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Avant Disney
Skip the rides. See the architecture instead.

You don’t have to be from Williamsburg to appreciate the irony of Disneyland Resort Paris. What might surprise you, though, is that it’s got a singularly impressive collection of postmodern architecture, just a train ride (the RER, it’s called) away from downtown Paris. And if that collection doesn’t satisfy you, there’s a dense population of Important Buildings nearby.

1. Disneyland Resort Paris
Michael Eisner pictured his French Disneyland as a grand projet along the lines of its neighbor Versailles and gathered a team of star architects (Frank Gehry, Robert A. M. Stern, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi) to realize it. Stern designed the Newport Bay Club (think faux New England elegance around a man-made lake) and the Wild West–themed Hotel Cheyenne, while Graves did the Hotel New York. Best of all is Gehry’s Disney Village, done in his pre-titanium vernacular with everything from cyclone fencing to road signs.

2. Château d’Eau, by Christian de Portzamparc
Rondpoint des 4 Pavés, Noisiel Just outside Disneyland is the town of Marne-la-Vallée, built in the seventies as one of France’s “new towns.” Everything, including this spiraling, ziggurat-like water tower—the Pritzker Prize winner’s first commission—was designed by the country’s top architects.

3. Centre de l’Enfance, by Jean-François Laurent
29-31, Cours du Danube, Val d’Europe
The children’s school riffs on rounded, geometric de Stijl motifs in modern, monumental scale.

4. Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs en Electrotechnique et Electronique, by Dominique Perrault
2, Boulevard Blaise Pascal, Champs-sur-Marne
Perrault is best known for Paris’s national library; this giant engineering school looks like a steamship laid on its side.

Next: Genre-Bending Art Happenings

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