November 19, 2012
There is little piece of urban furniture we interact more than with a bus stop pole, and still this element of the urban fabric is too often neglected (his brother the bus shelter has usually better fortune). Below an essay on the Parisian bus stop pole:
It is in 1922 that Paris and the Seine department agreed to have bus stop installed on the streets. At this time, some are part of lampposts, they will be mounted on independent pole, what is now the general practice, at the time of the replacement of the gas lampposts by electrical ones:
Save for the RATP color scheme of the time, up to the 1970, the bus stop shape didn’t changed, becoming a clear Parisian identifier:
The side circles, will be replaced by a trapezoidal shape somewhat in the 70s. In addition to make a cleaner volumetric form with no protuberance, It provides a distinct shape to the bus stop, easy to discriminate from the road signs, which are mainly circles, triangles and squares.
Today, the same bus stop (slightly relocated at the time of the renovation of the Louvre in 1983-89), has kept the same form. Modern technology able to provide real time information is integrated into it. The color scheme, green jade, is the one used by the RATP since 91.
The Parisian bus stop has many qualities, well epitomized in the picture below:
Lately, the City of Paris, wanting to go one step forward had launched an idea competition about “smart urban furniture”. One of the winner is the ibus stop:
 flik ruser tobiwei
October 29, 2012
In a complex urban environment, each square will tend to be specialized toward a function rather another one: Square are not in competition but compliment each other. Hereafter is an essay on the geography of the Parisian squares:
Le Louvre (Cour Napoleon)
This place is not a people place, it doesn’t mean to be. This square is the heart of the French DNA. a 1000 years mille-feuille of History in the making. The headquarter of the old regime, transformed into a monument to the culture, is supposed to represent what French are or at least think they are, and it does quite well:
Place de l’Étoile
Like for the Louvre, this place is designed to have you overwhelmed by the “grandeur” of the State. The Arc de triomphe built by Napoleon is a monument crowning 500 year of planning of the Royal axis, originating from the Louvre. The hill where it sit on has been leveled, giving it a concave slope, enhancing the overwhelming presence of the Arc, sitting in the middle of a 240 meter diameter round place:
En route from The Louvre (old regime) to the Arc (new regime), it happens to be the Concorde, where the last french king, Louis the XVI has been guillotined. Where French celebrates is on The Champs-Elysées, between the Concorde and Étoile, a vast public space able to contain one million people, with huge plazas, Etoile and the Concorde providing very comfortable overflow, and entry/exit point.
The size and topography of the Champs-Elysées help people to appreciate the size of the crowd. The celebration like above suppose to close the 10 lanes of traffic the avenue is normally supporting: A celebration on the Champs-Elysées means not “business as usual”.
Demonstrating is also part of the french DNA, and demonstrating supposes to walk, from one point to another:
Those points are usually République-Bastille-Nation, in that order!
Place de la République one of the largest Parisian square is 283x119m is well suited to accommodate large crowds. Beside it, it is not a necessarily inviting place. It is currently under renovation: respecting its history, its current use as a place to vent social message, while making it a more inviting space, especially outside demonstration time, was one of the challenge the contestant had to address. A water mirror, is part of the answer:
Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville
It is a “people place” per design, and the PPS editors like it , but this 155x82meter square is not a self-sufficient one, where people will intuitively go. they will go there only knowing the square is hosting some events, usually sponsored by the City:
Place des Vosges
A plaza in word, a park in theory, this almost perfect square, is a hit with many urbanistas for good reasons.. like Rome’s Piazza Navona, reaching Place des Vosges requires journeying along minor, often hidden streets. Then away of the crowd and noise of the surrounding city, you find an intimate, secluded, and still comfortable place. The square dimension, 127×140 meters,as well as the building lining help it, contribute to it. It is surrounded by a street allowing a light amount of traffic contributing to a safety feeling at any time any season.
Place Dauphine dating of the same era work a bit differently- may be too small and carry an oppressive feeling. Place Vendôme, has been designed along the Place des Vosges model (same size), but again it is a colder place. In Paris, Palais Royal, offers almost a similar setting
Place George Pompidou
Better known as Place Beaubourg, or simply the Piazza, it has been created ex-nihilo by architect Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers and opened in 1977. In despite of its relatively novelty and use of modern architecture in a city full of heritage building, this square works very well at the difference of many other one created in the same period. Due to this, it makes it a very interesting case study:
It is facing a Modern art museum known as Beaubourg built at the same time by the same architects. Like Sienna’s Piazza del Campo, the 170x65m square has a slight declivity along its narrow edge, which allow people to appropriate the space like it was a beach: it is not uncommon to see people sitting on the pavement, facing the museum, which happen to have corridors and stairs on its outside facades, offering continuous movement of people to watch from the square.
Like Place des Vosges, this square is not obvious to find, and offers some respite, step away, of the capharnaum, the Halles can be:
At the difference of Place Des Vosges, this square is fully pedestrian, and is surrounded by cafes and other shops.
Fontaine des Innocents
Place Joachim du Bellay is a name very few locals know, but no Parisian ignores its fountain:
When they need to meet, Fontaine(fountain) des Innocents is the natural rendezvous.
It is easy to understand why: It is strategically located 
- It is at the cross road of the main Parisian arteries.
- Today, it sits midway between the Parisian subway hub (Châtelet ) and the Regional Express Rail network hub (Les Halles)
However, it is not directly on the way, rather on a “corner” of the intersection, so that the traffic doesn’t pass here. but, more important:
- the square’s size, 53x80m, is big enough to accommodate a substantiate activity making a good hangout, but small enough to be able to recognize a person in it (see the notion of social field of vision in )
- and the square design is perfectly appropriate:
This square is also surrounded by Cafes.
