French cities

Maps 2014 (21) Paris 2020

paris 2020 webThis is an online version of a 40 sq m digital model of greater Paris currently being exhibited at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, one of the main watering holes for visiting architects in Paris. Worth a look to understand the ambitious urban projects associated to a new metropolitan rail network and other things architectural and urban happening right now in the French capital.

 

Paris (21) Martin Luther King Park

The park as seen from the southeast; the limit is not a high fence, but a lower one with a deep gutter.

The park as seen from the southeast; the limit is not a high fence, but a lower one with a deep gutter.

Batignolles has been marked for over a century by the rail yards leading to the St Lazare Station, one of the main access gates to Paris from the west.

The park and the new neigborhood, according to a project by François Grether and Jacqueline Osty, must face common issues: the original rail tracks are sometimes at the same level as the streets. The choice is then between burying the lines (something that can prevent their use for long periods) or to suppress them (a complex issue as this is upstream from a main station to the south). The bulk of the trains and the electric lines has the buildings on the western part of the park raised on a platform 10 m over the park, which will be integrated into the landscape design. Under the slab rail uses will persist, while over it there will be housing and offices buildings. The park is also cut in two by a public transportation exclusive track, so the park level has a discontinuity, that the aforementioned platform solves…

The housing area around the park is a set of sustainable development technologies and icons, but as always the real sustainability will depend on the consumption habits of the citizens.

A new housing building located over a school

A new housing building located over a school

A new station for the rail line that will cross the park

A new station for the rail line that will cross the park

A part of the new ponds

A part of the new ponds

Clichybatignolles-plan

Paris (19) Les Halles

The Canopy

The Canopy

Some 35 years ago I visited Les Halles for the first time; I was a small kid, but I remember going out of a then brand new RER through a hole (set to later become the central court), and seeing on the background the church of Saint Eustache. The commercial centre is open in 1979, at the most central spot of the Paris public transportation system. Vasconi and Pencreac’h’s architecture has not aged well, and in 2004 the City of Paris held a competition to renovate the commercial centre and the associated underground city, which extends under the garden up to the Bourse du Commerce.

David Mangin’s project, winner of the competition held in 2004 to choose an urban planning scheme for the scope of what one were the Halles, or central market, has been critized; it is too early to evaluate its qualities, but it is no doubt a clear change. The images in this post portray a particular element of the planning scheme, the Canopée+Pôle Transport project, which concerns the architecture of the large glass structure over the main court of the present mall and  its connection to the underground station, and is being built according to the project by Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti Architectes. Works have three interest points: on one side, the glass canopy that will cover the “hole” to the underground. On the other side, the works while the commercial centre stays open “as usual” (not often well solved, but it is not an easy job). Finally, the large concentration of temporary structures for the different specialists working on the project, which seems at first sight a housing project. In some months the results will be seen; now you can already see the green spaces organized in a more informal way.

As a comparison element, maps at the same scale (overlay grid is 100 m) of Les Halles (previous configuration, with a sketchy red outline for the Canopy), and of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, that after the opening of the new Cercanías (a system like RER in Paris or BART in San Francisco) plays a similar urban role, albeit with a more traditional architecture.

The Canopy as seen through the sitework offices

The Canopy as seen through the sitework offices

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Les Halles area, Paris

Les Halles area, Paris

Canopy and works

Canopy and works

A temporary corridor during works

A temporary corridor during works

Paris (20) Noisy Mont d’Est-RER

DSCN4980

 

Paris (as a municipality)  is a small footprint city when compared to other capitals. A central matter for the current French planning scene is how to ensure a coherent urban project with  an administrative fragmentation, in which Paris has 2,2 million residents and an additional 8 million residents live in hundreds of municipalities seldom over 50.000.

Public transportation is essential. Noisy- Mont d’Est is a RER (a kind of metropolitan rail network) station created during the 1980s to serve what was to be the center of one of the new towns whose inception can be traced back to the Gaullist 1960s. As a child I saw the station, the neighborhood and the lake being built… and over time I have seen what was to become a city core fail somehow, despite a strong public cash injection. In part the station contributed, as it had a clear functional project linking rail and bus, but an architecture that relied on scarcely lit underground spaces that contributed to a climate of insecurity (one of the factors fueling the “seismic” result of last Sunday European elections).

A renovation program has moved the station outside, limiting the underground spaces to the platforms themselves, leaving the buses on open air. I’m not sure to see the centrality of the area improve that much (despite the fact that employment exists), but many people can use the bus with a different feeling.

Centrality is in such places a more complex issue: those new towns have obtained over time a set of roles, including universities and corporate headquarters. But two factors have played against these projects up to date. On one side, a configuration in which, despite a presence of public transportation, car has remained central. On the other side, the asymmetry between a public power that is to make its strategies explicit through planning and a private sector not bound to this, which has, especially in the first years of the new towns, having no constraining laws, created big box retail in peripheral locations that prevented other retail operators from locating in planned centralities. And an urban core without a strong retail base is a complex thing to get…

DSCN4982

 

Paris (18) Place de la Republique

A view from TVK’s site

I had read that the Place de la Republique had been renovated ; I saw it from a taxi and was underwhelmed, as it seemed just a renovation of the ground surface. The reason for that first impression is that I had never gone there before. A square that was in fact a giant roundabout has had its traffic concentrated on its southwest part, giving continuity to the pedestrian traffics towards the northeast, changing many things.

