The Architecture of Creative Placemaking in Paris and Amsterdam

MainThis featured blog is written by one of the AIA AEF Scholarship winners, Frank Romero. He takes us through his journey to Paris and Amsterdam.


In September last year I travelled to Paris, France and Amsterdam on the 2014 Hobart D. Wagener Travel Scholarship.  I was in Paris, France for nine days and Amsterdam for five days.  I was awarded the scholarship because of my interest in Creative Placemaking within Cultural Art Districts abroad. I chose Paris because of its rich history in Art, Architecture, and Urban Design.  My reverence for the progressive Dutch Culture and Architecture took me to Amsterdam.

As a Denver citizen and young professional, I am excited about the growth of our relatively young city. I am inspired by the energy and vibe of the places in and around Art Districts, as they are often a melting pot for new ideas and creative thinking. In order to narrow my focus and not get too caught up in French baguettes, crepes, and berets, I narrowed my focused on the design in and around buildings and plazas that drew this creative crowd.  Once in these places I stole an idea from classic French films on how to look or examine a scene.  In French films, Mise en scène  is a technique used to composed a scene.  Directors use it compose all of the elements in film scene.  The physical objects, foreground, background, lighting, and angle of the camera.  By using this method I was able to sit in these environments and look for characteristics that made these places attractive.

8In Paris, I stayed in Montmarte, which is in the 18th arrondissement (neighborhood) up on the hill in the right bank. This is about a 15-20 minute subway ride from the Louvre.  Many great artists once lived and worked in this neighborhood and it still has the old Paris feel, with narrow streets and the infamous seven story buildings clad in buff colored limestone and patina copper roofs.  This area is also home to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur.  I rented out an apartment from a local Parisian and after long days touring the city I would stop at the local market or cafe and grab some food to eat.  Because my bank account was thin, I didn’t indulge in the fine French cuisine, but instead enjoyed cheap local spots.

As for the architecture in Paris, it’s hard not to be enamored by every building.  I frankly, enjoy modern architecture, but I have a deep respect for historical buildings and enjoy seeing old and new buildings being juxtaposed in space.  The Centre de Pompidou plaza, La Defense plaza, the Tuileries Jardin, the Seine River canal, Parc de la Villette, the Eiffle Tower Jardin, and small cafes are the place where I found this crowd of creative conversation happing.  Paris is such as big place, these plazas and open spaces offered a place where people could gather.

5In Amsterdam, I stayed with a local couple in their house on the west side.  I took mass transit and avoided the sea of bicyclists zooming across the city.  Amsterdam itself is a cultural melting pot, where a more liberal crowd can be found.  This in turn makes for some progressive ideas and architecture.  The new Eye Film Theatre and The Nemo Museum are an example of this.  There are also lots of new multifamily projects popping up all over the city and their forms are testing the traditional building typology.  I noticed a large amount of warehouse conversions, similar to what we see happening in RiNo district in Denver or Pearl district in Portland.

My agenda for the trip was to find places of Creative Place Making.  Looking back on my experience, these places where not in a distinct location, but often they were located around cultural buildings like museums and urban parks or plazas.  In a way the trip became more of an urban design study where most of these creative places where happening in urban nodes.  These nodes were at intersections of a transit and pedestrian collision around a plaza or building.  Lastly, a few of these places are found just outside of the city center, almost at the urban edge, where rents were cheaper and life is a bit grittier filled with artists and entrepreneurs.

7My experience traveling abroad was unmeasurable.  Being able to travel to these places was like walking through an Architectural History Course. The architecture and design that once seemed so distant is now much more tangible.   It was an inspiring trip of a lifetime.

-Frank Romero

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