This geography is far to be exhaustive, Paris has many other squares, of various size, various features, some more interesting than other… what we have presented are what we see as the “staple” squares of Paris, and we can see some features emerging, noticeably regarding the size of the square:
- Different square size are needed in a big city, to accomodate the different function
- And still, the square where people feel comfortable to stay, will tend to be in the 120x120meter
This size could be not purely arbitrary, and could have to do with our field of vision- we tend to not recognize people beyond this distance and from smaller distance, we tend to be able to describe people facial characteristic – the ~100 meter range lie in between .
 flickr user hisgett
 flickr user ar56
 flickr user tofz4u
 flickr user babicka2
 Franck prevel via Le Monde
 PPS page: Paris’Hotel de Ville (City Hall)
 See for example: Squaring public space with human needs, Lisa Rochon, Globe and mail, Nov 25, 2011. Curiously enough Vancouver bloggers like Lewis n Villegas and Stephen Rees, will use this square to illustrate Vancouver specific problematic. For the record, architect Ricardo Boffil had a project to built a place inspired by Place des Vosges at Paris The Halles: Parisian didn’t like the idea, and their mayor, then Jacques Chirac, basically “chased” the architect…
 Cities for people, Jan Gehl, 2010
January 23, 2012
It is the center of Paris and was the site of the largest known wholesale market of its time. Since the market has moved away in 1969, the site, having received an underground shopping mall and a subway station seeing close to 1 million passengers a day, has become arguably the biggest urban conundrum of Paris. We gonna study it a bit- This first post layout some general context (at a level allowing me to classified my notes on the topic, so a bit heavier than necessary on the level of historic detail)
The geographic context
The very center of Paris
The centre of Paris is at the center of the “great cross”:
- Historically, it was defined by rue St Honoré for the west branch, and rue St Denis (doubled by rus St Martin) for the North Branch.
- Mostly to resolve traffic issue, This cross will be doubled by the rue de Rivoli (West branch), and Boulevard de Sébastopol (north branch) .
- In 1900 the cross will be doubled by the subway: line 1 for the East West axis, while the line 4 will roughly follow the North-South axis – they are respectively the first and second most used subway lines of the network.
- In 1977, the opening of the first lines, A and B, of the regional express subway (RER) will also follow this cross…
The Montmartre road is coming from of the Montmartre hill following the terrain topography. A historically important road, but not necessarily for commercial reason, at the difference of the great cross roads: the meeting of Montmartre road with the great cross defines Les Halles – historically a triangular shape (between W and NW roads), as most of the medevial square sitting at the crossing of roads, used to be. It is important to note that the Halles has developed exclusively in the NW quadrant of the “active” great cross, basically almost never impeding the traffic on it. It was not the case of Montmartre street, since outside the market activities blocking the street, it was also the site of various celebration, and the pillory was here too:
A short history
Thought a market was officially existing since Louis VI the fat, circa 1117 – which in fact was instituating a function already occurring on a necropolis site - Les Halles history starts in 1183, when the King Philippe II Augustus decided to move a trade-fair on the site called the Champeaux. A history version suggests it was a Jew ghetto – Philippe II Augustus will have expelled them and seized their goods and houses in 1182 -then build two covered market in 1183. They are thought to have been massive enough-100metres long and 10 height, with a vaulted ceiling, all in stones - to have impressed their contemporaries: they will be called “Hala” (halles in french, the English term “hall” is poor translation, and we will keep the french term) and it is the beginning of the story.
At first the market food trading is marginal. The market will start to flourish then will decline in the 14th and 15th centuries and the halles will fall in ruins. A Francis I reformation ordinance in 1543 will try to correct that. New halles will be erected to extend and replace the old ones circa 1551, that along market organization changes. The emergence of new trading usage (shop…) will make the market focusing increasingly on food trading. Soon enough it will be known as the largest market in Occident.
Lot of things will change around, except 2 landmarks which today are still structuring the site- St Eustache Church and the Innocents Fountain-marked with a “red target” on all the maps to help the reader to contextualize the site:
St Eustache Church
It is a relatively unassuming Gothic style church, with an unfinished and at odd neoclassic frontage  – the kind of you can expect in many french cities. Its recognized best profile-highlighting its gothics features slighlty enhanced by some renaissance style details- is seen from its South East side, basically from the Innocents fountain.
It is the obvious landmark of the neighborhood. Most of the photographs and paintings of the district include it whenever possible: When you see St Eustache, you know where you are.
Easy to find. On the way, more exactly on the historic Montmartre road axis- between the Halles and the “great cross” intersection- and dominating the middle of an unencumbered and well defined ~80mx60m square: a size big enough to accommodate a substantiate activity making a good hangout, but small enough to be able to recognize a person in it (see the notion of social field of vision in ): this unassuming structure is a landmark: it is “THE” meeting spot of the Halles.
Notice the today square’s name, place Joachim du Bellay, is virtually unknown, overwhelmed it is by the “Innocents” fountain name everyone know.
A bit of historic background for the Innocents fountain
The fountain- thought have been existing since 1274 - has been a bit peripatetic. Originally this site was a cemetery, the St Innocents cemetery, and the fountain was sitting at the NE corner of it. A cenotaph was sitting in the middle of the cemetery.
The cemetery- an “overflowing” mass grave-the level was 2meters above natural level - surrounded by an ossuary, has been closed circa 1785 under hygienist concern of the time and pressure of the neighborhood complaining about its “mephitic” odours  (the cemetery has been transferred into the catacombs) . The fountain has then replaced the cenotaph. Though merchants was conducting business in the cemetery before its closure, it became the regular market we see in the photo above in 1789-as planned by a 1750s plan.
before be surrounded by shelter for merchant, circa 1811-1813 , the Innocent market will receive 400 red parasols in 1800 , an anecdote which will eventually have a huge influence on the future of the site. The Innocents market will last up to 1858 when it will be relocated in the Halles Baltard, and give room partially to a park, an opportunity to relocate the fountain for the last time so far.
Some other building of interests
The Halle au Blé
In its today form, this building could have eventually been a landmark in a provincial city, but in the Parisian landscape, it looks like another official Parisian building… Its circular and repetitive from makes it a poor orientation helper. The lately added main entrance on its west side, make the building turning its back to the Halles site.
