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RIBA Conference 2007, Stephen Davis Blog

31 October 2007 No Comment
Stephen Davis, Principal Architectural Co-ordinator, RPS Burks Green, gives his account of the RIBA Conference in Paris…For some reason, this was my first time in Paris. Maybe it was because that it was always a bit too close, a bit too convenient that I hadn’t visited before. Kind of like going on holiday to Bournemouth – you can always go somewhere a bit less explored and further afield….To compare Paris to Bournemouth though would be to do it an injustice of the highest order!I travelled to Paris for the conference with my Colleague Mark Hilton. A veteran of Paris exploration, having completed 2 previous tours of duty.

We had a good few hours to spare before the opening reception at Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine, so embarked on a whistle stop tour of some of the obligatory sights.Our planned sweeping route was to take us on foot from our hotel, past the Pompidou centre, over the river to Notre Dame, the Louvre, Jardin des Tuileries, Musee du Quai Branly, Eifel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and finally Champs Elysees before returning to our hotel at Place de la Republique.

It’s always hard to judge the scale of a city from a pocket map, but Paris is a BIG city. Some of the boys in the office were definitely having a laugh when they said all of that was walkable in a few hours – still we managed to do it all, even a quick flick around the inside of Notre Dame and the Louvre to see the necessary tourist bait. The return walk was however sacrificed at the expense of sitting down to have a couple of beers, the only thing we missed out on was the Pompidou centre, due to a bad start and a wrong turn!We were going to a reception on the second night held at the Pompidou, so all was not lost…..

For the evening, we met with the rest of the Corus guests and our gracious hosts before heading off to the rooftop reception at Cité.My legs had started to ache by now and we decided to get off the Metro halfway to our destination and walk as the train was delayed mid journey.The train doors closed and the Metro duly shot off just as we had all debunked.I guess we were about 2 klicks away from where we were heading, along part of the same route Mark and I had taken earlier in the day – Déjà vu!

The reception had a spectacular view of the now illuminated Eifel Tower and the Paris skyline. It’s a very low level city – most buildings are 4-7 storeys, with just one tower building, which just looks a bit lost within the landscape.
After the champers reception, which Buro Happold hosted, I took a look around the exhibition in the Cité – after my eyes had adjusted from the all neon pink and red staircase and lobby area! Pretty enjoyable stuff. Some great models (of the building kind) on view and a wonderful space to boot.

As we tried to get out to meet up outside with some others, we found ourselves exploring the lower levels – with reproductions of gothic vaults and friezes plus lots of stonework all reproduced in plasterboard and plaster.With so much of the real thing to be seen elsewhere, I saw little value in this part of the exhibition. Finding the exit was a bit of a relief as the canapés from earlier just hadn’t quite hit the spot! We finished the night with some good food in a cool restaurant.

The conference itself was held in the HQ of the French Communist Party. The space was something to behold, with the discussions being held in the dome which protrudes swollen from the ground like an underground explosion has been contained by the flowing pavement.

There was an art exhibition being held in the lobby of the space and I thought it was such a great fluid space to show artwork. The lighting left me thinking that the budget must have run out though – surely they didn’t want to put in those B&Q halogen lamps did they?!

Oscar Niemeyer designed this concrete and glass building, and contributed to the conference with a filmed interview.

There were some great speakers at the conference – the theme of the event was collaboration. Being with a practice of Architects and Engineers, I can appreciate the value of integrating design, and was interested to hear how other designers collaborated and integrated their designs.
Sunand Prasad opened the conference and addressed us as ‘Commrades’. Fitting for the location.

Jean Nouvel then started off his address with a comparison of making a building being similar to making a movie. The collaboration theme really kicked in with his correlation of architect as director, and how that you can’t design a building on your own. His collaborations have included those with editors, art critics, botanists, scenographers, artists and lighting designers.He talked of his recent project, Musee du Quai Branly, with its part living wall elevation and how the interior space has been designed with aboriginal artists. He called it a ‘gallery of the spirits’.

Nouvel was joined by Spencer de Gray to discuss the Wallbrook Square project that the 2 are currently working together on. One of the delegates asked the question that was probably on everyone’s mind – who carries the PI?!

Rafael Vinoly was a joy to listen to. He was very charming, whilst being quite ironic in his sense of humour. He too spoke of a comparison to the movies – the client being the producer. He spoke mainly of his involvement in the Howard Hughes Medical Foundation’s new research facility in the US, and how his close work with the Nobel prize winning scientist client had helped to shape his ideas for the scheme. Apparently, they used hydrogen balloons to mark out the building on the site – which resulted in them moving the whole thing 40m from the original location.

Mike Davies spoke alongside John Milford from BAA about T5. They discussed how collaborative working was the only way to deliver large complex projects. They use what was called the T5 agreement, with BAA taking on all of the risk for the project. As there is no transference of risk to other parties in the design team, the client enjoys free thinking and clarity in the design – sounds like a ideal model that eliminates the ‘arse-covering’ that is all too common in the construction industry!

Richard Saxon of BDP spoke about BIM collaboration tools – surely the way forward for Architectural and Engineering offices? And finally Roisin Heneghan and Tony McLaughlin from Buro Happold discussed their joint ventures in competition bids, with an emphasis on the Grand Museum project in Cairo. The H&S police were there though, and wanted to know how they were going to clean all that glass with all that sand blowing around!!

The evening reception was hosted by Corus and was held in the mezzanine bar within the lobby of the Pompidou centre. A fine time was complimented by free flowing fine wine! Mike Davies spoke here again, with compelling stories of the struggle he, Rogers et al encountered whilst building the building we were stood in.

I managed to grab half an hour to look around the rather excellent bookshop below the mezzanine and bought a sturdy Cindy Sherman book for my wife as well as 3 presents for myself – books by Raymond Pettibon, Richard Colman and Marcel Dzama. Try finding those in your local Waterstones!
We rounded off the night with a meal of pigs trotters. Hmmm. That’ll teach me to try and interpret a French menu!

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not those of either Corus or RPS Burks Green

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