Saturday, June 11, 2016

Le ventre de Paris, redux

The neighborhood at Les Halles is undergoing another transformation. Since the historic Paris market was moved from the center of the city to the suburbs in the late 1960s, the neighborhood has seen a couple of transformations. For more than a decade after the move, the city center was a huge construction site. I remember it being called le trou des Halles (I'm tempted to translate that as "the Halles hole") referring to the massive excavation needed to build new transit transfer stations, underground automobile bypasses, and the underground shopping mall called Le Forum des Halles.

Looking west, across the Forum, toward the dome of the Bourse de Commerce. The church of St.-Eustache is on the right. Those yellow/gray/green construction buildings and fences will eventually go away.

When I arrived in Paris for the first time in 1981, the neighborhood was still walled off with construction going on everywhere, even though the train stations were operating and the Forum was open for business. Back then, navigating the place on foot was a challenge, to say the least.

Looks like an eye and eyebrow.

During the 1980s, after the construction was completed around the Forum, more underground amenities (including a public swimming pool) were added and the expansive street-level gardens were completed to fill in the space between the Forum and the Bourse de Commerce to the west. The gardens were very nice and became a gathering place for Parisians and tourists alike. The neighborhood's transformation was finally complete.

Looking east, across the Forum shopping center, the view out toward the Beaubourg quarter is restored.

Except that it wasn't. In the early 2000s, the city decided that something wasn't working and called for a complete redevelopment of the quarter. I have to admit that the 1970s stylized architecture was not aging well, and its layout didn't do a very good job of accommodating pedestrians or giving them a feeling for the space as a whole and how it connected, or not, to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The steel and glass structure of the canopy meets that of the surrounding building.

A competition was held, a winner selected, and demolition and reconstruction began in 2010. This year (2016), the first phase of the project was dedicated. The renovated access to the large underground transit center (three suburban lines and five métro lines converge there) was opened, the Forum renovation is nearing completion, and the huge ground-level building with its signature canopy over the shopping center was opened.

There's still a lot of construction going on. This is from a viewing platform over what will become part of the renovated gardens.

The construction continues as the gardens are renovated and connections to the city are reestablished around the site's perimeter. I took some photos around and inside the canopy. There is still evidence of construction and final touches that need to be made, but I think the pedestrian experience has been greatly improved. I found myself able to read the space better, with visual perspectives that helped me orient myself with the surrounding neighborhood; many visual barriers seem to have been successfully eliminated.

Looking west again, you can almost feel the weight of the canopy over your head.

It will be interesting to see it all done, whenever that happens, and to see how people start to use the space. I'd also like to see it at night. I like the canopy concept in general, but at times it did feel a little oppressive as it dips downward in the center, almost as if it is trying to push pedestrians down into the darkness of the Forum rather than trying to guide them back up into the light of the city (why do I feel like I'm back in architecture school?).

Sorry to include so many photos in one post, but I think I need to get this trip underway. The posts from the Panthéon to this one at Les Halles were from just the first few hours of my trip. The next day I flew from Paris to Montréal.


  1. I find that sweeping canopy brilliant. And I think they satisfied all the goals of the project for openness and access. My only disappointment is that once inside, it's just like a big American mall. I don't know what I was expecting. In any case, you got some excellent shots of this impressive place.

  2. Wonderful perspective of the constant construction zone.... It will be neat to see it on my next visit. I am catching up after a few days, and, as usual, am enjoying Paris through your lens.

  3. Most interesting. I haven't been to Paris since 1990, though visited it regularly in the '80s when it was my favourite city of all those many that I knew, and hope that it still would be. Les Halles was withing spitting distance of my regular, small, comfortable hotel and so became a standard feature of my visits. At that time it had some superb cinemas, which I hope are still there and thriving. Yet a further reason for wanting to re-visit (as though I really needed a further reason!)

  4. The '70s did produce some very people unfriendly city spaces that didn't connect to anything else. So great to see what has followed. (And, of course, exceptional photos!)

  5. I want to see this someday! Thanks for including all of the photos which are excellent btw.

  6. Walt
    Thank you very much for the perspectives from the inside /within the forum .Would be interesting to see the whole renovated or reconstructed area when everything is completed - hopefully during our next visit. Have to give it to the French architects - they are very good with metal and glass. Saw a whole program on the megastadiums ( or megastadia) this evening on the new ones being built for Euro2016 as well as the renovated ones.

  7. wow! very neat architecture.

  8. stuart, it's a dramatic space, for sure. Much better than what was there before, IMHO.

    christine, do you have another visit planned yet?

    raybeard, there are cinemas in the underground center that were built in '90s, but I don't know the fate of those that were in the neighborhoods.

    mitch, yes, I remember some of those 1970s disasters. A number of them have been reversed, thankfully, and people have started coming back to smaller and mid-sized cities.

    evelyn, I sure hope that you do!

    t.b., I saw something about that program, but haven't seen it yet.

    michael, and no graffiti... yet.


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