A bit of history
It was a building to trade grain and flour. It has been built by Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières between 1763 and 1767, and was part of a larger neighborhood development following a circus layout. This building has been considerably altered in its history to the point it bears little relationship with its original design:
- Jacques-Guillaume Legrand and Jacques Molinos added a wooden framed dome in 1782, it will be destroyed by a fire in 1802
- François-Joseph_Bélanger will rebuilt the dome with an iron frame and copper surfacing in 1806-1811
- After another fire in 1854, the building will be closed in 1873, and radically transformed by Henri Blondel in 1885, to give its today appearance, and to host a commodity trade market.
- Nowadays, it is used by the Paris Chamber of commerce
The surrounding buildings have followed a similar track.
The Médicis column
It is the column seen next to the Halle au blé building. Commissioned by Catherine de’ Medici in 1574, it predates the building itself, but has always stand still there a bit at odd. Blondel was planning to demolish it in the context of its renovation work: Jean Charles Alphand, to whose Paris owns most of its most celebrated parks, will have intervened against such a fate.
The Halle au Draps
We mention this building because it was probably the traditional shape of the non food related Halles, and it relates to what have once been one of the most important and flagship trade activities of the medieval halles of Paris: drapery.
The illustrated Halles, a 50x400foot building, has been built by Legrand and Molinos in 1786, it will lost its vaulted, wooden framed roof in a fire in 1855. following that, the then almost moribund drapery market, will be transferred to the Halle au ble. The building will be demolished in 1868. The advent of the department stores surrounding the halles, like Le Bon Marché, Samaritaine, the BHV or the Grands magasins du Louvre, will make them the place of choice to buy drapery
The market in 1850′s
The Halles, for the food related market, are largely very medieval in their typology, and the last addition like the Prouvaires market built by Jean-Jacques-Marie Huvé between 1813-1818 (see photo above) or the halles for the fish and butter market, built in 1822 by Hubert Rohault de Fleury, don’t revisit this style, thought they are almost contemporary of the Covent garden market in London.
In former time and in addition to Les Halles, Parisian houses in commercial districts had an open ground floor, where market activities was held. this form used to be called “Piliers” (from the building foundation pillars)-they form a 4meters wide gallery on the east side, and a 2meters wide one elsewhere , but in fact the market was sprawling in all the surrounding area. The Giuseppe Canella’s canvas below illustrates it:
the market is the largest known central market of its time and live mostly at night: people, including 7162 counted sellers, start to come around 11pm, to serve an estimated 40,000+ customers, and are supposed by bylaw to have freed the street by 9am or 10am (in winter).
The market roughly occupies 3.6 hectares -2.2hectares for flower, fruit and vegetable only- partitioned as following:
- 1 hectares of Halles (covered market)
- 0.6 hectares on open space
- 2 hectares on public street
Traffic is a huge issue- there are counted 4,000 carts occupying an additional 2 hectares. handcart, basket storage, and livestock occupy an additional 0.5 hectares (number above from ,  provides similar numbers, 5.5 hectares for the whole market).
The area is a fertile ground for endemic prostitution and other activities associated with more or less shady nightlife . The retail market is functioning all the day, making the area active 24hr a day.
Adding to the picture the smell of the rotten food (odours have always been a strong marker of the site ), it doesn’t necessarily make a desirable place to live, and in fact the neighborhood, “unhealthy, badly built and crowded, is of a repulsive appearance” : It is the “worst” slump of Paris where the living population density level has been reported at up to 100,000 people/km2 . Diseases are widespread and the neighborood will be a nest of the 1832 cholera pandemic 
Thought there were many men, for packing work- called fort des halles- many of the merchants were women, and the market was associated with a high level of gossiping and obscene language by the moral bourgeoisie of the time . Eventually due to the market sprawl and ensuing disorganization, the government had little control on its activities, market stall allocation, tax collection..etc…. The government will try to get better control on it… It will be the object of another post:
The autumn of Central Paris, Anthony Sutcliffe, mc Gill Quueens Univeristy Press, 1970
it was kind of an European tradition when the government was in need of money. We refers to the June 24, 1182 expelling ordinance. It was called la “Juiverie des Champeaux”. This version doesn’t appear- neither is dismissed- in the recent literature (like ), but up to recently the literature was frequently referring to  to support this version.
 Paris, ses organes, ses fonctions et sa vie dans la seconde moitie du XIXe siecle, Paris, 1874 (as translated in )
 Les halles de Paris et leur quartier (1137-1969), Anne Lombard Jourdan, 2010
 Histoire physique, civile et morale de Paris, Vol.6, Jacques Antoine Dulaure, 1837
 Cities for people, Jan Gehl, 2010
 The Rue de Rivoli (street) has been opened in different stage between 1806 and 1835, for the Western part, and the last section completed in 1855 .
 It used to be chapel, St Agnès, built in the 13th century. The construction of the current church began in 1532, the work not being finally completed until 1637. Jean Hardouin-Mansart de Jouy has started to had a new neoclassic style frontage in 1754. The work will be continued but not finished by Pierre-Louis Moreau-Desproux up to 1772.
 The original fountain with only 3 exposed faces- has been redone in its current style by Jean Goujon (sculptor) and Pierre Lescot (design)- 1546-1549. The fourth face has been added by Auguste pajou in 1788, when the fountain has been relocated in the middle of the place.
 La politique Nouvelle, Juin, Juillet Aout 1851, Paris
 Revue générale de l’architecture et des travaux publics: Volume 8, edited by César Daly, 1849, Paris
 Urban Renovation, Moral Regeneration: Domesticating the Halles in Second-Empire Paris, Victoria E. Thompson, French Historical Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1997.
 “Question du déplacement de Paris,” Lanquetin, Prefecture de la Seine, Commission de Halles, April 1840 (as cited by .
 Les Halles: images d’un quartier, Jean-Louis Robert,Martine Tabeaud, 2004
January 3, 2012
It is Charles de Gaulle avenue, one of the busiest European highway , carrying no less than 150,000 vehicles/day, which Neuilly wants to put it into a tunnel. fair enough!… but not that simple. First, the cost- a fantastic €1 billion for a less than 1.5km tunnel. Secondly, 8 to 10 years of construction. Thirdly and probably more important, arises the question of what should look the Avenue…2 different visions: On the surface…one presents an avenue with a large median while another prefers an avenue with contre allées:
On what could be probably considered as mere cosmetics by many, the France’s Head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy carries all his weight into a battle, engaged by franc tireur Jean Christophe Fromantin, involving the Mayor of Paris and having as soldiers no less than architects like Castro, Foster or Pei….Why that?
