Mobility is central to the story of cities. Circuler, the new exhibition at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris takes a panoramic view of this subject to explore the links between movement and the built human environment.
The ways of getting around that we have invented through history are summarized in a timeline presented at the start of the exhibition. From there, the show does not dwell too much on the technology of transportation, or on the networks, but rather on the installations related mobility.
The first part of the exhibition, with models of medieval cities showing how their morphology relates to transportation technology and a comparative set of city plans showing the siting of train stations, is pretty much the last time the territorial view of transportation is meaningfully brought up.
From there, the show is simply a massive compilation of images of transportation terminals (particularly rail and air), with a fairly limited section dedicated to structures related to automobile transportation. In side spaces there is a fairly random compilation of snippets of films relating to mobility.
One of the real strengths of the exhibition is that it is very kid-friendly. As there is not that much text, and instead a plethora of images, children do not have much difficulty understanding the show. In addition, there is a wonderful children’s activity room with a huge Lego installation with building and transportation systems, as well as games and a space to make one’s own Lego creation.
Overall, however, this exhibition is a curatorial trainwreck (apologies, but the metaphor is both fitting and irresistible).
The aggregation of a staggering quantity of images with showy scenography does not make a compelling exhibition. One comes away with one’s mind awash in images, but with very little learning, or even thought. One wonders if anyone behind the exhibition at any point actually had anything to say.
There is something deceitful in having scoped this exhibition and presented it as being about mobility generally. There is a bit of an effort to cover cars and to explore mobility in history, but clearly what really interests those who put this together is the spectacle of architecture and engineering for train, bus and airplane terminals. In the end, it is quite evident that the exhibition boils down to an effort by Jean-Marie Duthilleul to drum up PR for his transportation architecture firm AREP, a subsidiary of the French government-owned train company.
In summary, by all means go and have a look, and you may be fascinated by some of the images you see, but do not expect to come away in any way the wiser.
Circuler runs at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, 1 place du Trocadéro, 75016 Paris until August 26th.