Archie, Spike and the Dame

On this particular occasion the purpose of being in Paris (or Paris, France as it is known to my American readers) may have been to present a keynote speech to a European Congress with a global audience, but how often does a cat get a chance to turn tourist in one of the world’s premier cities?

So, with a few hours spare, the challenge was to set sail for the horizon in search of a few iconic structures…

…top of the list being Archie, Spike and the Dame.

Getting off the RER train at Chatelet Les Halles presents the immediate challenge of navigating an underground maze by shear guesswork. Emerging into the sunlight doesn’t necessarily provide a dazed and confused cat with any clear points of visual reference, as a multi-coloured pompous do of a centre seems completely at odds with the tradition of central Paris architecture. However, 40 years on and Le Centre Pompidou is still confounding the critics with its inside out aesthetic, combined with a sense that the original scaffolders remain on some French-like extended strike for no particular reason other than they can…

Then, with directional senses recalibrated, the gauntlet is seized and an early victory is sensed… it couldn’t be, could it? Is this the famous ‘Dame’ of every hunchback’s dream?

Sacre bleu, non, it turns out to be the 13th century Gothic jewel of Paris, Sainte Chapelle, housing a mere 1,113 individual stained glass windows (as Trump might say “That’s a lot of stains, we need to make America truly stained again, I’m going to make America the greatest stain on the planet!”)…

Stunned by the historic beauty of lesser known facades I stumble along parisienne walkways until my gaze is arrested by a dramatic set of flying buttresses… maybe this is the infamous ‘Dame’ of Paris? But sacre bleu, it is merely the 16th century Gothic architecture of the stunning Eglise Saint-Eustache, located at the entrance to the ancient Paris markets now known as Les Halles

Fearing the song lyrics “There is nothing like a dame…” becoming a true reflection of a failed search, my attention deflects toward another potential icon… could this monument before me possibly be the ‘Archie’ of my search? Sacre bleu, non monsieur, this is merely Carrousel Arc de Triomphe facing the Louvre, and providing quite a precarious position for parking one’s chariot, however many horses it takes to get you up there.

Arch near Louvre [2]

As for the ‘Spike’ of this story? It may be said that pyramids don’t count, I guess, otherwise Pyramide du Louvre would be difficult to surpass. If it is a clash of the historic and the modern, then this is certainly where you will get the point…

But, surely ‘Spike Jnr’ (aka Place de la Concorde) offers us a more convincing claim to be the ‘Spike’ that they come from all over the world to see? Not only that, but it also looks like it could provide a gateway to an arch-like discovery of monumental proportions…

Plas de la Concorde [1]

As spiky protuberances go, surely something dwarfed by a lamp post isn’t staking a claim to be a top draw when it comes to worldwide recognition of Paris landmarks?

Eiffel in distance [2]

At least this could be a mystery worth shining a light on…

Eiffel in distance [3]

In the meantime, the real ‘Archie’ of the title steps up to the plate, as we gaze up the Champs Elyssee to the Arc de Triomphe

With one success in the bag it is only a matter of walking a few hundred metres to the south before the ‘Spike’ emerges in the full glory of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel [4]

So, finally, where can you find a grand old ‘Dame’ when you are in the centre of Paris? Having located the Eiffel Tower just try following the river as your newfound starting point…

Notre Dame in distance

… and those twin towers will surely emerge to reveal the grandeur of a Notre Dame sunset…

Notre Dame [1]

Notre Dame [2]

Until we speak again, after miles of walking around the city of love, all that is left to do is trust in the instincts of the locals, and… take a leap of faith…

Statue taking a dive!

When Meccano met Lego

My home-based ‘frustrated architect‘ was busy regaling the BBC4 programme ‘The Brits Who Built the Modern World‘ last week. “If you are so enamoured by modern architecture what are you doing in Cardiff?” I asked. But it did get me appreciating the convenience of an in-house laptop with private photo library. Do I really want to ruffle my fur braving hurricane force gales bouncing February inside out, just to check out the local definition of iconic?

The BBC4 programme included a few old but cool cats by the names of Foster, Rogers, Grimshaw, Farrell and Hopkins …. some even referencing their childhood love of meccano as an influence on their later design ethic:

So I started to ponder where the Lloyds of London and Pompidou Centre of Paris was to be found in the cultural capital of Wales… when my mind drifted towards the Bay. There across the water stood an iconic location…

Across Bay [1]

… but is it the under-use of meccano, or is it the introduction of a distracting lego vibe that causes so many first-time visitors to ask “what on earth is that supposed to be?”

St Davids Hotel [9]

St Davids Hotel [1]

In all honesty, the same has been asked of the Lloyds & Pompidou buildings in their time, but I await with baited breath the remaining two episodes of the BBC4 programme to see if they spend any time reflecting on the architectural majesty of Cardiff Bay!

St Davids Hotel [2]

5-star accommodation is usually based on the luxury of the living space, but for those who can’t afford it (or access the necessary business account) the external aesthetic is what counts if locals are to take pride in their architectural icons.

St Davids Hotel [5]

But, perhaps the St. David’s Hotel on the Bay has more to offer if we take more than a churlish glance… how about an outdoor meeting with a view, or the curviliciousness that is less noticeable when the building is viewed from a distance?

St Davids Hotel [3]

St Davids Hotel [4]

Perhaps the hotel entrance and internal atrium offers further redemption, particularly for the internal decorators amongst you…

The restaurant may not offer value-for-money to the aficionados of Caroline Street style, but it may offer the ideal place for those who splash out on the special occasion; and those who can afford a loyalty card to place next to their Government/Banking membership cards. My ‘resident banker‘ went there over 10 years ago and tells me it suited the bill for a special family occasion, particularly with views out across the Bay while you eat. But it is up against a wide range of competition in the local area for all budgets.

Either way, it seems to a mere cat like me (no, not a meerkat!) that this architecture game is a bit like any other design or fashion based affair… you likes what you likes, and whatever reasons I have for my personal taste, no amount of reasoning will persuade the luddites who don’t agree with me! As for the definition of ‘iconic’ in local architectural terms, my guess is you will have to look to some of the older gaffs… watch this space for more lessons in the finer points of bricks and mortar, glass and steel, and the minutiae of what passes for design. Until we speak again I will sharpen my ‘Le Corbusier Juno’ persona.

[Images of Lloyds of London & Pompidou Centre, and a few of St. David’s Hotel are gratefully borrowed from google images to illustrate a point.]