- Because behind an apparently benign Boulevard configuration, what is at stake is 2 fundamentally different visions of the city.
But…first a bit of context:
The geographic context
Neuilly sur Seine, tucked on the west side of Paris, between the Champs-Élysées and la Défense, and bordering the magnificent Bois de Boulogne parisian park, is the most affluent Parisian suburb.
Its Avenue Charles de Gaulle, linking Paris to La Defénse, in the Champs Élysées alignment, is part of the Royal axis, envisioned by André Le Notre in 1640.
An avenue of superlative
Nowadays this 70 meters wide avenue carries a staggering amount of traffic, ~150,000 vehicles/day . That is only the tip of the iceberg: 80% of the trips occur in fact below the surface, where run one of the world busiest subway line and one of the world most busiest train line .
Today, Not only the avenue, but also its origin, the Porte Maillot, marking the limit between Neuilly and Paris, are a far cry to the standard their “world class” location commends:
Avenue Charles de Gaulle is also part of the national road network (where it is then called RN13) and is considered as a strategic axis, under direct state supervision.
The political context.
Nicolas Sarkozy was mayor of Neuilly, a right-wing stronghold, before winning the presidential election in 2007, and was then carrying the burying project of the RN13 road. At the 2008 city election, he was endorsing his protege David Martinon to be his successor for Neuilly…It should have been a formality matter, but a franc tireur, Jean Christophe Fromantin came into the way, and will be elected Mayor of Neuilly (60,000 inhabitants) at the great displeasure of the Sarkozy’s clan. To mitigate the damage, Jean Sarkozy, the President’s son will be candidate, and be elected as expected, as a district councillor for a Neuilly ward. He will be vested instantaneously as the wip of his party, which incidentally control the district council (1.5 millions of people), and will be also president of the District’s Transport commission.
The Paris Regional area, like Paris is under control of the left (PS): Jean Paul Huchon is president of the Paris regional council (which oversight 12 millions people) while better known Bertrand Delanoë is mayor of the influential Paris city (2 millions inhabitant).
All of the above political actors have an opinion on the tunnelling under the Avenue Charles de Gaulle. We shouldn’t forget the still powerful prefect of Paris, Daniel Canepa, appointed by the president, and in charge to represent the interests of the “state”.
The least opinionated is may be the The president of the region whose doesn’t want to pay for it:
- The cost of tunneling 1.5km of road, €1 billion, can also buy 8km of Express subway tunnel, and that is more inline with the regional priority.
The 2 different options
The pastoral vision
Up to 2007, it was no much discussion on what to do with the avenue, and the credo up to then could have been tunnel=park…So the general idea was that “traffic” is bad and needs to be put into the tunnel. As much as possible tunnel accesses need to be provided to this effect: That is known as the Complete burying of the avenue. The project was very Neuilly centric, and it was no consideration of the avenue context in the “Étoile-La Défense” axis. Thought that the City of Neuilly will have commissioned 2 different architecture studies, Bressac-Huet and vasconi-Natale, their work was just to be considered as informal contribution for a 2006 debate. The ‘official’ study was focusing on the tunnel not taking into account the urban environment . The renderings of the project as of 2006, reflect it:
The large grassed median avenue is modeled on the Avenue de Breteuil in Paris, an avenue commending some of the highest real estate price in the city. Thought it is pretty, it is also dull and lifeless..
The social and economic justification of this project is basically null , nevertheless this pastoral vision is the one supported by the Sarkozy family.
The “global” vision
“the complete burying is a reductionist approach, taking account only the neighbors comfort”…said the Neuilly’s mayor, Jean Christophe Fromantin , whose think that ““kill all the traffic” is destructing value” . In 2008, it will expose an alternative project, then called axe13 , based on 2 main principles:
- Charles de Gaulle Avenue, between Paris and La Défense, deserves an ambitious project in surface
- It is the the surface project which is defining the quality of the urbanism project and justifying, or not, a tunnel (and not necessarily the traffic level)
Fromantin will have got the discrete and benevolent involvement of some pretty famous firms and architects before exposing the idea to public: The project is based on a less ambitious tunneling reduced to regional transit traffic only -that is known as the partial burying of the avenue: Gone are the tunnel portals in the middle of the avenue, but also a much more urban avenue is proposed, which found its inspiration more in La rambla of Barcelona than the Avenue de Breteuil of Paris:
- Tranquility of the neighbors is not the main objective anymore, the main one is to create an attractive urban space.
Below are some configuration of the 70 meters wide avenue
But what will buy the support of Paris , beyond the sweet taste of supporting a project creating the ire of the Sarkozy’s clan , is the integration of the project in a relatively “global” context:
Pont de Neuilly
In the early stage, the highlight of the project was at the western end of the Avenue, Pont de Neuilly, a bridge over the Seine river. Renewing with a Middle age tradition, Fromantin is envisioning to transform it into a living bridge on the model of the Hadi Teherani bridge project in Hamburg. It has been no lack of leading architect contributions, among them some from Pei or Piano : none of them catch-up with the Fromantin idea…none of them have been convincing enough so far either…
But in fact, with the project maturing , Porte Maillot, connecting the avenue on the eastern edge, is affirming itself as the project’s gravity center.
The emergence of Porte Maillot
Porte Maillot has long been neglicted, not to say that its potential has been ignored by architect like Le Corbusier . It is technically on Paris territory, so it can looks curious to see the Neuilly’s mayor proposing the redesign of something not under its jurisdiction, but he probably didn’t do it without involving Paris city-hall.
At the difference of the pastoral vision, in the global vision, the traffic is not feeding into Paris anymore: it is directed directly to the Boulevard Périphérique, a ring road expressway surrounding Paris – so the tunnel is not designed to be a faster way to enter into Paris: people going to Paris-Porte Maillot- still have to stay on the surface. The absence of portal unleashes the urban potential of Porte Maillot:
- In such instance, it is expected that the residual surface traffic to be an healthy 30,000 to 40,000 vehicles/day, when 85,000 to 150,000 could travel into tunnel depending on the toll options.
