It almost looked like a scene from Atypical, the popular Netflix series about a teenager on the autism spectrum. The Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine museum celebrated its tenth anniversary last weekend with, among other things, a Silent Disco! When I arrived with my son, we were offered wireless headsets connected to two separate DJ’s. Not only did they accommodate different musical tastes, they created a festive vibe for the occasion. Ironically, my son refuses to wear headphones. As the saying goes, “when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”.
Spanning five levels in the east wing of the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the museum is entirely dedicated to architecture, urbanism and national heritage. The permanent collection is the foundation on which impressive programming (expositions, workshops, films, symposiums ) contributes to furthering knowledge about the built environment.
Gallery spaces promoting French cultural heritage, from the 12th century to contemporary architecture, provided the perfect setting for events during the open house. Curators lead themed tours on exhibits such as stained glass, monumental sculptures and wall paintings. We participated in one of several collective model-building projects based on the novel Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, colored a wall mural, and explored a full scale Le Corbusier housing unit.
Initiation to the art of building begins as early as pre-school at the Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine. Discovery is supported by an array of educational activities for children, adults and families as well as school groups. The website has videos in both French, (Archimômes) and English, (Archikids) accessible for children with visual impairments and developmental disabilities. The quarterly brochure describes several workshops specifically for students with disabilities. Information about targeted skills is very helpful. Different approaches (arts and craft, experiments, multimedia) are used to familiarize the public with architecture.
The Palais de Chaillot has an interesting architectural history of its own. Originally built for the Paris World’s Fair in 1887, it has undergone several transformations since then and is currently renovating. Prior to the 2007 opening of the Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine, it housed the Cinémathèque, a museum honoring the moving image. The movie theater is still intact and there are regular screenings of documentary and fictional films related to architecture.
We appreciated taking a quiet break in the library surrounded by 30,000 volumes of modern and contemporary architecture. Public access to books, multimedia materials and services are available on site. It is also a resource center for professionals, historians, and researchers with more than 300 archive collections devoted to 20th century architecture.
Before leaving, we visited the temporary exhibition “Globes: Architecture and Science Explore the World”. It is a fascinating visual story of collaboration between scientists and artists. The sphere has influenced architectural thought since classical antiquity and continues to have an impact on art, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The models and drawings on display are a poetic argument to put the A in STEM to give it STEAM.
Getting back to the A-word, as in Atypical, I encourage parents, caretakers and people on the autism spectrum to visit museums as often as possible. Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and The Way I See It, explains that autistic minds, such as hers, think in images. Considering that architects are usually visual thinkers too, a visit to the Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine may simply spark an interest or inspire a future visionary.
The Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine is located in the east wing of the Palais de Chaillot at 1 place du Trocadéro 75116 Paris. The accessible entrance is at 45 avenue du Président Wilson. The museum website is in French only. A brochure and audioguides in English are available on site.
When to visit: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday 11am to 7pm. Thursdays it stays open later until 9pm. Closed on certain holidays.
Accessibility: There is a page on the museum’s website dedicated to visitors with disabilities but it is only in French. Archikids, in English, is adapted for both visual and cognitive impairments. Three times a year, individuals may reserve a guided tactile visit. Otherwise, most of the tours and workshops for a specific handicap are for groups. There are tactile stations in the museum and interactive displays suitable for all ages and abilities. Admission is free for visitors with a disability and one accompanying person. Guide dogs, by law, are welcome. The museum is wheelchair accessible. Visitors may borrow wheelchairs and portable seats. There are hearing loops available during guided tours. It is possible to reserve a group visit starting at 9am before the museum opens to the public, email:firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone 01 58 51 50 19 between 11am-1pm Monday through Friday for further questions.
How to get to the Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine
Bus: Lines 22, 30, 32 and 63, Trocadéro stop
Metro: Lines 6 and 9, Trocadéro station
By Car: The museum does not have a parking lot but there is some on-street parking.