Author : Emily Sims

University : University of British Columbia

Status : MArch, 2013

Advisor : John Bass

Title : Sous les paves, la plage

Below are two quotes that were fundamental to my project:

The city does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls. – Italo Calvino

The subsoils of Paris, if the eye could penetrate the surface, would have the appearance of a colossal Madre pore coral. A sponge hardly has more straights and passages than the clump of earth fifteen miles in circumference on which rests the ancient great city. – Victor Hugo

My project is called Sous les paves, la plage, which means under the cobblestones, the beach and it explores the way that history, narrative and image can begin to create connections between existing city spaces. The title takes its name from a famous slogan from the period of civil unrest that took place in Paris in 1968 and it is a richly symbolic and layered phrase that I believe embodies many of the ideas that weave throughout my project.

Paris is built upon a vast network of quarry tunnels: the negative space from which the form of the city was extracted. Since the late 18th century these spaces have been forbidden and have receded to the periphery of Parisian perception.

This project seeks to explore the agency of architectural representation to activate these spaces. Through the recollection of existing narratives, imagery, and histories, hinge points are generated in order to connect the formalized city space above ground with the informal and subverted spaces of the underground.

Through three narratives I explored the potential for the layers of history that make a city rich to become generators for architectural connection. I think that the roles of narrative, representation and history in the production and imagination of the city are valuable and important parts of the way we inhabit space.


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Emma Sims_ The project really becomes accessible through the writing. In a field that is predominantly visual, I was able to give life to my collages through short stories. I wrote one for each site. My highly visual project was very much formed around language. Also that’s the gold leaf you see on the maps.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
ES_ History, photography and jewelry design.

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
ES_ Always sleep. A clear mind is a much stronger asset than whatever one can produce in the wee hours of the morning. And finding a way to infuse your work with things that you love will make it stronger and a lot more fun to work on.

S//A : Describe your dream project
ES_ I wish I could have been involved in the renovations to Palais de Tokyo. I want to deconstruct an old giant.