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Local Matters / Architecture & Landmarks

Japanese Architects in Paris are Changing the face of the city

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An exhibition running at the Pavillon d’Arsenal until September 24 showcases the current and historical work of Japanese architects in Paris.

The Pavillon d’Arsenal, an urbanism-focused exhibition centre in the 2nd arrondissement, will play host to the “Japanese Architects in Paris” exposition until the end of September. The three month-display will serve as a reminder of the closeness of French and Japanese culture, and the cultural reach of creative thinking from the island nation.

Attendees are taken back to the Meiji Restoration in 1867 when a Japanese architect attended the International Exposition in Paris. This was part of the new regime’s openness to the world after years of isolation, with the new Meiji Emperor declaring that “Knowledge shall be sought all over the world”.

Usaburo Shimizu showcased a tea-house, to be located on the Champ de Mars. Some sixty years later in 1927, an architect called Sakakura designed the first modern building (pictured below) done by a Japanese architect in Paris, which was also showcased at an International Exposition held in the city.

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Sakakura’s Paris Pavillion © Wikicommons

Japanese architects then continued to push for their projects in France. International competitions for designing the Arch of La Defense, Maison de la Culture du Japon, the National Library of France and the Bastille Opera all featured Japanese entries but to no avail for the travelling architects.

In the 1990s, however, Japanese architects in Paris made their mark. This was partly thanks to Jacque Chirac’s penchant for Japanese culture. Kenzo Tange designed the Grand Ecran building at the Porte d’Italie, while Kisho Kurokawa’s Pacific Tower can be seen at La Defense.

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Grand Ecran Italie © Telerama

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Tour Pacific (foreground) © Pixabay

And there are many more projects in the running. The renovation of the La Samaritaine building in the heart of the 1st arrondissement was given the green light two years ago. Its glass facade, pictured below, was too unique – or too closely resembling a shower curtain – for some, considering its location in historical Paris.

The ‘1000 Trees’ project in the 17th arrondissement also aptly exemplifies the Japanese tendency to combining simplicity, asymmetry and elegance, though a blanket description of an entire country’s intellectual output is problematic. That project is part of Reinventing Paris.

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New version of La Samaritaine© Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / Sanaa

Currently, one project a year is completed by Japanese architects in Paris, with about a dozen buildings standing by 2023. Grand Paris is allowing for an acceleration of this process, and the emblem of the massive construction project is being overseen by Kengo Kuma. Saint-Denis will receive a massive make-over for a grand opening that year.

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Saint-Denis Pleyel © KENGO KUMA AND ASSOCIATES

title image: Pavillon d’Arsenal Exhibit © Antoine Espinasseau / Pavillon de l’Arsenal

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