My dog-eared street map of Paris, printed in 1984, lists the U-shaped building opposite Gare de l’Est as a hospital, causing momentary confusion as I navigate my way from the station and across the street. Today Maison de l’Architecture, the hospital was just one moment in the life of the 17th century former convent. Built in 1603, before the industrial revolution bought train lines up to its doorstep, this was primarily a spiritual space populated by a minor Franciscan order – Les Recollets – and patronised by Henry IV and Marie de Medici. Years later after subsequent incarnations as a hospice for the terminally ill, barracks for the national Guard, a military hospital and a school of architecture, it was squatted in the 90s by a group of artists calling themselves the Angels of Recollets.
Now as the Maison de l’Architecture it offers, in the spirit of the old monastery, lodging and study space to researchers and artists from around the world, houses the College of Architects and provides a space for changing architecture exhibitions. The contemporary renovation is minimal, with new internal structures barely touching the original stone walls and the beautiful curved wooden ceiling of the exhibition hall. This is exemplified in the curation of Kama Sutra – 50 positions d’architecture an exhibition not nearly as risqué as it sounds, currently suspended invisibly beneath the aforementioned beams.
The content of the exhibition concerns recent contemporary renovations that have successfully morphed today’s architecture with that of yesterday. Some buildings may be familiar from meanderings around Paris – Cite de la Mode et du Design and the Logement Sociaux on rue de Turenne. Others come from further afield such as the impossibly blue monopoly-style house perched on a rooftop in Rotterdam. On until 5 March, this is pertinent exhibition for a building that demonstrates the importance of acknowledging, preserving and complimenting the history of old structures.
Maison de l’architecture en Île-de-France
148 Rue Faubourg St-Martin, 10th
Ph: 01 42 09 31 81
Hours: M-Sat 10am-6pm
Métro: Gare de l’Est (4, 5, 7)