designing the foam

Today in studio, our professor Pierre told us that we would be designing our projects in the “foam” of Paris. Strange, no?

After we presented our research on the four lines of Paris—the Cardo, the Meridian, the Aqueduc, and the RER [click to see the photos]—we discussed their layers of meaning. The Cardo and the Meridian are the more historical and conceptual lines, while the Aqueduc and the RER are definite physical entities. Seth and I had trouble finding Parisians who knew where (or even what) the Meridian was, while the latter group had the opposite problem. It was interesting to compare the routes’ timelines and their varying levels of relevance. The Cardo still carries historical and religious connotations; its path is marked by shells which signify food, drink, and money (those things which one needs on a pilgrimage). The Meridian aligns itself with a history of astronomy and cartography, and its path is suggested by Arago medallions and a line through the Paris Observatory. The Aqueduc provides the city with its water, and its line is revealed by surface drinking fountains. Lastly, the RER provides suburbanites with speedy transportation to and from work; its track is in plain sight.

As you might imagine, the lines have varying degrees of influence. The RER’s stations, for example, determine profitable locations of bakeries, restaurants, and shops. The Meridian, on the other hand, has almost no continuing influence. Streets refuse to follow it, so buildings often sit on top of it (which is why Seth and I were only able to locate about 10 of the 135 medallions). When a city builds upon itself in this manner, it eventually becomes a city atop a city (atop a city…).

Then Pierre gave us our next assignment. We are to map our lines’ gradients of influence, like ripples in an ocean. Where our ripples begin to disappear is where “water” meets “land.” The residue left by the tide is a sort of foam. We must create something of it.

When Pierre doubted the clarity of his ocean metaphors, he made us watch a few videos from David Lynch’s Interview Project series. (I was instantly obsessed, and now I want to watch all of them!) He asked us to pay attention to the subjects’ voices, to listen to their stories continue even as their mouths stopped moving, to look at the context. He insisted that sight is the last, most incidental layer of history.

Seth and I plan to start the Meridian map this weekend. Before we do that, though, we are attending a potluck at Sohael and Sanket’s apartment, and then we are off to the Bastille to go bar hopping! One of our former studiomates is in town from London, so the entire class is meeting her for dinner and drinks. It is my first real night out in Paris. I am so excited!

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