Many years ago I marveled at the Art Deco building that houses La Samaritaine department store along the Seine. And I recall eating at the café behind the giant letters on top. That end of the building will survive, at least for a while. At the other end, however, a ruling to allow a tragic desecration of the famous rue de Rivoli has just been made by France’s highest court.
“Court Approves Modern Building in Heart of Paris,” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal. The headline should send shivers up the spine of all who love Paris. The ruling overturned a court order halting construction of the modernist design by SANAA, and a later one upholding that ruling on appeal. It offers a precedent that could over time wreck the beauty of the City of Light – if Parisians sit back and do nothing.
Most cities have already allowed modern architecture to wreck their beauty, doing nothing until it is too late. The evaporation of aesthetic charm proceeds slowly, until it is gone before it can be stopped. Paris, like Venice, Rome and a very small number of other cities, has expressed a more sensitive survival instinct, passing laws to slow this process. But Paris has stumbled, and it remains to be seen whether she will fall.
Our Paris correspondent, Mary Campbell Gallagher, of SOS Paris, has sent out a dire alarum. “Seven stories tall, made of undulating glass, without doors or windows, and at 265 feet long as long as a New York City block, this bizarre structure will be as alien as a spaceship in historic central Paris.”
“We’ll always have Paris,” Bogart told Bergman. Maybe. Maybe not.
To the battlements indeed!