The square is 280×120 m, one of the largest in Paris. The project is launched in 2008, and Trevelo & Viger-Kohler (TVK) win the architectural competition. Cars are moved and the square becomes a single platform including also a first section of the rue du Faubourg du temple. The statue of the Republic has been integrated on the pedestrian platform, which has been paved with large stone slabs. Some have complained about the removal of some urban art elements from the XIXth century, but overall the square seems to be work well as a public space (some kind of meadow could have been an idea…)

The project, completed in 2013, is available at http://www.placedelarepublique.paris.fr/

Modified square

Modified square

Initial square. Curbs layout. 100 m grid

Initial square. Curbs layout. 100 m grid

Paris (16) The Seine embankment

By the Musée d'Orsay

By the Musée d’Orsay

A playground

A playground

Between Concorde and Pont Alexandre III

Between Concorde and Pont Alexandre III

The Municipality of Paris has closed to traffic a part of the embankment on the Seine that had been used as a freeway during the second half of the XXth century. This can be ascribed to a drive to limit the use of the car that originates in European rules on air quality and a fight against traffic congestion that was shared by the two main options in the recent municipal election. The Parisian solution has been almost the opposite of what Madrid did facing what seemed an identical problem.

Madrid has chosen to bury the freeway under its former site, creating a new public space project on a much larger scope. Paris has not substituted the eliminated car space, and the asphalt has not been removed; it has become a platform for varying uses, as a tv set in some way. The cost is much lower, and the use more flexible. Doubts can rise on whether this is a more or less ambitious scheme, but it seems more sustainable.

A project as the one in Madrid would have been far too complex, among other reasons due to the cross section, which in Paris maintains the traditional embankment walls (essential in case of flood, a problem tackled in Madrid with a preexisting upstream reservoir), and on the higher level the conventional traffic goes on as usual.

There is also a historical dimension, on how the “urban prosthetics” end up reconfiguring the city. In Paris as well as in Madrid, these fluvial freeways appeared when the city was already present on both sides; but in Paris it was the historical core of the city around the corridor, while in Madrid the Manzanares shores were recent tissues of scarce urban quality, so the freeway was located with a rather savage approach. In Madrid the freeway was the street on which the entrance halls to the apartment buildings opened, and burying the freeway has given for sure a substantial reduction in noise; in Paris, cars still run over the higher parts of the embankments.

This is a matter of choice between closed (and expensive models) that try to deliver substantial transformation (and a compromise, trying to entice the car-loving voters…) and more flexible models that try to address a more complex problem, including historical heritage and flood risk, with chances for incremental change.

Conserving asphalt (as it has been done in the car-less embankment in Paris) doesn’t seem a bad solution. Sure, as the 1968 revolutionaries said, the beach is under the paving stones, but on asphalt things can actually happen.

Paris (15) Visits, 2014

DSCN5211

For years I visited Paris with some frequency. I had not come back since 2010, but for a lightning visit in which I only saw an airport and an office. A new visit this month has given me some time for architectural and urban visits. France as a whole, and Paris, have always captured my attention, and these days at least partially in contrast with the negative moment in Spain.

The Pantheon is at works, and from some places It seems like the upper portion of an Ariane rocket on the launching pad. As usual, tourists flock the place, and some things change: some signs point to a defeat on the battle for urban density, despite the government communication, but on the other side there are projects that seem to express a willingness to stand by that flag.

March 25 European Elections will come; I saw on French tv two debates on these elections that focused on the balance of power and ideas in terms of European parties, and not of states, a welcome rarity these days. Does it mean that France is getting a clearer perspective? We’ll have to wait for the ballots…

Anyway, among the interesting things I have seen many are related to mobility, a noteworthy thing as this is an important issue in terms of sustainable development. Some solutions seem at first sight the same, but Parisian options often seem simpler, less expensive, and who knows, perhaps more effective… the answer will come with time.

Shapes and outlines (3) Hills

Mont St Michel, France. Image from Wikipedia

mont st michel

Mont St Michel, France. OSM map

The shape of things can be the result of many factors. But usually the European middle ages cities were roughly circular in shape as this allowed a good protected area- wall length ratio. As there certainly existed good reasons to look for shelter, cities usually were placed on higher ground when compared to the surroundings, and often right on top of a hill. Mont St Michel is the clearest example (although by size it is not a city), but there are others, as Betanzos in Spain, where just 30 m (some 90 ft) of level difference already shows the issue. In these cases, the city plan shows relations between built volumes, but far from what the real urban space can provide. To begin with, side walls become visible as buildings along the street line are on different levels, but the ground level must also adapt.

Betanzos, as seen on the city website http://www.betanzos.net

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Shapes and outlines (2) Walls

Rue de Varenne, Paris, google street view

Rue de Varenne, Paris, google street view

Defining the volumes you see from the urban space can sometimes mean drawing elements that have no usable floor area, as walls. A part of the most interesting spaces in historic Paris, mainly in the areas with “hotels particuliers” is defined through walls hiding from the view courtyards or gardens much bigger than the public space. The same applies to Toledo or Segovia. Muslims cities have long used this principle, often with less elaborate walls. The transition from public to private space is enriched; drawing just the big built up volumes is somehow cheating.

varenne-avec

varenne-sans