Economics for a Billion tunnel
That is certainly a Gordian knot. Clearly traditional metrics can’t justify such a project.
Thought,numerous part of the project is geared toward land lift, real estate appreciation an development are eventually estimated to generate not much more than €300 millions. Toll is another source of financing:
- without toll traffic is expected to be 150,000 vehicles into the tunnel.
- with a €2 toll, traffic is reduced to 85,000 vehicles into the tunnel…other vehicles finding alternative ways (a priori the study doesn’t expect a report on public transit) …Toll revenue is estimated at €35 millions/year, not even close enough to cover the debt service.
Some other rationals are needed to justify it:
It is not the least of the strength of the Fromantin’s approach to have replaced this project in a global world context: Paris has to compete with London, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai…and like it or not, the Neuilly’s Avenue Charles de Gaulle sits on an emblematic axis defining Paris…and its image is not that good…
- Victim of its success, a “Mummification” of the historic Paris at the eastern end…
- and at the western end « this is La Défense, the office-city that nobody really likes but that has one undeniable virtue… »:
Rem Koolhass, scheme captures pretty well what is the essence of the Paris metropolis. and one of it is that La Défense, long considered to be an eyeshore having nothing to do with Paris needs to be reappropirated as part and defining feature of the city, pretty much like “The city“-obviously full part of London- is.
When come branding, one can think of the Olympic games or World’s fairs to put a city on the world stage: A whole new dimension where €1 billion to define a city image is not necessarily considered as extravagant!
Some general observations.
The level of political intrigue is very high, the level of general public involvement pretty low and secret deals are the norm. It is not that the public is disinterested by urban affairs, it is, but it is just how the things have always worked in Paris:
Urban affairs have been for long a domain for enlightened dictatorship preferring confrontation to compromise…Rare Departures of it, like has been done at the Halles, have usually translated in disasters: As theorized by Haussmann, Paris is a city of Nomads and immigrants…why ask for their opinions?…Paris belongs to France… – and the most celebrated Parisian modern architecture piece, Pompidou centre by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, and Louvres Pyramid by I.M. Pei have suffered not a single input of the Paris public- architecture without compromise….But the intricacies of the french political system and public interest in urban affairs is such, that “enlightened dictatorship” in urban matter can’t exercise without a certain level of support  which request a ‘dictator’ with an urban vision showing breath and ambition.
The Design of a Boulevard is certainly a serious matter in Paris, but in the context of the Neuilly Avenue Charles de Gaulle, we can see it has triggered a more fundamental discussion:
- The place and level of traffic in the city, but overall more importantly a question on the desired environment, a”pastoral” vision versus an assumed “urban” (Is all that green that good?).
It is also the tale of 2 methods:
- Act fast versus act right
Thought, it has failed to place Jean Sarkozy at the head of the very rich and powerful EPAD- the organization controlling la Défense development- in 2009, the Sarkozy family controls all the key level of power enabling the pursuing of their vision in an diligent manner. But, because Fromantin was able to offer a strong and powerful counter-proposition, involving a dream team of architects, gathering an incredible among of support crossing a wide political spectrum (from the right wing to the Communist party on the left… and incidentally inflicting an humiliating defeat to another Sarkozy protege in a 2011 district election ), the Sarkozy clan has been stopped in its tracks. Now, looking clearly overwhelmed by the dimension of a project they were initially ridiculing , the Sarkozy’s seem to use all of their influence to drag it down…all for the wrong reasons:
A social note
There is little questioning in France, on excessive activities centralization and almost obscene wealth concentration , eventually forcing people to live far away of their work place and putting incredible stress on the transportation system. Indeed, to relieve an “overcrowded” transportation system feeding La Défense, they intend to build more of them, defacto reinforcing a vicious circle: an area becoming increasingly attractive…but eventually at the expense of many other parts in Paris…and tremendous cost of negative “branding” like the 2005 riot, and ways to address the root cause of it, don’t seem too much on the decision maker’s radar.
It is also curious to see that the very “provincial”, if not outright primitive, Sarkozy’s approach has been able to go without questioning for so long. That is certainly due to the fact that Neuilly sits outside the Historic Paris core and as much as careful attention is given to any thing occurring into the city historic limits, as less as there is concerns on what happens other side of the Boulevard Péripherique, which acts as a barrier between the historic core and its metropolitan region, as efficiently as the citywall it has replaced. General attention has started to be given to this project once people have understood it was defining Paris.
 It makes the third busiest road of France, the 2 others one being freeway A1 and A6: Not even the Port Mann bridge in Vancouver area carry close to this amount of traffic. The Champs-Élysées itself carries ~85,000 vehicles/day.
 Jean Sarkozy will be also “recommended” as to be directing the “La Defense” administration which is the most important European Business district. This has created a public outrage, and plan has not been pursued.
 Le projet qui sème la zizanie, Constanty Hélène, l’Express, January 20, 2009
 axe majeur, third public meeting minutes, Feb 7, 2011.
 4 teams have focused on different thematics. Focusing on business development (Deloitte-Foster), people (Fidal-Gautrand), social interaction (Francis Lefebvre-Castro) and cultural development (PricewaterhouseCoopers-Ferrier)
 Les projets d’aménagement de surface, Contribution to the 2006 public debate, Ville de Neuilly
 Paris, an architectural history, Anthony Sutcliffe, Yale University Press 1993
 This area got tested with the high rise idea in the 30′s: the section between the Arc de Triomphe and la defense was supposed to be developed as the Triumphal way, and a parisian properties developer, leonard Rosenthal, privately organised a consultation for the study of the architectural treatment of Porte Maillot (to be then called ‘Place de la Victoire’), which saw lot of emphasis on High rises. The government itself will have organised late 1931 another consultation which has resulted in more conservative submissions but will have not followed suite on it. The French urbanists society will recommend la Defense, rather Porte Maillot, to experiment new architecture urban form …and here we are!
