No. 131 . 22 January 2003 
ArchitectureWeek
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Livability Paris Style

by Sidra Stich

Breaking away from the modern mistakes of mass urbanization and heirs to a vast classical architectural tradition, the French are perhaps well placed to tackle the challenges facing the city and to invent a habitable, livable world, in short, a human one. — Frédéric Edelmann, Le Monde, 2001

This is a good assessment of the enormous urban renewal and "new city" projects that were begun in and around Paris during the last decades of the 20th century. Designed in revolt against the highrise housing and office blocks constructed during the 1960s and 70s, they were conceived as environments for the 21st century.

The current redevelopment is focused on the periphery of Paris. Bounded by noisy, multilaned ring roads, these have long existed as blighted, impoverished zones plagued by old, neglected housing, a paltry infrastructure, and abandoned factories. The most extensive renewal projects exemplify rigorous planning and mixed-use development shaped by human sensibilities.

Bastille-Oberkampf

Near the Place de la Bastille, for instance, is a 1994 housing project by architect Frédéric Borel. This is a boldly unconventional building, one of 30 projects initiated by the Minister of Postal and Telecommunication Services in 1989, that inventively merge post offices with subsidized apartments for postal employees.

Rather than construct yet another solid structure with a storefront bordering the sidewalk, Borel cut an opening through the street section of his building, placed the public zone (the post office) back within the passageway and created an interior courtyard as a "richly varied spectacle."   >>>

 
This article is excerpted from art-SITES Paris copyright © 2002 by Sidra Stich, with permission from art-SITES Press.

 

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