Paris, je t’aime

When planning a study trip, there is often a long and heated debate as to where the team should go. The inevitable questions of budget, travel time and ‘fun factor’ all rear their heads and are discussed at length by the group. No such discussions here in Team Tub. Lead by Matthew Warner, the team were the first to plan their trip and laid claim to the Queen of Landscapes – Paris.

From the iconic civic-scale urban park of Parc André Citroën on the banks of the River Seine through to the new residential suburbs of Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris offers a wealth of sites to see and streetscapes to experience. It was during the initial planning stages that the team’s resident trip planner and self-confessed landscape-opedia brain Jotaro Tokunaga stepped up and announced the formation of Tokunaga Tours. Two weeks of feverish planning resulted in a professionally produced brochure setting out a full itinerary, including timings, food stops, points of interest and a preview photograph to whet the appetite. And so, the tour began.

An early morning flight from Manchester airport to Charles de Gaulle was a painless experience, as was the brisk train ride into the town centre. All fastidiously planned and executed, with Tokunaga Tours leading the way with his yellow umbrella aloft.

Friday afternoon saw us visit the fantastic Parc Martin Luther King. This 11 ha park on the former freight yards of SNCF was designed by France’s leading practice Atelier Jacqueline Osty & Associés. It will eventually become the largest greenspace in Paris’s 17th arrondissement and is part of a wider 54 ha regeneration project. As a team of Landscape Architects with a keen eye for detail, much of the afternoon was spent on our hands and knees inspecting fixing details, drainage channels, planting and furniture. It was only once we got back onto our feet, that we panned the skyline of towering cranes and understood the extent of Paris’s commitment to its on-going city regeneration.

On leaving Parc Martin Luther King we grappled with the hiring process of Paris’s equivalent of the Boris Bike and cycled across to Fondation Louis Vuitton. Following a swift view of the building and austere landscape that accompanied it we quickly moved on to Auteuil Race Course Park. Home of steeplechase racing in France and first opened in 1873, the hippodrome is an important landscape in France’s history. In 2013 Paris City Council, in need of new greenspace in the city, decided to spend £15m on the creation of a public park in the centre of the venue. What followed was the design and implementation of a genuinely inspiring piece of landscape design – creating a tapestry of play spaces, park landscapes, sports pitches and grassy knolls from left-over space.

From the hippodrome, the team continued their cycle across town towards the Eiffel Tower – and after a couple of close calls with the Parisian rush-hour, we slowed down the pace and explored the Champ de Mars, its streets and cafes. After well-earned evening of food and Bière Continental, we returned to the hotel and hit the hay.

Saturday’s itinerary showed no signs of slowing, and alarms were set for an early start. Having sourced breakfast from a range of Moulin Rouge’s famous cafes, the team re-convened and set out on the subway towards Boulogne-Billancourt. A well-conceived masterplan by Jean Nouvel with appropriately scaled urban blocks and streetscapes has been twinned with some fantastic detail opportunities for greenery and street activation. There is no ‘gate type A’ specification here – every private courtyard is secured with a unique set of gates. This set of appropriate designs, functions and sheer variety hold together with surprising coherence and added a genuine richness to the neighbourhood.

The integration of play is not a minimum standard LEAP with a springy chicken, or even a ‘natural play’ timber frame for kids to climb on and get bored within the first week of the holidays – the place is alive with activity. From the families playing ping pong to impromptu circuits class utilising the pristine concrete terraces for their squat thrusts… there’s a sense of community directly underneath the cranes towering above. Is that possible? Has the high-level planning skill of Urban Design, combined with the detailed design skill of Landscape Architecture delivered a place that feels like a community from day one?

Basement parking ensures the streets and courtyards given over to pedestrians, cyclists, and greenspaces. Even the areas that are unkempt and overrun with weeds give the impression that green infrastructure is softening the sometimes austere building facades.

Onwards then to Parc André Citroën, a huge modernist masterpiece developed in the 1980s by Allain Provost, Gilles Clément & Patrick Berger. We were impressed and inspired by the range of structural planting and vegetation. The maintenance left less to be desired though, and as designers we learnt about good construction techniques by observing details which had failed over time.

After some pizza and beers at La Javelle on the Seine waterfront, we cycled cross city towards the tourist trappings of the Toulleries. Risk-assessment forms at-hand, we pelotoned down the Champs-Élysées and onwards for an archi-tour which took in the Louvre, Centre Pompidou and Le Palais Royal.

We wrapped things up on Sunday morning by hitting a number of sites – from Place de la République through to La Villette, Parc d’Eole and Jardins Rosa-Luxemburg. Enjoying our last lunch at a modern street cafe we reflected on just how seamlessly the city integrates sites Big and Small, Old and New, Crisp and Rustic, under a single civic identity.

James had the benefit of seeing all these places yet again – as we set off for the airport, his phone rang to let him know he’d left his keys and wallet back at the hotel. Cue a montage of him sprinting back through the places, spaces and streets of Paris as the credits roll. (He made it to the airport just in the knick of time!)

Paris, je t’aime.

Written by Matthew Warner, Principal, and Jotaro Tokunaga, Landscape Architect