Paris cries out for your help

Rue de Rivoli, at risk in Paris. (petit-construction.fr)

Rue de Rivoli, at risk in Paris. (petit-construction.fr)

Michael Mehaffy has sent an SOS to all lovers of Paris. Write, if only one line, to the judges who will rule soon on an appeal of a stop-work order against a developer who is trashing his own building, La Samaritaine, the famous department store on the rue de Rivoli. A petition from 500 modern architects and their supporters worldwide has been delivered to the court. SOS Paris and other organizations dedicated to saving the City of Light are working hard to counteract it, but they need support.

Michael says of this battle: “I think this could be a major turning point in the struggle between classical and modernist architecture, and on a major international stage against a high-profile client (LVMH, grouping Louis Vuitton and other deluxe labels, and belonging to the richest man in France).”

Here, with email addresses below that will ensure your words will be received by the judges, is the letter that I just wrote, called “We’ll Always Have Paris. Maybe”:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

To the gentlemen and gentlewomen of the court in Paris:

I am not an architect but I am a lover of Paris who venerates its architecture, and the sense of place, the spirit of humanity, that traditional architecture offers in ever fewer places around the world.

But the disappearance of the Paris I love, that we all love, is not being enacted at one fell swoop by a Corbusier, who would mow down entire swaths of the city at once and replace them with environments that have the poorest track record possible at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of people who live in, work in and visit cities. The attack on Paris is, rather, a slow, trench-by-trench battle of the rich and the cognoscenti against the public.

With the project on the rue de Rivoli, Paris continues to retreat. Again, it is a slow retreat.  There is no sense of immediate danger. You can only see it here and there. In most places it does not seem to be happening. If this slow drip of modern architecture continues, we will have lost Paris before anyone realizes. A tipping point will be reached, oh so quietly. The beauty of Paris will be gone before anyone can do anything about it.

“We’ll always have Paris,” said Rick to Ilsa. Maybe. Maybe not.

When Paris has lost that ineffable charm that is Paris, the destroyers will make sure it cannot be rebuilt, and the wealthy will jet off to their next victim to be enjoyed until it, too, slowly bites the dust. Paris offers delight to all, regardless of income. It must be saved.

The project of its destruction is merely a jobs program for the 500 who signed the petition supporting demolition of pre-Haussmann sections of Paris. Shame on them!

I do not pretend to know the laws of Paris or of France, but the laws of humanity, of beauty and of nature petition you to stop this assault on Paris. The court has already ruled with wisdom and propriety in this case. It should defend its own good work.

As goes Paris, so goes the world. Once that would have been an extremely happy thought. Today, I’m not so sure. You have it in your hands to decide, s’il vous plait!

Merci, beaucoup!

David Brussat

dbrussat@gmail.com
ArchitectureHereAndThere.com

sos.paris@orange.fr
jan@wyers.org

Segments of the Samaritaine have already been demolished - for what is at the right.

Segments of the Samaritaine have already been demolished – for what is at the right.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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