseux” or lazy which is very unfortunate and then the other three did not seem to be very close with one another. In addition, I constantly feel restricted expressing what I want to say due to the language barrier – three of my group members know some English but overall the communication is in French.
However, this afternoon, three of my group members and I went to Paris to visit/ photograph our urban site. Afterwards we were able to spend some time hanging out together which broke some of the ice between them and moi aussi. We went to Paris’ Grande Mosque and café where we shared a plate of patisseries and had some tea. The treats were delicious but very sweet.
On the ride over, one of my teammates, Robin, who speaks fairly good English, proposed that we should have hybrid conversations where he speaks to me in English and I respond to him in French thereby practicing with one another. I really appreciated his help when he corrected me on a few phases and taught me new vocabulary. However for most of the afternoon, I was completely lost in the conversation – they speak very quickly with one another, especially Thibault who is from Bretagne, where it is custom to speak even more quickly than then other French regions. So overall, my French is going to have to improve soon!
This last week-end marked the end of the “orientation period” and therefore, as tradition with SAPV, we went on a field trip with the professors. The primary focus of our trip was on history and sketching. We took a bus to the different cities/ sites and we stayed both Thursday and Friday nights in a hostel in Saumur, France. The hostel was near the river which was beautiful especially in the morning when the sun was rising. The most exciting and challenging part of the trip was the sketching element – my work improved so much in such a short time period. I am truly looking forward to the progress I will make in the two semesters I am here. All in all, the week-end was very enjoyable and at the same time, extremely educational.
If I had to choose one word to describe Brussels it would be rich – rich diversity, rich chocolate, rich ornamentation, rich architecture!
One of the required first semester courses for SAPV students is History of French Architecture, with a focus between the Prehistoric times to the Ancien Régime. Throughout the course we go on four site visits to Paris, the first of which was a week and a half ago on Thursday, September 22nd. Half of the class, including myself, met in the morning at the Notre-Dame on the Île-de-la-Cité.
The Île-de-la-Cité is one of two islands in the Seine river – it is at the center of Paris, believed to have been inhabited by the small Gallic Parisii tribe, and it is around which the city of Paris developed. Our professor explained that in 51 BC Lutetia parisiorum officially became a Roman colony after which date Rome began constructing major highways, bridges, aqueducts (including one to the Thermal Baths of Cluny which we later past on our visit), temples, forums, and local roads in the area we now know as Paris. Like many Roman cities, a North South axis street or Cardo Maximus was created which still exists today and is known as Rue Saint-Jacques. From the Notre Dame we walked along Rue Saint-Jacques past the Church of Saint-Séverin. Known for its unique twisted interior columns, Saint-Séverin is a Roman Catholic church that houses the oldest bell tower in Paris.
Deviating from the main axis we crossed to Boulevard Saint Michel, a major street in the Latin Quarter which was constructed in the mid-19th century as part of Haussmann’s urban plan. We stopped at the Sorbonne, which is Paris’ world-renowned university dating back to the medieval times, as well as the Pantheon and the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. Here our professor told us the story of Paris’ patron saint and how she overthrew the people’s belief that she was insane by instructing the Parisians to pray for God’s aid so Attila the Hun would not attack them. When successful, she convinced Clovis, the first king of France, to convert to Catholicism as well as erect many churches, including the Pantheon which was dedicated to her.
Towards the end of our site visit we walked past the Wall of Philip Augustus, the oldest city wall of Paris, to Rue Rollin. This could very well be one of my favorite streets of Paris. It was simply charming, very narrow, but during the day the sun beams down and warms the yellow stone facades. This is the street where Descartes lived – we past his home - and at the end of the road there was a wonderful view out on the city.
Our final destination was the Arènes de Lutèce – the Gallo-Roman amphitheater of Paris. While sketching here, it was incredible to imagine that once this large round where people were eating lunch and using the space like a park was once the bloody space in which gladiators fought, lions were caged before they attacked, and Christians were persecuted.
In a fairly short walk – only about three hours with stops along the way and time for sketching – we walked through and saw the beginning layers of the city. You get goose bumps, imagining the generations upon generations of people who have thrived, lived, developed, and invested in the area. It is simply remarkable - you honestly can feel the wisdom of the city seep from the walls and the streets.