The Haussmann Chronicles

AN HÔTEL IS NOT AN HOTEL

By David R. Peterson

One of the most familiar Paris images is the broad, tree-lined boulevard lined with crisp, nearly identical buildings with apartments on the upper floors and shops or cafes at the sidewalk. This ensemble, while characterizing much of Paris today, is actually a product of 19th century city planning, spearheaded by Prefect of the Seine Georges-Eugene Haussmann.

But the urban fabric which Haussmann had to work with in the mid-1800s remained locked in the medieval and post-medieval Paris of narrow, winding, sewer-less streets, lined by high buildings casting deep shadows-- conditions which the new boulevards and other improvements were meant to correct. Street conditions before Haussmann were grim compared to today, but Paris had developed a type of house which provided small islands of calm in response to those conditions-- the Parisian "hôtel."

By "hôtel" we are referring not to an inn, but rather the French term for an urban townhouse. The hôtel developed from medieval fortified houses, from a time when a reasonably wealthy townsperson or merchant needed to be able to defend his own home… or at least close it off at night from the street. The medieval city was dense, with narrow streets and open spaces rare. So houses were built with the walls and buildings arranged around the edges of the property, leaving an open space in the middle.

Two examples of this medieval house remain in Paris; the Hôtel de Sens (1475) and the Hôtel de Cluny (1485). Both were exceptionally fine and ornate examples of housing since they were the city residences of the important Bishops of Sens and the Abbots of Cluny. Today they are the Musée de Cluny near the Sorbonne, and the Bibliothèque Forney on rue du Figuier. The middle open space in these buildings served as an entry courtyard, a gated area off the busy street where horses could be dismounted and led away for care, where domestic chores could take place, and so forth. Notably, the Hôtels de Sens and Cluny are both squarely in the Gothic architectural style, with assymetric massing, pointed-arched doors and traceried decorative windows and stonework derived from church architecture.

Because medieval building lots were frequently very deep with narrow frontages along the street (because access to the street was so valuable), property owners utilized the back parts of the lots for vegetable gardens, animals, and so forth. As Italian Renaissance architectural styles gained favor in Paris, the hôtel building type began to take on a more symmetrical form. Through the 1500s to 1700s it was desirable to have a regular, symmetrical open space as the entry court-- usually a rectangle or square, sometimes even an oval.

By the 1600s and 1700s, the prototypical hôtel developed: From the street, one would enter through a gated wall into a courtyard, defined on three sides by a U-shaped building. The central part of the U would generally be larger and taller than the arms of the U, and would contain the living quarters of the owner's family as well as ornate reception and entertaining rooms. The two arms of the U would contain servants' quarters and utilitarian parts of the house. The entry courtyard, though blocked from the street by a high wall and gate, would be ornate enough to impress visitors, and peaceful enough to provide an island of calm from the city.

Ideally, behind the main block of the house would be a large garden. The garden facade would be at least as ornate as the entry courtyard. This would be the real scene of social life… an outdoor room where the wealthy could entertain as though the hôtel were actually a country residence. Some spectacular examples of something approaching these ideals are the Hôtel de Sully (1624) between the Place des Vosges and rue St. Antoine, the Hôtel Sale (1660) at 5 rue de Thorigny (now housing the Musée Picasso), or the Hôtel de Soubise (1712) at 60 rue des Francs-Bourgeois.

In reality, tight conditions, odd lot sizes, or reduced budgets resulted in a wide variety of hôtels throughout Paris. In general, the entry courtyard made the greatest impression and offered the best opportunity for a private open space, so every effort was made to maximize and regularize it. Sometimes, besides the front entry court and the back garden court, there are additional side courtyards which would have been work spaces to care for the horses, perform outdoor work, and so forth.

Sometimes the entry courtyard became so large that there was not much left over for the building-- the Hôtel Liberal-Bruant (home of the Musée de la Serrure) has a false facade on a side arm of the entry courtyard-although a false facade was actually reasonably common and considered an appropriate measure to ensure symmetry of the design. Sometimes the front wall separating the courtyard from the street was not a high wall but thickened to actually include rooms, perhaps two or even three stories of rooms, such as at the Hôtel St. Aignan (1650, now the Musée du Judaïsme) at 71 rue du Temple, or the Hôtel de Beauvais (1647, currently under restoration) at 68 rue Francois-Miron, where the front "gate" wall has become indistinguishable from the adjoining buildings and the sense of a U-shaped building behind it is lost.

