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Musings on AIA in Europe

Architects from many European countries came together in Paris during the last week of October to celebrate the 20th anniversary of AIA Continental Europe, and to take a look at the changes that have given new vitality and architectural identity to the City of Light. The conference featured discussions about recently-opened buildings such as the Fondation Louis Vuitton by Frank Gehry and STUDIOS Architecture, and at La Défense, the Carpe Diem Tower by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), and Tour First by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF).

For many present, the highlight of the Paris convocation was a visit to the much-publicized cultural “vessel” in the Bois de Boulogne created by Gehry and team for the cultural foundation created by Bernard Arnault and LVMH. An intersection of sail-like shed roofs and prismatic icebergs, the endearing “nauffrage” is animated by an exhilarating series of interconnected exterior stairs and terraces. The latter offer panoramic views of the perimeter park and the not-too-distant city, and complement a well-lit collection of artwork, including newly-commissioned work by Ellsworth Kelly.

But it was also good to break away in the City of Vélib to see the new, intensely active installation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, called “Musing on the Glass Box,” at Jean Nouvel’s Fondation Cartier, also celebrating its 20th anniversary. The temporary show, done in collaboration with David Lang and Jody Elff, whimsically reflects on the original architecture, and remains open until 02.22.15. You can scoot under a low, luminous ceiling on a chaise longue roulante.

The AIA Europe conference presentations by project architects were augmented by site tours, which got attendees out of the Rue de Rivoli venue. For the Fondation Louis Vuitton building talk, James Cowey, AIA, of STUDIOS was joined by engineer Matt King of TESS. The Carpe Diem tower was presented by Kevin M. Smith, AIA, and Meghan McDermott, AIA, partners at RAMSA. The Tour First project was discussed by Jean Rouit of SRA and Ranieri Fontana-Giusti, RIBA, a director of KPF’s London office. Proposed changes by Patrick Berger to the regional commercial and transit center at Les Halles were also discussed by architect Jean-Marc Fritz, DPLG.

A highlight of the three-day gathering was a festive dinner held at the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée – a sibling of New York’s Century Association – where AIA Europe founder Alan Schwartzman, FAIA, received two AIA Europe awards and a prolonged standing ovation. Remarks were offered by AIA National President Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, and President-elect Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, who, along with AIA National Vice Presidents Susan Chin, FAIA, and Thomas Vonier, FAIA, were in attendance. Vonier was elected in July to be Secretary-General of the Paris-based International Union of Architects and spoke of UIA initiatives following the triennial meeting in Durban, South Africa. AIA Europe past presidents on hand included Thomas Bitnar, AIA, from Prague, and Giancarlo Alhadeff, FAIA, from Milan. Richard Anderson, AIA, AIA Europe’s current president, ably served as conference host and emcee. He was aided by strong logistical support from members of the conference organizing committee, including AIA Europe president-elect Bertrand Coldefy, International Associate AIA; Alireza Razavi, AIA; Ray Spano, AIA; and Carsten Hanssen, International Associate AIA. Others present included former AIA UK President Etain Fitzpatrick, and Eléonore Levieux and Carrie Wilbert, working together in Paris. Levieux and Wilbert were winners of the AIA New York Chapter’s ENYA ideas competition, QueensWay Connection, recently exhibited at the Center for Architecture.

Among the other speakers were Guy Amsellem, president of the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine, and architect Hugh Dutton, RIBA, who spoke about the new Cour Visconti at The Louvre. The programs were linked to the French Ordre des Architectes, represented by, among others, its president, Catherine Jacquot. The AIA Europe Chapter meeting, on the last day of the conference, took place at Les Récollets, a former convent near the Gare de l’Est that is the home of the Ordre des architectes en Île-de-France l’Ordre and the Maison de l’Architecture.

There were two sets of closing keynote remarks before an exciting tour of the surrounding neighborhood. Well-known Parisian architect Jean-Paul Viguier, Hon. FAIA, spoke about tall buildings in Paris, and the related history of the city’s urban development. And French semiologist Gwenaёlle de Kerret described her research, at the Sorbonne and Harris Interactive, on the visual identity of museums in Paris and New York as conferred by architectural expression and graphic design. Last but not least was a walking tour of the area around the Canal St. Martin, led by Hanssen. Sponsorship by Laufen, the B+W Group, Marvin, Schuco, Sipral, and Swisspearl helped make the conference possible. Next year the movable feast reconvenes in Milano.