Exploring la Villette – Methodology Note+video

In this exercise, we use photography, editing and sounds as an analytical tool to showcase the particular structure of La Villette. We know that the Villette’s architect, Bernard Tschumi, wanted to create a non-functional park, “an architecture that means nothing”, a playground of sequences. In this playground are superimposed three systems: points, lines and surfaces. My goal was to highlight this particular combination in two steps: a first focus on photography and a second focus on sounds. I had to revisit the Villette a few times as I had started out with too many pictures and a disorienting system. I had focused too much on seriality and the grid. After feedback sessions and a better understanding of what needed to be showcased, I finally reached a fitting method that clearly showed the superimposition of the three dimensions. The points, based on the grid system of the Folies, are shown by their vibrant red color that I saturated in editing. The lines are shown with fading graphics overlaid over the pictures. Finally, the surfaces are heard through the sound of my interaction with them. I needed to go back to the Villette to record better sounds of me interacting with the surfaces but I wasn’t able to because of lockdown measures and the global pandemic. In result of that I worked with the sounds I already had done and chose the ones where a human interaction with the surfaces could be heard. I matched the surface sounds to the picture  (example: when grass is very evident in the picture, the sound that you hear overlaid is my interaction with grass). The sound in this video is on the prototype stage and the goal would be to be able to go back once quarantine isn’t enforced anymore and be able to record exactly what I wanted. I find that through images are best captured colors and shapes, that’s why I relied on the photography itself to showcase the first two systems. Although surfaces can also be seen, I believe sounds transmit so much better the textures as we can associate them to the touch and its physical properties. In conclusion, sound and image work together in this film, synchronized, and using each medium’s qualities, I elevate the three systems and display their combination and the superimposition.

Table of sound w source links







1:30 to 1:52

Main entry



21:00 to 24:00


8:16 to 10:00




Funeral dyes



Main hall

Carts & merchandise



19:56 to 21:00


Right of Main Hall

Woodwork, bronze & light fixtures






Left of Main Hall

Decorations + more ateliers


Second courtyard


Second 3 halls

Hearse, carriages and cars









Opposite entry

Concierge and personnel, pharmacy, barbershop



Research of Cent Quatre history: “Paris Derniers Voyages” by Christian Chevandier – PART 2

La Machine Pompes funèbres (Chap 3)

Regime & system change

  • The 104 institution of rue d’Aubervilliers becomes part of a funeral system that was put into place in the beginning of the 18th century. It’s architecture and function become a model.
  • Under the Ancient Regime, the funeral services were assured by “burial town criers”. The Revolution however calls for reforms, and a new funeral monopole is put into place where the Church had total control of the whole process and choices. It’ll maintain itself until the beginning of the 20th century, when the 3rd Republic pushes for secularization.
  • After the separation of the Church and the State in 1905, a newspaper states: “From now on, the dead would be brought into the ground, not only without passing by the church but also without involving a priest. It only depends on the families.”
  • Paris then adopts the option of creating a municipal management, and the Pompes Funèbres become the “Service Municipal des popes funèbres de la Ville de Paris (SMPF)”. This is the service they take care of: the transport of the body inside the Paris commune and to the Parisian cemeteries or suburbs, providing there hearse, coffin, exterior hangings on mortuary houses, mourning cars along with the necessary supplies and personnel needed for burials, exhumation and cremation. All of these are considered exterior service, and the interior service is left to the cultural associations of the confessions, and any element related to religious ceremonies. This system won’t change until 1993. It is a public service outside of commercial and religious concerns.

