On the left bank of the Seine, between the Austerlitz railway station and the François Mitterrand Library, there is a huge building made of reinforced concrete which was built in 1907 as a warehouse for the Paris docks. More than a century later, the building was renovated and re-designed for use as a Center for Fashion and Design, which opened in April 2012.
The girls in my first photo are hoping to enroll in the summer school of the French Institute of Fashion. Fortunately for them, the summer school is open to anyone age 18 or over who is currently enrolled in higher education, and there is even a ‘junior’ program for young people between 15 and 18. The classes are in English and “no previous knowledge of fashion is necessary,” though they do say that their participants are all “passionate about fashion and come from varied cultural, academic and geographical backgrounds.”
Aside from the summer school, the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) is a high-level institution for the education of executives and designers for the fashion industry. It was founded in 1986 with the support of the Ministry of Industry (not the Ministry of Education, as I would have naively assumed). Since 2012 the IFM has been located here at Les Docks.
(Les is pronounced sort of like the English word lay. It means the, plural.)
In addition to the French Institute of Fashion, the building has showrooms, restaurants, bars, an open-air cinema and (at least had) a night club. Also I had the impression that there was lots of empty space (as of 2013) so there was still room for further development. A cute touch is that the lower level is not called rez-de-chaussée, which is the usual French expression for ground floor, but Rez de Seine, because it’s at the level of the river bank.
My first thought when I looked downstream from Les Docks was: “Hey, they’ve built a new bridge!” It turns out that this really is a relatively new bridge, the Pont Charles de Gaulle, which was built between 1993 and 1996. This completely flat bridge was intended to be discreet and inconspicuous, so I think the architects would be pleased if they knew I hadn’t noticed it before. It was built to take pressure off the nearby Austerlitz Bridge, which until then was the busiest bridge in Paris.
The long building in the background, on the other side of the river, is part of the Ministry of the Economy, Finances and Industry. The bridge is the double-decker Pont de Bercy, with a Métro train (line 6) crossing on the upper level.
My immediate reason for visiting Les Docks in July 2013 was to see an exhibition called Vélib’ x Paris which was listed in that week’s issue of the now-defunct weekly magazine Pariscope. (Nowadays we have to make do with l’officiel des spectacles, which is actually quite similar, but I always used to ask for Pariscope as long as the two existed side by side.)
The exhibition turned out to be a display of art works by ten artists from France, England, Scotland and the USA, all inspired by the Vélib’ bike sharing system in Paris. The art works were not fragile originals hanging in an air-conditioned exhibition room, but were reproductions on set up on waterproof poster pillars all over the building, including the roof.
What these artists have in common is that they are all poster artists who are avid bicycle riders and are loosely organized in a collective called Artcrank, which “uses creativity to change the way people think about bicycles and grow the cycling community.”
Artcrank’s motto is: “Bikes are the world’s most fun, accessible way to get around. Posters are the world’s most fun, accessible art form. ARTCRANK(™) brings them together.”
The poster is by Adam Turman, who described himself (in 2013) as “a professional illustrator, screen printer, and 7-year veteran ARTCRANK artist.” He said he “bikes year-round in snowy Minnesota” and that riding a Vélib’ bike around Paris was the highlight of his visit to France the previous spring.
This one is by Adam Dedman, who “works as an illustrator and graphic designer based in the South West of England.” His poster shows Paris as an intricate labyrinth of bike lanes, with familiar and not-so-familiar landmarks showing up in unexpected places.
Stéphane Constant is a graphic designer from Saint-Julien, France. He is a member of Dezzig, a small publishing collective that creates silkscreen art in the Bretagne. His poster is called Ça roule à Paris meaning ‘What’s up in Paris’ (or, more literally, ‘That rolls in Paris’). It shows the back wheel of a Vélib’ bike as a 33-rpm phonograph record, with silhouettes of Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, a bridge, a Métro sign and the pyramid of the Louvre all protruding from the back side of the record.
This one is by Peter Locke, who describes himself as a “passionate cyclist” and an illustrator based in the east of London.
Brandon Lockfoot lives and works as a bicycle messenger in New York City and is also a student at Cooper Union School of Art. He describes himself as “an avid, big-city cyclist”. Brandon had big plans for touring Europe in the summer of 2013, riding with local bicycle couriers through the streets of Paris, London, Amsterdam, Lausanne and Berlin to create an artistic record of their journeys. But a brief notice on his website said that this project “will be postponed until further notice” because he was “the victim of a reckless taxi cab accident in New York City” on May 27, 2013.
Fortunately, he seems to have recovered from that accident, because his website now shows his photos of bicycle couriers from Europe 2013, Mexico City 2014, Melbourne 2015, USA 2015, Bogota 2016 and Tokyo 2018, all under the heading “Ghosts on the Street”.
Arrache-toi un œil is the rather drastic name (meaning literally ‘Rip one of your eyes out’) of a popular silkscreen studio in Paris. The artists Emy Rojas and Gaspard Le Quiniou were originally concert organizers, but then they started designing and screen-printing gig posters and album covers for their bands. Here they have a Vélib’ bike framed by a stylized old-timey Métro entrance, with birds, flowers and leaves in a flowing, curvy style reminiscent of Art Nouveau.
Rebecca J. Kaye is a “diehard fan of all things bike-related” who describes herself as “an illustrator and printmaker based in Edinburgh.” She says that her work “is inspired by cycling and the outdoors” and that she loves “simple visuals, strong ideas and a splash of colour.”
On the roof of Les Docks there used to be a night club called Moon Roof, where large parties were held on warm nights during the summer. One of these parties was advertised, in English, as “the party that will ruin your life”. During the day there wasn’t much going on up here except that two or three arty-looking people were sitting around smoking water pipes.
In April 2017 the roof of Les Docks was taken over by the Groupe Café OZ, a chain of Australian or at least Australia-themed cafés and restaurants.
Address: 34 Quai d’Austerlitz, 75013 Paris
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on the 13th arrondissement of Paris.