Why The Brutalism Appreciation Society’s Murray Tompsett Had To Visit Bobigny and Beyond
Greyscape caught up with Murray after his trip to Bobigny, the capital of the Seine-Saint-Denis department on the outskirts of Paris. Armed with a simple mobile phone, a moderator of the Brutalism Appreciation Society captured the fascinating architecture of a post-war experiment in urban planning.
He explains, ‘I travelled to Paris last Autumn with a friend as we knew there was so much wonderful architecture to explore. I had seen pictures of Bobigny City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) a few years previously which just looked so amazing that I knew I had to visit. Bobigny is to the north-west of central Paris, and that’s where we headed to on our first morning in town….. and it was just fantastic. So much wonderful Brutalist and Modernist architecture from the moment you step off the metro. Everything seems to have been built within the last 60 years, during the age when concrete was king. I had read that it is a tough and urban area which is way off the tourist route, but we felt perfectly safe throughout, although we received some bemused looks as we gaped in awe and snapped away!’
‘We knew the rough direction that we needed to head in, and when we emerged from the shopping centre, there was the awesome and majestic Hôtel de Ville directly in front of us, I actually got a tingle running up and down my neck! A genuinely wonderful piece of architecture’.
‘We wandered on past Brutalist estates and high-rise blocks, past the Modernist church, until we came to Brazilian genius Oscar Niemeyer’s labour exchange and 500 seat auditorium (La Bourse du Travail). Another real gem, but sadly not open the public on a Saturday afternoon.
An area filled with Modernist and Brutalist buildings
‘We also visited La Defense, Créteil, Ivry Sur Seine, Les Orgues de Flandre, the UNESCO HQ in central Paris and the amazing Front de Seine as well as various other stop-offs and chanced upon wonders. We walked about 55km over the 3 days, but it was absolutely worth it to visit these architectural beauties. The Front de Seine complex is in the Beaugrenelle district of Paris, on the banks of the Seine in the 15th arrondissement. The whole area is filled with Modernist and Brutalist buildings, dating from the ’70s. There are hotels, residential and commercial buildings, and most eye-catchingly, 20 skyscrapers, all of a different design, and all almost 100 metres tall. The bases of these giants are all above street level, and you can wander among them away from any traffic’.
‘When we visited on a Sunday last September, the weather was appalling, with heavy rain. This just made the area even more deserted, and the experience was almost other-worldly. It felt as if I was walking in a retro-futuristic film set, with breathtaking views at every turn’. ‘The Chemical Brothers video for ‘Go’ was directed by Michel Gondry and filmed in this ‘modernist wonderland’.’
How to get there:
Metro to Bobigny from Paris, Pablo Picasso Metro Line 5 or Tram Line 1
Hôtel de Ville, 31 Avenue du Président Salvador Allende 9-19, Rue du Chemin Vert
Prefecture, 1 Esplanade Jean Moulin, 93000
Front de Seine
Front de Seine: Metro to Charles Michels Metro Line 10
Tour Totem Quai de Grenelle, Front de Seine
Espace 2000 11 Rue de Javel, Front de Seine
Appreciating Brutalism: The Brutalism Appreciation Society
Murray shares, ‘the Brutalism Appreciation Society came into being on Facebook way back in March 2007 and started with just a few enthusiasts of this distinctive architectural style. One of the first members was Barnabas Calder, whose ‘Raw Concrete’ is the definitive book’.
We try and moderate with a very light touch, and will only delete an item if it’s genuinely offensive or obviously spam. There are the occasional flare-ups, especially if someone posts a piece of PoMo and insists it is Brutalist, but these are generally good-natured.
‘Looking for the local brute’
I have learned so much since becoming a member, and now look for ‘the local brute’ whenever I visit somewhere new. I was very pleased to find a beautiful, raw concrete, Modernist yacht club in Mallorca on holiday last week. A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.
You can join the Brutalism Appreciation Society on Facebook
Murray Tompsett is on Instagram at WWW.Instagram.com/murray_tiptop/