Of all the museums and exhibition spaces in Paris, there is one that is exemplary but whose existence most visitors to Paris will never suspect.
Located between the Place de la Bastille and the Île Saint-Louis, the Pavillon de l’Arsenal occupies a small building built in 1879 that used to serve to store artwork and then functioned as a warehouse. Since 1988, this space has been used by the city to show the results of architecture and urban design competitions, to present thematic exhibitions on Paris, to hold conferences and participative events, and a number of other things. Its official name is the Center for Architecture and Urbanism Information, Documentation and Exhibition of the City and Metropolis of Paris.
Admittedly, there are a lot of architects and urban designers among the visitors. But the Pavillon de l’Arsenal has also done a lot to reach out and bring architecture and urbanism to a broader audience. The core of that role is the permanent exhibition, Paris Visite Guidée, which uses models, videos, plans and photographs to give an overview of Paris’s two millenia or so of urban history. The center of the space contains a giant model of Paris, showing areas where there are development programs underway. The rest of the space is used for temporary exhibitions worthwhile for anyone with an interest in architecture and cities.
The Pavillon de l’Arsenal plays numerous important roles. It has organized many superb exhibitions, each accompanied by extraordinary original research and marked by landmark publications. It has brought experience from other parts of the world to Paris, as it is doing now with the exhibition Medellín, Urbanismo Social. Many seminal conferences have taken place in this space, the best of which have been published in an inexpensive little format. It has produced several series of video on Paris’s urban history and current events. It has accumulated an extraordinary archive of material related to Paris’s urban history. And, most remarkably, it has maintained its vitality over close to a quarter of a century, through three mayors and two opposite municipal majorities. It has always remained faithful to its role of stimulating and informing the debate about Paris. No major city should be without an institution like this one.
Pavillon de l’Arsenal, 21 boulevard Morland (Metro: Sully-Morland), open Tuesday to Saturday 10:30-6:30 and Sunday 11-7, www.pavillon-arsenal.com.