 S,M,L,XL, Rem Koolhaas, New York, Monacelli Press, 1995.
 Even Haussmann, failing to understand that the support of the Emperor was not sufficient, will fall on growing opposition of Paris
 Jean Christophe Fromanin, gaining 70% of the vote has defeated Marie-Cécile Ménard in a 2011 district election. the later was occupying the district seat of Nicolas Sarkozy for his district seat.
 Les Hauts-de-Seine jugent “inacceptable” le plan d’aménagement de M. Huchon, Béatrice Jérôme, le Monde, June 28, 2007.
 Originally, Fromantin was advocating for 2×2 lanes tunnel with no intermediate access, and a 2×3 surface lanes boulevard, when the Sarkozy family was advocating for a 2×3 lanes tunnel with intermediate access complimented by 2×2 surfaces side lanes… To date the State administration says that the traffic prediction support a 2×3 lanes tunnel, but agree against the intermediate access.
 Quel bilan socio-économique pour le tunnel sous Neuilly ?, Frédéric Heran and DARBERA Richard Darbeda, Transports, no438, 2006.
 The initiative will be renamed “axe majeur” in the years 2008.
 Enfouissement de la N 13 : Sarkozy s’impatiente, Le Parisien, July 6, 2009.
 Jean Sarkozy: “Les études de Mr Fromantin masquent un manque d’initiative”, Kévin Deniau, L’express, July 7, 2009
 Neuilly taille la route vers le Grand Paris, V. Sibylle, Liberation, April 24, 2009
 Enfouissement de la RN13 à Neuilly: la mairie de Paris approuve le projet, AFP news via Le Point, Dec 16, 2010.
 Vasconi-natale will have brought some suggestion for Pont de neuilly and Porte Maillot, marking the ends of the Avenue. that was going beyond the study scope, but was already opening the idea of a treatment of the aveneu in a “Global” context
 Le maire de Neuilly tente une percée, Bertrand Greco, le Journal du Dimanche, June 1 , 2009
 Transforming Paris: the life and labors of Baron Haussmann, David P. Jordan, Free Press, 1995.
 blog of Brigitte Kuster, Paris XVII Arrondissement’s mayor
December 12, 2011
When it is time to discuss of what makes a “Grand Boulevard”, it is interesting to get the view of the impressionists, contemporaries of the Parisian Haussmann period, which is traditionally attached to the notion of Boulevard.
I have always loved the immense streets of Paris, shimmering in the sun, the crowds of all colours, those beautiful linear and aerial perspectives, those eccentric fashions, etc. But how to do it? To install oneself in the middle of the street is impossible in Paris.
Pissarro, was lucky enough to have a room with view on the Boulevard Montmartre, allowing him to epitomize the qualities of the “Grand boulevard”:
This 35 meters wide boulevard opened in 1763, pre-date the Hausmann’s work in Paris, but carries most of the features usually attributed to the typical Haussmannian boulevard. It pertains to the orthodox Parisian definition of the Grand Boulevards :
- The boulevards are linear and offer an open perspective (like the one opened by Haussmann), changing direction only at major intersections
- Notice the intense level of traffic and how the lamppost are sitting in the carriage way, to not use the pedestrian realm
- …and how wide is the pedestrian space
Usually sidewalks use around half of a typical Parisian boulevard width, This has not varied since the French second empire (1852-1870). Below is a compared cross section of Boulevard Montmartre in Paris and Broadway Street (at Cambie) in Vancouver .
Quality of the Urban furnitures is important and got noticed (many of them has been designed by Gabriel Jean Antoine Davioud):
…But one of the main feature of the Parisian boulevards, is the buzz/energy surrounding them: the gentle crowd, the trees, the play of light, is why people will like to mingle here (last picture in the post also gives a strong incentive to do so!)
The above and ample sidewalks provide a fertile ground for the development of coffee patio, in adition of the Boulevard theatres.
The formal avenue de l’Opéra opened in time for the Universal exposition of 1878, is an exception. It is bereft of trees (and the sidewalk could have been reduced accordingly) on the insistence of the Opera’s architect, Charles Garnier, this to preserve the perspective onto its masterpiece . The move has been appreciated enough to keep this avenue bereft of trees up to today . Another architect request- to have the street free of urban furniture- has been lost in time…
In the Pissarro and others impressionists paintings, ornamental and architectural details of the buildings lining the boulevards are basically absent.
Haussmann designed the Avenue of the Opéra, but it has been built after his 1870′s “resignation”, (associated to the fall of the Napoleon III regime), this between 1876 and 1878. When Haussmann was providing architectural template to the properties developers, the new regime, pressed by the deadline of the 1878′s exposition, had been far less stringent in their building request:
- They have divided the area in 55 lots, sold in 1876, to almost as many different landowners, required to build in a 2 years time frame to the maximum height authorized by the by-laws, and that all principal horizontal lines in each block should coincide, which ensured that all the windows would be at the same level. Balconies were obligatory . Other pre-existing regulation ensured the aesthetic unity of the avenue.
That is what Pissarro expresses in his canvas, where the militaristic rigor of the buildings is gently counter balanced by the chimneys disorder on their roofs, and colorful shopkeeper awnings at their feet.
The traffic on the Grand Boulevards (boulevard des Italiens, des Capucines et Montmartre) is qualified of “intensive” by the Paris Prefecture in 1904, while the one on the 30 meters wide Boulevard Haussmann, (depicted by Raffaelli below), is qualified of “active” by the same source . This, in addition to the facts that it is in the immediate vicinity of the most used -by far- railway station of the time- Gare Saint Lazare-, and nearby department stores, are the reasons why we see a street much more dominated by pedestrian activities.