The Cent Quatre

  • Because of growing populations in Paris, the smaller funeral services weren’t enough. In 1870, the municipal counsel decides to use the 104 building for those purposes, and it is on the 1st of July, 1874 that the 104 and Pompes funebres are officially open.
  • The building was perfect as it was situated in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, dedicated to industries, transports and services which presented a double advantage. It was a big area of 16 000 square meters, bigger than most of the other locals combined. The building’s architect is Delebarre and supervised by Victor Baltard, the director of architectural works of Paris until the end of the second empire. The building answers to two obligations: the centralization and rationalization of spaces and services. It is a functional architecture.
  • The building is an immense metallic skeleton enrobed with stone and brick. The principle facades are made of sharpened bricks. The big hall has a metal frame and the small halls compose of a series of intertwined arcs and columns. This architecture is reminiscent of Parisian train stations, but also the slaughterhouses of La Villette.
  • This space permits the fulfillment of all its functions :
  • The main entry of Aubervilliers with its monumental arch and double entry gives access to the administration where the orders are made and the director resides. The courtyard is borded by a shaded space for funeral dyes. It gives on the big hall where the carts are dedicated to the transport  of ladders, coffins, drapes and accessories for the burials. On the right, locals containing the woodwork, bronze and light fixtures. On the left, the decorations. In between the lateral halls, more workshops and ateliers. Past the second courtyard, the 3 halls are used for the hearses, carriages and cars. In the underground, the stables and storage. Finally, the building on rue Crucial (the opposite entry) houses the concierge, the personnel, a barbershop and a pharmacy. Transport methods are the main occupant of all this space, which permits this amount of activity and easy transportation; it is also a living space for the personnel, sheltered by the weather and with an abundance of natural light and sanitary infrastructure: it is a true factory.

“It is an immense factory where human mourning finds all that is necessary.”


If you need the pdf format I can send it to you but it is too large to insert here. The captions of the pictures are on the bottom left when you hover your cursor over the image.

Research of Cent Quatre history: “Paris Derniers Voyages” by Christian Chevandier


  • Municipal service, “l’usine à deuil” = “The mourning factory”, that organized the passage from life to death in Paris from 1874 to 1998.
  • Death culture and its representation and rituals are vital in each societies

Chapter 1: “Mourir à Paris”

  • The daily deaths determined the evolution of the establishment.
  • 1st January 1860: annexation of 11 communes including the Villette commune which houses the 104. It is a time of industrialization.

Plan of La Villette neighborhood in 1920


  • Factories and workshops are moving away from the city, especially in the East, in communes like : La Chapelle, La Villette, Ménilmontant, Belleville etc. In the 1950s it will move even farther into the suburbs.
  • Mortality rate in France goes from 21,4 % in 1874 to 9.1% in 1999, which decreases the Pompes funèbre’s activity.
  • 1870-1871 were times of war, famine and epidemics (typhus and smallpox).
  • Until the second half of the 20th century, Tuberculosis was the most notable disease. Soldiers and prostitutes were hardly hit by Syphilis.
  • The Morve was a disease spread by horses and the workers of the 104 weren’t spared as they housed many, and were right next to the Villette slaughterhouse who killed thousands of horses annually.

An interior of the 20th arrondissement in 1950, source of disease because of the conditions

  • As child deaths went down with the years, it didn’t stop heat waves and harsh winters from claiming its victims, especially children. 1911 was the most murderous in that context in Paris.
  • There were also industrial accidents, like the 1938 explosion of Villejuif, the fire of 1897 in Bazar de La Charité (177 deaths) or the metropolitan accident of the Couronne station  in 1903 (77 travelers dead).

Front page of Le Petit Journal showing the fire of 1897

  • The World Wars had there highest death numbers, with bodies coming in decapitated from bombings and artillery. January 1941 was the 104’s highest activity with 5429  funeral convoys; causes of death ranged from Nazi executions to famine in the poorest populations. 19th of August 1944 was named the “Semaine Sanglante” during the Liberation as the city turned into a battlefield. The Pompes Funèbre’s work was enormous as they had to clear out the bodies as soon as possible to avoid diseases.

