Berlinski: Sacking of Paris

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Paris along the Seine, with skyscrapers outside the Peripherique. (Traveler Corner)

Claire Berlinski’s masterful summary of the sad situation in Paris is out in the latest City Journal under the title, “The Architectural Sacking of Paris.” I am looking also for Joe Queenan’s no doubt hilarious essay “London Beats Paris in the Tower Olympics,” but that is, alas, 1) behind the Wall Street Journal paywall and 2) from way back in 2012. I include the link in case some readers are WSJ subscribers. (If so, maybe someone will, bless you, cut-and-past a copy to me. Thank you in advance.)

Berlinski’s article was sorely depressing in its description of the 2014 mayoral race that pitted Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who opposed the gargantuan Tour Triangle project, against Socialist Anne Hidalgo, who wants to “rupture” Paris from its past and make it into another London, towers and all. Berlinski writes that the race was “notable for its cattiness.”

Polls show that 62 percent of Parisians oppose skyscrapers in their town, but the woman they should have supported lost. Berlinski, who lives in Paris, does not dwell on that, but also does not suggest that much in the way of mass protests or class-action suits are in the offing to try to sway Hidalgo from her Vandal-like plans.

A while back, my deep source on all things Parisian, Mary Campbell Gallagher, president of the International Coalition for the Preservation of Paris, wrote about a suit brought by lawyers against plans to move French legal agencies from the Isle de Paris into a proposed skyscraper. And in fact, SOS Paris (another group she is linked to) sued in October to stop the Triangle, and other organizations are seeking referenda on the skyscraper issue. She sent Berlinski’s piece to me via the TradArch list-serv, adding, “I hope the tide is turning.”

Who cannot harbor such a fond hope? But the future is dicey.

The past, however, is described in depth by Berlinski, who informs readers of the city’s roots as a Roman outpost (though that makes it sound like a stockade) up to the changes made by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the city prefect under Napoleon III, and, more recently, the sordid history of the modernist assault on Parisian beauty. As Belinski points out, apologists for the tragedy now unfolding there like to assert that Haussmann brought “rupture” to Paris, too, but they neglect the fact that his style of rupture was productive, not destructive, of beauty.

The question is not whether Paris can prevent change – it “can’t remain pickled in aspic,” writes Berlinski, and should not want to – but why French architects think change and beauty are mutually exclusive. Haussmann proved that this need not be so.

Berlinski’s long essay seems never to end, but is so full of insight that at its conclusion we wish it never would.

[I expect shortly a note of update from MCG, delightfully written if not necessarily filled with delightful news. But one can hope! …  Good news! MCG did indeed almost immediately send an update of anti-skyscraper activities, which I’ve incorporated above.]

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, 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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1 Response to Berlinski: Sacking of Paris

  1. Pingback: Ha ha ha ha! Seriously? | Architecture Here and There

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