“Reinvent” (destroy) Paris

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One of the 23 winning proposals in Reinventing Paris. (Mairie de Paris)

Here is the Reinventing Paris video displaying, in quick succession, the 23 finalists for 23 development sites in a contest sponsored by the municipality under Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The text is in French, and I cannot therefore reconcile why it refers to 74 finalists as 23 images flash onscreen. So I add a CityLab/Atlantic piece, “A High-Stakes Competition to ‘Reinvent’ Paris Fails to Impress,” by Feargus O’Sullivan, who concludes that “Paris appears to have totally botched it.” He adds:

They’re mainly standard-issue contemporary boxes with façades effaced by greenery, their bulk lurking behind verdant balconies and green walls of the sort that tend to thrive with greater lushness in renderings than in real life.

Writers at CityLab usually seem to like that sort of thing. Anyhow, a couple of proposals at the beginning of the video seem actually rather nice, but that may be because the image does not truly display the intent of the project.

On Feb. 3, Mary Campbell Gallagher of SOS Paris sent the video to TradArch along with a few choice comments. Her anger is entirely appropriate:

Today the City of Paris opened a huge exhibit of designs submitted in its competition to “Réiventer Paris.” Held in a city museum, the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, the exhibit fulfills the evil promise of its name. The designs on exhibit bear no resemblance whatsoever to Paris. This is the latest in a series of exhibits in which City Hall uses its public museums to persuade the public that blight is beautiful.

Reinvent Paris? The very idea is ridiculous, nay it is vile. I recall a symposium called “Transforming Providence” sponsored by the city’s design elite, most of whom push for more avant-garde buildings in what was and still is city whose traditional fabric remains among the most intact in the nation (if not as intact as that of Paris). The late Buddy Cianci, attending the symposium as mayor, revealed that he was capable of being manipulated, too, when he said Providence does not want to be a “museum.” That is modernist boilerplate rhetoric that actually means “wreck the beauty of the city by inserting more insensitive modern architecture wherever possible.” Slowly, Providence has been following this advice, and it has grown uglier – but too slowly for most people to worry or notice. This is what is likely to happen in Paris, too, if Mayor Hildago has her way.

I will post my two columns from the fall of 2000, “Don’t transform Providence” and “Don’t transform Providence II.”

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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2 Responses to “Reinvent” (destroy) Paris

  1. cissyblue says:

    I think it is human nature to resist the inevitable change. I know it is for me. Guess we have to figure out to better direct it. Not every one has an artist’s heart!

    Like

    • Cissy, so true, but change does not need to be ugly, or to smash people in the face. Even museums change, but usually they maintain a sense of their mission, whereas change in architecture always seem to be predicated on the idea that new buildings be as different as possible from old buildings, even to the point of subverting utility. As true in Providence as in Paris.

      Liked by 1 person

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