What makes cities great? Streets, public spaces, and architecture physically express its residents’ values, belief systems, lifestyles, and self-expression through the arts. Lifestyle is expressed through our work, how we act, spend our leisure time, and follow social patterns.
“An Eye on Paris” focuses on observing daily life and on some new outstanding works of architecture, public spaces, and some museums (there are about 130 in the city) less notorious than the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.
The French honor the time dedicated to eating. Sitting around the table for a meal is sacred in French culture. People are always concerned about the quality of their food ingredients. That is why they are loyal to their local farmers’ market and tend to do most of their shopping there.
Cafés in Paris have always served as social spaces, the classic Parisian meeting place to relax or refresh. During the summer, outdoor terraces are packed with people.
Paris has many outdoor events. In this documentary, we captured some of the yearly Day of Music and one of the many places offered to dance by the Seine, in this case, at the Quai Saint-Bernard.
We studied three parks: the Park de Bercy, the Park de la Villette, and the Promenade Plantée.
PARC DE BERCY
Designed by architects Bernard Huet, Madeleine Ferrand, Jean-Pierre Feugas, and Bernard Leroy, and by landscapers Ian Le Caisne and Philippe Raguin, the park is made of three gardens connected by footbridges: The “Romantic Garden,” which includes fishponds and dunes; The “Flowerbeds,” dedicated to planting life; and “The Meadows,” an area of open lawns shaded by tall trees.In the north-east of the park stands the Cinémathèque Française (the former American Center) designed by Frank Gehry, and on the raised terraces are the 21 sculptures of Rachid Khimoune’s “Children of the World” installation, created in 2001 to honor children’s rights. The park is adjacent to a major sports arena, the Palais Omnisports, with a sitting capacity of 20,000.
PARC DE LA VILLETTE
The Parc de la Villette is a 37-acre/55 hectares area that houses one of Paris’ largest concentrations of cultural venues. These include the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (City of Science and Industry, Europe’s largest science museum), three major concert venues, and the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris.
The park was designed by architect Bernard Tschumi in partnership with Colin Fournier on the site of the huge Parisian abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and the national wholesale meat market. He conceived thirty-five architectural “follies” to give a sense of orientation to the visitors. In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily as an ornament but suggesting through its appearance some other purpose.
Since the creation of the park, museums, concert halls, and theatres have been designed by several noted contemporary architects. These include the City of Science and Industry, La Géode (an IMAX theatre inside of a 36-meter/118 ft diameter geodesic dome;) The City of Music, designed by Christian de Portzamparc, which opened in 1995 and it also includes a museum of historical musical instruments with a concert hall, also home of the Conservatoire de Paris. The Philharmonie de Paris opened in January 2015, designed by Jean Nouvel.
The Promenade Plantée is an extensive green belt that follows the old Vincennes railway line. Beginning just east of the Opéra Bastille with the elevated Viaduc des Arts, it follows a 4.7 km (2.9 mi) path to the Bois de Vincennes. At its west end, near the Bastille, the parkway rises above the surrounding area and forms the Viaduc des Arts, over a line of shops featuring arts and crafts.
The design was created by landscape architect Jacques Vergely and architect Philippe Mathieux. The Viaduc des Arts was designed by architect Patrik Berger, who also designed the recently completed Canopy of Les Halles. The project includes different types of gardens, it traverses existing buildings, and it crosses boulevards. Twenty years after its construction, the Promenade Plantée inspired the successful High Line in New York.
THE LOUIS VUITTON FOUNDATION BUILDING
The Louis Vuitton Foundation building was designed by Frank Gehry. It is a museum and cultural center like no other one. This unique 11,000 square-meter monument of 21st-century architecture was conceived as an iceberg surrounded by glass that takes the form of a sailboat’s sails inflated by the wind. The structure of the glass roof allows the building to collect and reuse rainwater and improves its geothermal power.
THE FOUNDATION JÉRÔME SEYDOUX-PATHÉ
You can walk along Avenue de Gobelins and not notice a hidden gem of architecture designed by Renzo Piano. The clever use of the site includes a main entrance on a restored and preserved facade along the Avenue des Gobelins which features sculptures by Auguste Rodin.
The Foundation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé is dedicated to preserving the history of the French film company Pathè and to promoting cinematography. It houses its archives and the foundation’s offices. It is located in the courtyard of a 19th-century block that includes a complex of historical Hausmann-era buildings. The 839 m2 headquarters is located in Paris’ 13th arrondissement. Its construction was completed in September 2014. The site’s major limits determined the peculiar design, which looks like a greenhouse.
NEW PALAIS DE JUSTICE – COURTHOUSE
The new Courthouse, located on the northern edge of Paris, is 160 meters high, has an internal area of around 100,000 m2, and accommodates up to 8,000 people per day. The complex reunites 90 courtrooms and about 1,300 offices under one roof. In developing the scheme, Renzo Piano sought to reduce the apparent scale of the building by breaking it down into four volumes of decreasing size. They include three roof terraces with 500 trees and other vegetation. From an environmental standpoint, the project employs a range of strategies including the use of natural ventilation, the incorporation of photovoltaic panels on the façade, and the collection of rainwater.
THE CANOPY OF LES HALLES
The long-awaited cultural center and metro station were created by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti on the site of a historic Paris marketplace. The design at Les Halles is known as the Canopy due to its enormous umbrella-like glass roof, which comprises 18,000 pieces of glass supported by 7,000 tons of steel.
The completed Canopy and the center below replace a deeply unpopular concrete shopping complex — nicknamed “the hole of Les Halles” — which was built in the place of the market’s original 19th-century glass and iron buildings designed by architect Victor Baltard. They were demolished in the 1970s in an act many critics have described as cultural vandalism.
The creation of a humane urban quality does not depend only on the quality of a city’s buildings. The design quality of open public spaces, way beyond landscape architecture, is critical. It demands imaginative long-term thinking accompanied by a political vision and will.