Chapter 2: “Vivre à la Villette”

  • In 1860, the Villette neighborhood already had 30 000 habitants and was an industrial area with a lot of workers. The bassin de La Villette, with the Canal de L’Ourcq and Canal St-Martin became a true port in 1813. In 1849, the inauguration of railway tracks and Gare de l’Est separated the neighborhood from the rest of Paris. It is at that time that they decide to build the establishment of the Pompes Funèbres.

Funeral in Paris in March 1944

  • Through the Canals was brought the wood needed for the coffins, and the railways housed the funeral trains.
  • They said that each Paris neighborhood had their smell, and this neighborhood reeked of death, from the Pompes Funèbres to the slaughterhouses. Even a few years before the 104’s construction, as most popular areas of Paris which housed lower class citizens, death was omnipresent. Even the canals surrounding it were full of suicidal bodies. In the years following WWI, many traumatized soldiers who mostly lived in this area shot themselves in the head often.

A bar in the Villette slaughterhouse (1928)

104 history: chapt 1&2. (PDF for better image quality)

La Villette 2nd attempt

I did a second attempt at the video with the adjustements needed, which included: less pictures and trying to show better the superimposition of the 3 systems.

This is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEMgcz5a24o&feature=youtu.be

I also tried to do an overlay map with a dot to show where we were travelling in the park but I somehow failed. I really need to find good enough tutorials on how to move objects in the composition.

I had also created a sound that switched from organic to industrial (objects) back and forth but the sound is too long to fit onto the ELP.

Feedback: I still need to skim down even more the amount of pictures in the video and really keep the most interesting ones where the lines and points are evidently clear. As I’d have fewer pictures, I’d have more time to show them and even add some graphics to emphasize even more the system of the park (like white lines that follow the paths and maybe some red dots to emphasize the points). I have trouble emphasizing the surfaces in the pictures I have so I will use sound to bring them out more: the sound I already had was too chaotic and too city like. I can use the scrapping of my fingers or shoes on the different surfaces and use the sound to convey the system. I’m thinking of making them fade into one another as transitions, and also make sure they’re constant so that it follows the rhythm of the video.

I will have to go back to La Villette to capture the surfaces, and will have to really learn how to play with graphic elements and animations on Premiere pro.

Porject 2: Cent Quatre, movement filming

I went another time to the Cent Quatre on Saturday with my friend who I filmed as a dance subject. The place was packed so it was tough to find a spot. With the available space, I chose 2 main angles and frames : my first frame has an industrial background, the metal centerpiece at the center of the building that they use to separate the main hall, shot mostly using a plunged angle. The second frame is in the second main hall, the outer part, with the beautiful industrial ceiling and a high contrast/contre-jour lighting. In general, I mostly used a plunged angle, a few straight ones and a lot of close up shots as I wanted to capture the movement of her body. We also did a variety of paces, from slo-mo shots to fast movements similar to Voguing (a modern dance style that is fast paced). I made sure that the architecture of the building was apparent in the videos and even went back to the exact spot where I had taken some of the pictures of the building the first time I went.

She prepared a few sequences and moves prior to coming on a song I’m going to use as audio during some parts ( Roma by Trinity Ezah ). I got inspired by this song from the Valentino campaign “Born in Roma” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYbOTO2Tlrc. I’m also thinking of using it because it has a lot of levels: it has trap drums which is the primary musical base of today ( and at the 104 ) and has a very “epiphany”-like and spiritual melody that evokes life. Additionally, the lyrics also talk about the search of freedom.

I also asked her to do a lot of flowy big hand movements and gestures to emphasize movement and expression, in addition to shooting while moving. This means that as I was filming her I also moved my camera. My intention with that is to have a high contrast between the architectural stills with sounds of the past in opposition to the saturation of movement and urban expression with sounds of the present.

I asked her to wear her usual hip hop attire she uses to go to dance and rehearsals for a maximum of authenticity.

I also took a few more stills of the light installation at the African Art shop. I’m thinking of using them in composition and to create “the flickering” effect I see a lot in contemporary ad campaigns especially anything sports related.

