Monday 22 October 2012

Vintage Montparnasse?

Think of Montparnasse and you might be tempted to imagine the district's golden age during the années folles in the 1920s. Whilst vestiges of this period remain, the truth is that the most visible parts of the area today are pure 1970s concrete. Will these elements hold the same cachet for future generations? 

Planted at the heart of the 1970s redevelopment of the Montparnasse district is the famous tower. Still a controversial construction despite the fact that it is approaching its 40th birthday, it also shelters at its feet a rather banal shopping centre. But whilst the tower tries to dress with the times (a system of LED lighting that changes with the seasons has recently been introduced), the shopping centre is more of a throwback.   

The problem with being modern is that in fact you rapidly become outdated. The very definition of a shopping centre is that it is a home to fashion, so in appearance it should always look new. The Montparnasse centre has had many rebirths, but interestingly there are still many fixtures and fittings that have not changed since its inception.

The most visible element is the signage, especially in the basement (labelled rather charmingly here as the 'Rez de Metro'). The impression is that these signs have simply been overlooked, and if anyone noticed they would quickly be torn down and replaced with a uniform colour-free sans serif font.

Here the scripts are curving and multi-coloured, the mixture of the child-like and the hand-created giving a feeling of personalisation and individuality. Another vintage element in one sign (see below) is the usage of the word 'cafeteria', an anachronism today that screams 1970s.

Despite a temptation to link the C&A sign above to this theme, we won't make any reference to it here. However, just below is a small sign that I missed during my visit, but which I noticed when looking at my photos. 

It seems that the concrete corridors of the shopping centre were an instant attraction for roller-skaters, and therefore an activity that the centre managers set out to ban. This sign gives an idea of the footwear fashions of the time!

Elsewhere in Paris we admire the 'original' fittings of the covered shopping arcades of the 18th and 19th centuries, places that had also previously fallen out of fashion. The layers or time - the false ceilings, seperating walls, coats of paint - are removed, taking us back to the vision of the first architects and decorators. We talk of authenticity, of rediscovery, but what would we keep today if we could put ourselves in the shoes of an archeologist from the future?  

I'm happy to try, embracing these pockets of the outmoded before they become another version of some bland modernity. 


Owen said...

Hi Adam... well I guess this is one of the less magical places of Paris ?

Just in case you may not have seen, I left a response to your question about the location of the sculptures in the woods... try doing a Google search on Carriere Chauffour... it is near the village of Thiescourt in the Oise... in the woods to the south of the village. But not easy to find unless you know where it is... Send an e mail if you'd like more specifics...

andy said...

I think that future archaeologists and urban restorationists will just skip past the signs you document here and focus on the bones, i.e. the huge swaths of cement etc. Too bad IMO.

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