Opinion - September 27, 2023

City of Tomorrow

Written by Michèle Piccard 4 min read

It's already been a week since the "City of Tomorrow" exhibition opened its doors at the Cité des sciences et de l'industrie, where it will run for four months until January 2024. The exhibition is organised by the Solar Impulse Foundation. Who would have imagined a few months ago that we would be embarking on the project of designing, writing, producing and finding the funding for this exhibition ourselves ....?

If you'd like to go behind the scenes of the "City of Tomorrow" exhibition and find out how this project came about in the space of six months, here's the story...

We had dealt with the subject in the City Solutions Guide, and the content already existed; we wanted to bring it to life and create an exhibition. It was with this idea in mind that, at the end of 2022, I proposed to the Cité des Sciences that we present this theme as an echo to their Climate Emergency exhibition planned for the following spring... Michele Antoine, the exhibitions director, liked the subject and quickly saw it as an opportunity to replace an exhibition on the programme that had been cancelled for budgetary reasons, the museum's 2022 electricity bill having soared... A 720 m2 space was available for four months!

We were presented with an incredible opportunity. The spirit of Solar Impulse hovering in the museum's lobby came up in our discussions... Our exhibition would be a host exhibition for the museum... But we still had to carry out the project ourselves! I accepted the challenge. After an in-depth analysis of our foundation, the certification process for our solutions and our experts, the Cité gave us the green light... on 15 December 2022, a Christmas present... but were we in a position to accept it?

Where should we start? Looking for funding, finding partners, setting up a working team, devising a scenario, building the narrative, fitting in with the imperatives imposed by a national museum, planning the whole thing in record time... All these stages followed one another, at once fluid and obvious, but also full of obstacles and difficulties along the way... I saw myself in the middle of a world tour of the solar plane, fully dedicated and passionate about the objective, surrounded by an equally committed and enthusiastic team.

Without it, nothing could be undertaken in a foundation that can only function thanks to the support of patrons and companies. In January, I asked the Cité des Sciences to give us two months to make a firm commitment. After that, we sent in a succession of applications, which were rejected far too many times and brought us face to face with the reality of the moment: budgets, set for the end of 2022, were frozen in an uncertain economic climate. Jonathan Derain and his Partners team gave me a great deal of support, but the efforts they made proved to be much more difficult than we had anticipated.

By mid-March, we had only raised half the budget... This half we owed to an enthusiastic and extremely generous patron who put up the initial stake and enabled us to bring on board our main partners, Holcim, Presence Switzerland and the ENGIE Foundation, who quickly made up their minds... convinced of the project's interest and its educational value for all audiences.  Did we have to go ahead?

I brought together our long-standing acolytes : our design and graphics agency, Jérome Bontron and Loredana Serra, who have been with us since the early days of Solar Impulse, and Cartoonbase illustrator Martin Saive, who had sketched the adventure of the solar plane through all its stages, illustrated my children's book "L'avion qui vole avec le Soleil" ("The plane that flies with the Sun")... and then the 1000+ solutions challenge when the Foundation was launched... then the 1000+ solutions challenge at the launch of the Foundation... I needed the commitment of both of them, because as the subject was a difficult one, we had to make it easily accessible, clear and attractive... With a budget that I knew was limited, the comic strip spirit and its humour was just the thing to replace all the motion design or 3D animations!  They were on board... the game could be played.

We then looked for an agency to design and produce the exhibition. WMH Project, with whom we had collaborated on Schneider Electric's "1000+ Solutions for Cities" exhibition as part of "Grenoble, European Green City 2022", was the obvious choice: we had seen them in action; they had worked with our solutions; we could entrust them with this mandate.

Our Guide to Solutions for Cities was our bible... we had to pick up its thread by theme, issues and challenges and select the most emblematic, most telling and most accessible solutions. The Solar Impulse team was going to help me: Marie Abriol for the innovators section, in collaboration with engineers Mathieu Aicardi and Emmanouil (Manos) Jacovides on the selection of solutions and demonstrators. Héloïse Lauener, from our Corporate Communications unit, was my strong arm and the one I could rely on...

We quickly learned that you can't just do as you please in a national museum... Isabelle Guegan was our guardian angel, opening the doors of the institution for us and reminding us that everything here is coded, hierarchical, structured and regulated... It was an arduous apprenticeship for our little start-up-like foundation, nimble and impatient in the workings of this temple of science, but also, as a boomerang for the civil servants of this establishment, new ways of moving forward with, as our guide, the spirit of Solar Impulse for whom nothing is impossible!

The rest was a game of chess, where you place your pawns, with planning and anticipated moves, to reach the end of the chessboard. Our determination convinced the Communication teams of the other future partners. Our mission was a noble one, and they have become the best ambassadors for our project within their companies! Solar Impulse's wings could spread...

These years at Bertrand Piccard's side have taught me not to give up, to persevere, looking for new paths when the existing ones blocked us. We have all moved forward in this way, trusting in the nature of this project, in its mission, which is so important at a time when pessimistic rhetoric paralyses and panics many people. We all set out with the desire to succeed, to give concrete form to Bertrand Piccard's narrative, to the "Efficient Solutions" capital of our foundation, to the efforts of the innovators, to the commitments of the experts who are working with us to analyse and label their solutions...  An army on the march and this 3D dream has become reality.

The pioneering spirit has been incorporated into this exploration of the 1000+ solutions for #ExpoVilledemain... It has taken the form of a small compass that is curious, questioning, sometimes disruptive... but enthusiastic and full of hope... I hope that each visitor will be able to identify with this small compass and that it will accompany all those who commit to adopting these solutions in the city... today!

Enjoy your visit!


Many thanks to all our partners: Holcim, Presence Switzerland, Fondation ENGIE, BNP Paribas, Eren Groupe S.A., Fondation Antoine de Saint Exupéry pour la Jeunesse, FONDATION SOMFY, La Poste Groupe, Rothschild & Co, Saint-Gobain, @SunStyle; Schneider Electric Solar, SLB; Fondation SLB, TRUFFAUT, Pierre Fabre Group, Somfy, @We Demain, Clear Channel France

Written by Michèle Piccard on September 27, 2023

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