Most of the carriages seen in this picture and others are fiacres, (carriage for hire which has been replaced by taxis), and “omnibuses” (which has been replaced by buses). Private carriage was a rarity so street parking was not a problem. In those days (1891), it was counted 45,085 vehicles of all sorts in Paris but number was growing much faster than the population and was reaching 65,543 in 1906 (automobile accouting for a mere 4,077) …The Prefecture of Paris was numbering fiacres at 15,775 (today, there is roughly the same number of taxi!) and 2,572 tramways and “omnibus” , the equivalent of bus, already carrying in the vicinity of 220 millions passenger circa 1865 …The 3 horses omnibuses seen in the Pissarro painting are the largest of the days (2.45m by 8 meter long including horses: they are considered “monsters” by the witnesses of the days . Capacity number are, of course, irrelevant.
The other Boulevards
The impressionists like Degas, Monet, Gauguin, Renoir…, dedicated numerous painting to the Grands Boulevards in the immediate vicinity of gare Saint Lazare (all the canvas presented so far has been drawn in a 10-15mn walk from gare Saint Lazare, which itself has also been the attention of Monet among other). This railway station was also the termini of train from the Vexin français -area around Pontoise- where most of the French impressionists have elected residence at one moment of their life, and this fact can explain why this little area of Paris got far most attention than others…
Nowadays, the probably most photographied avenue is the Champs Elysees. in the XIX, it is pretty much out of reach to most of the people. Even the fiacres are rare, and traffic seems dominated by the much more exclusive landau transportation mode. Notice how the horses manures are speedily removed in the Jean Béraud‘s canvas below:
The Parisian lower class can be found around the Boulevards exterieurs (around 40 to 45 meters wide). Boulevard Clichy is one of them. Edgar Degas lived and died there but this boulevard didn’t inspired him, at the difference of Paul Signac, Vincent van Gogh and Pierre Bonnard, which we choose, for its naturalist qualities, to illustrate this boulevard:
The Boulevard exterieurs, marked the limit of Paris before its amalgamation with neighbor suburbs in 1860 at the initative of Haussmann, and have been opened in 1864. They eventually were synonym of life condition that the Haussmann contemporaries were trying to escape (Signac, Vuillard will paint the Boulevard exterieurs under snow, which, by its rarity, in some sort represent an escape of the usual condition).
The large boulevard median was not to separate traffic directions, The 2 ways seen in the painting was existing on both side of the Wall of the Farmers general which has been destroyed in 1860: A canvas of Pissarro better illustrates that fact (the street on side of the median will be converted to one way traffic much later)
The circulation on the Boulevards exterieurs was considered as active in 1904. As the canvas represents, the type of circulation is much more different than the one seen on the Grand Boulevards, and if there is nowadays no more cabs in Paris than it was fiacres more than a century ago, those are now more evenly spread on the whole Paris area, making them looking rarer.
Life outside the Boulevards
We couldn’t close this chapter, without mentioning what was the life condition outside the Boulevards in the Haussmann century. Charles marville‘s photographies illustrate what Paris was looking before Haussmann:
 Mon cher Pissarro – Lettres de Ludovic Piette à Camille Pissarro, Ludovic Piette, Paris 1985
 Broadway Street, Vancouver: cross section from beyond the B line, City of Vancouver 1999. Notice it is not the worst configuration found but the existing one…the proposed introduction of a LRT makes things worse with proposed sidewalk as narrow as 2.70m in the 1999 study. Currently Boulevard Montmartre, Paris, has been one way since 1951 but is considered to be reversed back two ways, and it is this configuration which is presented here. You will notice the bus getting out of its lane to avoid a cyclist – that is per design: Bus+bike lanes is the modus operandi in France, wholly supported by the Green councilors of Paris, at the very much difference of Adriane Carr in Vancouver (her position on the topic being summarized here)
 Etudes sur les transformations de Paris et autres écrits sur l’urbanisme, Eugène Hénard, 1903-1909. as reedited by éd. L’Équerre, 1982.
 The longest carriage is 20 meters, it is used for beam transportation by carpenter: it s then considered as an exceptional convoy
 There are several Boulevard denominations in Paris, the grand boulevards being the ones built in replacement of Louis XIII city’s wall, according to the 1676 Pierre Bullet’s plan under the Louis XIV reign)
 The perspective has also been obtained by the leveling of an hill, the buttes des Moulins, which will have provided a convenient pretext to a slum cleansing operation in the whole Opera area.
 The autumn of Central Paris: the defeat of town planning 1850-1970, Anthony Sutcliffe, MacGill-Queens’university press, 1971
 It didn’t, and remarkably enough, Louis Dausset, on budget Committee was stating as soon as 1909
- “When we built the Metropolitan and encouraged the development of trams, we gave our citizens and visitors a taste for moving around…So underground transport does nothing to reduce surface movement in Paris; on the contrary, it multiply it” ( citing C.M. report no 128, 1909).
Among Haussmann’s achievement was also the reorganization of the Public transit services, with the creation of the Compagnie Generale d’Omnibus created at the occasion of the universal exposition of 1855, this on a model not much different of the one used by Seoul, Korea.
 To give some substance on the level of Traffic, around 10,750 horses drawing vehicle/day has been counted on the Boulevard des Italiens in 1840 ( citing L’œuvre du baron Haussmann, Louis Reau, 1954)
 the Compagnie de l’Ouest very quickly developed suburban services from gare Saint Lazare. In 1869, It was by far the busiest railway station of Paris, handling 13,254,000 a year-more than 80% of them being commuters. The other 6 Paris termini together handled no more than 21,417,000 ( citing La gare du Nord, René Clozier, (a priori a PhD thesis of 1940))
 In his book, “L’assassinat de Paris” (1977), Louis Chevalier mentions that trees has been removed of Avenue de l’Opéra in 1955. Archive photography doesn’t confirm that. What is more probably is that the sidewalk has been reduced in 1955.
December 8, 2011
This post is not about the viaduc des arts and its promenade plantée which has been the object of a previous post. While Vancouver is thinking that destroying its viaduct structures is forward thinking, and some even suggest that this tabula rasa thinking is at the root of good urbanism…Paris is building more viaducts…
The Parisian Viaduct:
The “Avenue Pierre Mendès France” viaduct, built between 1995 and 2001 (general conception by Paul Andreu) is one of the most recent addition to the Paris grid, in the new “rive gauche” district. You will notice, that well proven urban concepts have been applied, be in the building form lining the viaduct, the rectitude of the street, or the streescape…One will eventually find the result to be more convincing that on Pacific Boulevard (Vancouver) of similar width, and that is eventually the reason why you see people in the median which has its own name:
- promenade Jules-Isaac
Which says enough of the objective filled by this avenue. Notice also how only one lane of general traffic per direction is offered, and how the bike lane is implemented in the median (in my opinion the best solution).