Here are also a few more research references:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EMAst0liKE     Greed by Jade and Josh

Pictures I took from the Louis Vuitton Foundation.

Project 2: First Presentation + Rationale


(I didn’t insert all the photos from the presentation)

Rationale text (in case):

For this second project of Defacement, we were asked to create a body of work that documents, interprets or re enacts an instance or a material form of physical erasure in response to a specific Parisian urban scape or social dynamic. I chose the urban cultural center that is the Cent Quatre. Located in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, this industrial building is a public space of infinite art,culture and innovation.

People come here for art exhibitions, art residencies, start-up residencies, but mostly to rehearse performing arts such as theatre or contemporary dance. While it is
today place of free expression and movement, it certainly holds a different history.
In 1874, it was inaugurated, and for 120 years house state funded funeral services.

It involved the preparation and transportation of the coffins, the side halls house ornament stores and workshops (carpentry,tapestry,painting and upholstery). During WWII, the Indochina war and the Algerian war were the only periods where it took care of dead bodies as it received the remains of repatriated soldiers. In the Cent Quatre’s case, a whole defacement occured from the past into the present. I intend to showcase it through a juxtaposition of stills, films and sound. The stills will show- case the industrial architecture that mimicked the large exhibition halls and train stations of the 19th century. It’s constructed around a cast-iron frame using glass and brick. The building’s aesthetic is our main link from past to present, it is the space where everything is and has been experienced. Those stills will be juxtaposed with sounds of historical recordings and stereo that reflect those you would hear when it was a funeral service: hooves of horses on the pavement, leather and wooden heels stepping down stairs, christian religious chants, people in mourning waiting to be attended in “cave”like stereo, woodwork from carpentries…The sound will work as an analogy and retracing of the past. Finally we will have the film, which will be footage of a dancer in movement in the space, which is a representation of what the defacement of the Cent Quatre has led to today: from detachment and death to life, expression and movement.

Project 2: update with Lilly

I talked to Lilly today. I showed her my edited pictures which I will put a few examples down below. I edited in 2 ways: a very modern, design and high res edit and an old 19th-20th century style edit that I tried to recreate from old pictures I searched.

I showed them to Lily and we talked about juxtaposition, space, the 3 facades of my project which are: the still of the architecture itself, the film about movement and expression in the space, and the analogy from the past with all the old recordings and sounds from the funeral home.

My plan for this next step: Receive my book and do some research of the exact functions of the space, get some historic recordings and audios from the IENA, record some sounds from churches and “cave”like areas, film my friend this week-end at the Cent Quatre, get as much material as I can before the break as I’m travelling and start juxtaposing and editing.

As I’m quite the beginner when it comes to Video Editing, I’ll have to watch some tutorials.

La Villette – Architectural exploration video

This video is a display of the non functionality and flexibility of the Villette’s architecture. I follow the only visually consistent element, the grid made of the Folies, and trace the vertical and horizontal axis through pictures of the view from each of the Folie’s angles. In that way I am following the park’s “base” structure, but by mimicking a “merry-go-round” effect I’m also translating the playfulness and open-ended, evolving experience it provokes.

In response to the open ended questions, I think that the negation of a composition makes this experience very subjective to circumstances, wether they are external or internal to the person subjected to this experience. The audience will base their trajectory on their mood, visual stimulation, climate, physical abilities, curiosity, anything that can attract their attention, association, the events taking place that day and their relevancy to the person, maybe even interactions with whoever they came with. The park is like a playground for the subconscious. It is also in that way that I believe that it is a field upon which “faces” can be projected: each individual will make La Villette theirs, or “interpretive infinity” as was previously suggested in the article. For me, the park is faithful to the architect’s concept. Finally, I think that the traces that it still holds from its slaughterhouse history, visually speaking, is the architecture and design of the main building. The materials used and the layout of it is not typical for cultural centers or if this time in general. When I see it, even if I didn’t know what exactly was its history, I can tell it held a different function than the one it holds today.


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