July 22, 2013

Memo from Paris: New Builds

The largest new project in Paris is the totally transformed riverbank expressway on the Left Bank, radically changing the urban landscape along the banks of the Seine, which are collectively a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dense auto traffic on the 1970s expressway, on the lower quay at river level, has been swept away in a single stroke, replaced by the Berges de Seine, a nearly one-and-a-half-mile promenade between the Pont Royal and Pont de l’Alma bridges. Reserved for pedestrians and cyclists—and sure to be the joy of joggers—the newly opened Banks include rustic solid wood-beam benches; snack shops, cafés and bars; tables with imprinted game boards for chess and backgammon; garden nooks, picnic areas and a climbing wall for kids. Unlike the Right Bank’s much-copied Paris Plage, which morphs into sand beaches for one month each summer, the Berges de Seine are meant to be permanent, despite ongoing opposition from outraged motorists.

A smaller change to an equally iconic site, the Louvre’s new Islamic Arts department, under its undulating, translucent gold canopy, was unveiled last September. Restricted to what they called “a pocket handkerchief” space in the open-air Visconti courtyard, whose 18th-century facades could not be touched, architects Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini built a free-standing glass pavilion above a vast basement-floor gallery with anthracite-gray walls and polished, brass-flecked floors. The €100 million addition provides some 30,000 square feet of space for the 2000 works on show.

Another undulating golden-glass canopy, by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti, will cover their new 7,350 square meter (79,000 sq.ft.) commercial center and library, above the new Métro/RER-station at Les Halles, facing out onto 10 1/2 acres of new gardens designed by David Mangin of SEURA Architectes Urbanistes. The interminable saga of Les Halles might finally end by 2014, or 2016. Or not, since there are more lawsuits in view.

Also long stalled by budget problems, Jean Nouvel’s new Philharmonie de Paris, originally promised for 2012, is back on track—at $505 million, nearly double the original cost estimate—and now slated to open in 2014. Set in the Parc de la Villette, on the city’s northern edge in the 19th arrondissement, adjacent to the Cité de la Musique and the National Music and Dance Conservatory, Nouvel’s futuristic Philharmonic is an imposing complex in angled layers of silvery cast aluminum. It will house a 2,400-seat concert hall with swirling curved balconies surrounding the orchestra platform, along with an educational wing, rehearsal halls, recording studios, restaurants, bars and shops. The permanent home of the Orchestre de Paris, it will also host visiting orchestras, chamber groups, jazz and other musical performances.

Schools are also on the agenda, with colorful facades and a decidedly eco-conscious green outlook. Nearing completion in time to open for the new school year in September, architects Sonia Cortesse and Bernard Dufournet’s Ecole Louise-Michel in the Parisian suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux is constructed with solid wood beams and walls, and insulated by some 6,000 bales of straw, each 14 inches thick.

Salwa and Selma Mikou, the sister act behind Mikou Design Studio, completed an educational double header on Paris’s outer rim last September. Meanwhile, the Jean Lurçat High School and Gymnasium, in Saint-Denis, is a series of linked blocks with brightly colored, corrugated stainless steel cladding, looking much like a row of Scandinavian village houses arranged in a slight curve, with planted patios and an undulating folded-metal roof that creates a microclimate in the terraced gardens. The scientific and technical high school adjoins a sports park in a neighborhood of low-rise housing.

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