Re-envisioning Paris

“We need to rethink the city. To look further and deeper. To do everything possible to make our cities better to live in, more attractive, more sustainable, more human…time to begin a major effort of reflection, time to revitalize our thinking about cities, so that our modern landscapes should no longer be a simple residue of human activity, but the considered product of policies agreed by all, responsive to all” -Nicolas Sarkozy


Seine Metropolis (above), Antoine Grumbach & Associates.  “Most of the great international cities are ports, generally situated at the mouths of rivers. Globalisation is largely driven by maritime transport. To reduce the handicap of Paris’ inland location, this team opens the capital to the sea via Rouen and Le Havre. Its growth becomes linear rather than radial-concentric.  The creation of a metropolis with the Seine as its axis makes use of a remarkable landscape feature, fringed with significant forested slopes. With its industrial know-how and its geography, the valley would facilitate the development of green energy. The farmlands contribute to food self-sufficiency in the villages, where people would move from the city. This project calls for a different conception of mobility, combining river, rail and road.”

The Le Grand Pari de l’agglomération parisienne (or “The Great Paris Conurbation Wager”) was an international urban design competition and exhibition (2008-2009) created by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.  10 multidisciplinary teams led by architects and urban designers were invited to participate with the intention of redefining the structure of the city through proposing  new metropolitan-scaled urban strategies. The larger objective of the competition was to broaden the debate on the future of Paris and to foster solutions to the problems of the city by exploring methods and models beyond the city’s existing urban planning.

imagerogers_7a50cThe Compact Connected City (above), Rogers Stirk  Harbour and Partners, “The Greater Paris sketched here is an exemplary city, with a small ecological footprint, which guarantees accessibility, employment, housing, mobility, beauty, … for all.  A city in which the heart no longer sucks in all the resources, but shares them. Its skeleton is made up of large-scale armatures: its axial routes follow the underused footprint of the existing railway lines, impenetrable scars at the heart of the cities, which are reoccupied and transformed into genuine infrastructures. Below ground, the entrails of the water conveyance and sewage networks, sustainable version; on the surface, a skin of green corridors, leisure parks, green travel routes, with a light traffic of electric cars… They link Paris to urban centres in the inner ring, densified nodes with mixed, reversible housing and economic development zones connected by a new belt of public transport services. Further out, a greenbelt zone limits the expansion of the city while protecting its natural reserves.”

What seems noteworthy of the competition is (1) the diverse range of visions and ideas produced and (2) the sheer scope and ambition of the brief and (3) the progressive nature of the French government in seeking out holistic, flexible urban strategies from an international collection of high-profile designers.  They asked for real design vision as a springboard for ideas, rather than creating yet another city 2040 or 2050 planning plan full of pronouncements and goals.  The French president’s remarks on the results of competition are also remarkable:

“The diametric opposite of utopianism, profoundly rooted in the reality of the metropolitan soil, these ten scenarios on the city show us what paths we need to follow to re-establish links, iron out inequalities, amplify dynamics, and to rediscover the communion of the city and of nature by exploiting strengths of which we are no longer even aware…they give us a lesson in wisdom and humility: whether the city of the future is compact or diffuse, dense or porous, it must above all be open and flexible. We need to treat the city not as a technical space, a collection of “zones” to be manipulated, but as an organic system, a fabric that must remain sufficiently malleable to adapt to our needs and to match our dreams.

The competion was structured by two programs: The 21st-century post-Kyoto metropolis and the Diagnostic forecast for the Paris conurbation.  The post Kyoto metropolis focused on the reduction of greenhouse gases and efforts to foster a more sustainable Paris.  The second stage of the diagnostic forecast for the Paris conurbation asked what is the scale of the city–how big should the city be?


Paris More Small [CAPA-City] (above), MVRDV.  MVRDV generated another datascape for the competition based on its “City Calculator” software, and similar to its other excursions into capacity managed to shrink Paris down to 30 sq km: This strategy is based on a tool, the “city-calculator”, which compares the performances of the world’s big cities. The total score (economics, pollution, accessibility, unemployment, quality of life, energy production, etc.) of the Paris metropolis could be improved by concentrating its qualities within a more compact area. The approach is to continue the much appreciated Haussmannian fabric by recreating large north-south and east-west axes to the periphery, while finishing the roofing of the Périphérique and building new overhead metro lines. The demand for housing is met by reoccupying available spaces in existing built-up areas, by increasing density in detached housing districts and by adding one or two stories to apartment buildings. Greater Paris achieves energy autonomy by exploiting the flow of the Seine, covering roofs with photovoltaic panels and creating a new landscape of wind turbines on the outskirts of the city. The conversion to a sustainable city also entails reforestation of the land, in particular the environmentally poor areas around Roissy airport.

For more information see citechaillot (most information is in French.  An upcoming publication may have more information)

(all above images and text courtesy citechaillot)

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