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The town that invented the yo-yo | by Tampen
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The town that invented the yo-yo

The French town of Oyonnax unwisely proclaims itself the capital of the French plastics industry, which is one reason not to visit. But Oyonnax, which sprawls up the valley a couple of miles from our village, is full of surprises.


It may be the only place in the world with a Museum of Combs. It also claims, perhaps improbably, to be the place where the yo-yo was invented.


And it has some very peculiar architecture.


In the late 1960s and 1970s, hordes of newly-trained French architects, inspired by the legendary Le Corbusier and fired by post-68 revolutionary zeal, headed for the provinces in search of projects.


They built some spectacularly ugly buildings, all concrete blocks with odd angles and zero charm. They can still be found today, hulking wrecks disfiguring the landscapes of many a provincial town.


Yet occasionally, amid the dour Socialist carnage, moments of modernist inspiration flowered. I found this glorious concrete staircase tucked almost embarrassedly behind a box-like municipal structure in Oyonnax. I began to look further, and sure enough, this unappetising French town proved a treasure trove of 20th century architectural ornament.


I'll be posting some more when I get back to NJ next week. In one sense there's nothing remotely French about these geometric studies in colour and line. Yet for countless small towns like Oyonnax, strange buildings and wild colours are as French as garlic and onions.

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Taken on August 18, 2005