Under the viaduct
In this case, the required right of way has necessarily constrained the piles disposition, but it is in fact a general Parisian style piles disposition we find in most, if not all of the city metro viaducts which allow an exploitation of the underneath space in both direction (you can see, how advantageous it can be under Vancouver’s Cambie bridge South side)
Beside the viaduct (or almost)
It is the jardin Abbe Pierre, opened in 2009, which is supposed to filter StormWater before letting them running directly into the Seine river.
Elevated view point on park and garden has been a common feature of the “jardin à la française“, but the relatively new sunken garden trend offers some attractive features:
- It provides a sense of intimacy, by “removing” you of the rest of the city
- It tends to be away of the street noise propagation pathes
In the case of the abbé Pierre garden, the artificial elevation of the street provides a pretext for the sunken garden…It is a nature garden, designed to filter storm water, and feature a swamp, as well as an insectarium to support the eco-system.
The example also apply a rule of thumb.
- If a space under a structure is not usable, close it to the public!
The Vancouver viaducts
Thought the idea to treat the viaduct as a street is not new, and find some ground at the edge of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaduct, as well as Granville Bridge: Paris could have still one thing or two to teach to Vancouver, especially when come to talk about viaducts on a bigger scale…
Lot of proposal have found inspiration in the promenade plantée (or the New York High Line) including the winning entry 71, in the recent Vancouver viaduct competition, but curiously enough, the unfortunate entry 109 was one of the only one, to consider the viaduct streetwise :
 entry 7titled “make it a street” mentioned the idea but more by raising the rest of the grid to the viaduct level
November 19, 2010
A Future of High-rises and aerial subways are the news of the day for Parisian.
Paris is one of the densest city in the world and is still basically largely free of high rises in its city boundaries. Most of the density is achieved by what North american could call “low rise” and “human scale” architecture.
Paris is a city which has introduced an urban code as soon as 1607, and put then a limit at 16m height on building facade in 1667. The height limit didn’t have varied that much since .
nevertheless, in the 60′s and early 70′s, among other unfortunate urban experiences, some high rises have been introduced with little success, In 1977, the Urban code will close this period by coming back on the traditional height definition.
Nowadays, as basically since 1783, the height limit of a building is mostly defined by the width of the street it relates to, typically a building facade can’t be higher than the width of the street + the equivalent of one or 2 storeys.
Over the year, some addition has been provided like the permitted building envelop, mostly defining the shape of the roof, overall building height limit per neighborhood, as well as, yes, some viewcones in order to protect major Parisian perspectives.
The roof line picture below illustrates eventually the result of the Parisian urban code and its evolution over the centuries.
Under its current mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, Paris has been the city of numerous romantically “bucolic” initiative like the public bike sharing system, Velib, the reintroduction of the streecar, and the closing of an urban freeway on the Seine river bank during summer time, to transform it into a beach (Paris Plage).
…But Paris suffers of a chronicle disease: it is inexorably loosing population, and eventually its current building form, while achieving high density, does it also at the expense of, green space, privacy…all sort of think people tend to value more nowadays than before, and the question for the urbanist has been to address this apriori antagonist issues: how to provide an high density, but still high quality urban environment for Parisians?
When the Streetcar lead to the High rises…
In Paris, like in other place before, the solution is viewed to be lying by building higher to free more space.
In a Parisian historic decision, the city council has adopted on Thursday 17th, some amendments to his urban code, allowing building up to… 180m, and more generally 50m . Albeit in some well specified areas like former industrial yard (typically area similar to the marine gateway one).
It is not without irony, that we can witness the Parisian streetcar leading to highrise neighborhood putting a dent in the widespread north american belief that there is a correlation between building form and transit form, namely streetcars as promoting low to mid rise development 
More interesting, from a Vancouver viewpoint, is to see the argument floated during the debate surrounding the “reintroduction” of high rises into Paris.
On the pro side 
And on the cons side, apparently little talk about the social virtues of “human scale” building, but mostly some rational argument :
and the High density…to the subway…
Not only Paris is welcoming high-rises on its territory, but under the umbrella of the French government, the region is looking at a massive extension plan for its regional subway network, and teams of architects and urbanist have been tasked to provide a proposal. They could have crisscrossed the region with streetcar, but they have choose to extend the subway (mass transit) network.
The Plan above is the fruit of a collaborative work between several architecture and urbanist cabinet.
and when a journalist asks to the the involved architects, the key question :
- does the subways line should be underground or aerial?
Aerial, aerial as much as possible!|
Aerial, the subway should be…because as express the arhitect Duthilleul, with Jean Nouvel team:
“When the aerial subway cross the Seine river, we have a flash of emotion”|
…and this flash of Emotion is what they want to provide to the rider.
In the assessment on the appropriate grade and form of transportation system, the culture couldn’t be so dramatically different of the one we can see in Vancouver .
The Parisian architects take in consideration the transit rider experience… when the North american will see transit mostly by its exterior impact, and eventually under this view, a streetcar will eventually be the more appealing form of it.
Why such a cultural difference?
…because may be in Paris, the architects and urbanists use public transit.
 Julia Bueno
 Paris : des immeubles de grande hauteur dans le 13e (french), Le Moniteur, November 17th, 2010
 Feu vert à Paris pour des tours et des immeubles de grande hauteurAFP, November 17th, 2010
 Le Grand Paris sauvé par les architectes? Sibylle Vincendon, Liberation, November 18th, 2010
 Opinion mostly based on the reading of the Frances Bula blog
 At least, it is the opinion of some individual and group in Vancouver, usually opposed to the rapid transit plan in the Vancouver area, like the BARSTA (Business and resident for sustainable transportation alternatives) as expressed in several correspondences sent to the Metro Vancouver mayors and councils