My Design Epiphany
Last Updated: April 29, 2011
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Read about AIA|LA Associate Director, Carlo Caccavale's design epiphany during a trip to Paris, France in the early 80's.
My Design Epiphany
August 1981 - Paris, France
Paris is only my second big trip abroad as an adult man. I live a few miles south of Rome but I go to the "city" very often. I am fairly sheltered from contemporary architecture: Rome lives of the glories of the past, every past from B.C. to fascist/deco architecture but is still 30 years away from Zahah Hadid's MAXII and slick, simple design. I am used to admiring ancient ruins, old architecture and ornate baroque churches. I love "classicity".
Paris is all I could imagine and want from a world capital - grand, theatrical, cosmopolitan. I savor the pre and post Napoleonic architecture, the beautiful buildings flanking large boulevards and the river, the ornate bridges, the gilded cupolas, the winged obelisks, the mazy neighborhoods where many revolutions took place...But I am not ready for the most revolutionary piece of architecture I have ever seen, at this point of my life, at 19, coming out of tiny streets and dirty alleys as I approach Les Marais - the Centre Pompidou...
Here it is, a massive skeleton. Miles of exposed metal tubes, interminable escalators, vast expanses of glass. Nothing soothing to the eye. It is here to provoke, not to please. It is conceived and realized as a statement in its own right, not as a blending addition to the city. It doesn't whisper, it screams in its strident voice. To me, this "thing" seems like a huge, out of place spaceship from the future landed in this old, small-scale neighborhood.
I am instantly hit by several emotions: repulsion quickly makes room for curiosity, which turns into investigation. I cross the enormous bare plaza where hundreds of tourists interact with local attractions - mimes, contortionists, singers...a kid moonwalks better than Michael Jackson, sliding like oil on the rough cement floor.
I don't know how to attack the "thing" so I jump on the main escalator. As I climb up, the view opens into more and more Paris from above, miles of rooftop and monuments that take a better shape as the metal stairs lift me up above it all. I visit the museum of contemporary art, where every piece complements the statement made by the structure - pop art, sliced canvas, hyper-realistic sculptures. I wander among corridors, more escalators, terraces, views...The more I climb, the more I absorb, the more it makes sense - design as functionality, not decoration. Functionality as beauty. And, by the end of my long, detailed visit (no floor, terrace, escalator, room has been spared) the Beaubourg (as it is called as well) is no more the "thing", it is a thing of beauty. I leave the place with a sense of pure admiration and love and respect for contemporary architecture - that has been dominating my design taste ever since.
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