Hôtels of all sizes are surprisingly common in Paris, once you know how to recognize them, but are especially visible in the Marais. Many have been subdivided into apartments or offices over the years, but the peaceful entry court, and sometimes garden courtyards, remain to offer a respite from the masses teeming in the streets.

Next time: Part II, the teeming masses of Paris leave the crowded medieval streets to stroll Haussmann's wide and spacious boulevards.

HAUSSMANN REDESIGNS PARIS

 

Georges-Eugene Haussmann, as Prefect of the Seine until 1870, had nearly unlimited power to rework Paris. And, he had the enthusiastic support of Napoleon III. The big picture was to make the city more livable and to use the latest technology wherever possible.

As the 19th century opened, Paris had had little opportunity to recover from the trauma of the Revolution a few decades before. After the difficult first years following the events of 1793, France (and Paris at the heart of it) underwent a number of ups and downs… the First Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte (1804-15), the confusing return of Napoleon from exile, the Bourbons restored to monarchy under Louis XVIII (1821-24) and Charles X 1824-30), then the collapse of that house and the establishment of King Louis-Phillipe
(1830-48), until he was overthrown. Finally, in the Second Republic under
Louis-Napoleon (later known as Emperor Napoleon III), the 1850s through 1860s saw a period of calm during which there was an explosion of private and public construction projects.

It was also during this time that the Industrial Revolution, which had long been underway in England, caught up in France. Marked by the growth of machinery, factories, and mass-produced goods, it caused an enormous number of people to move from agricultural work in the countryside to look for jobs in the city. Paris, although still not as large as London, in the 1830s was by far the largest city in France with a population of 900,000. The next largest cities, Lyon and Marseille, had just over 100,000. Paris still had an air of the Middle Ages; dark winding streets, narrow passages, a lack of sanitation and lighting, and few open park spaces. The flood of people only made things worse.

Most famous perhaps of Haussmann's accomplishments are the spacious boulevards which ring central Paris. The wide, landscaped streets were designed to link existing major monuments with new important structures (such as the new train stations which were springing up in response to the popular new form of transportation), to allow rapid movement through the city-- and, not coincidentally --were wide enough that an unruly citizenry would have a hard time building barricades across them (as they had not so long before). The main areas of his activity concerned the Louvre, the Tuileries, the approaches to the Hôtel de Ville, the Rue de Rivoli, the area around the Opéra, the avenues leading up to Place de l'Etoile, the Cité and the Grands Boulevards… in all 150km of new roads

The boulevards could rarely be designed as perfectly straight thoroughfares… the ideal, as that would provide an impressive prospect across the city and give a sense of the grandeur of the new city. As often as possible they were made up of straight segments. Sometimes, buildings were constructed specifically to provide a "node" at the intersection of several of these grand straight streets-- for example, the church of St. Augustin. The Most famous of all of Haussmann's building-centerpieces was, of course, the Opéra, from which an entire neighborhood expands.

That was another important aspect of the new boulevards-- to open up new areas for residential development and to help relieve the densely populated medieval fabric of the central city. To do so, however, Haussmann demolished slums and displaced thousands of people… a controversial cost today, although barely mentioned at the time. Following the new residential development came shops, parks, libraries, schools, churches, and so forth-- the necessary elements that make up neighborhoods.

Under Haussmann, the Bois des Vincennes and the Bois des Bologne were made public parks, and a whole network of small neighborhood parks was initiated. The Les Halles central market was built and the Ile de la Cité was cleared of most of its medieval buildings, including those in front of Notre Dame, and replaced with the Palais de Justice and other government buildings.

Not the least important in the new development was the subtle conveniences which are crucial to a working city. A new storm-sewer system was built under the city streets and drained into the Seine. Gas lighting was installed to light the previously dark and dangerous streets. Aqueducts brought new sources of fresh water to the city. And perhaps most interesting, the regularization and installation of street furniture and fixtures (light poles, benches, tree plantings and tree grates, kiosks, and so forth) which provided a reassuring level of quality and familiarity throughout Paris no matter which boulevard one might choose to stroll.

Parisians and visitors alike took to the new tree-lined boulevards and open spaces with glee. Men and women strolled and paraded in their finery… seeing and being seen. They window-shopped at stores now loaded with peacetime, industrial-revolution consumer goods, visited the gigantic new department stores Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, the Opera, parks, and the many diversions now available to the enormous urban population.

They frequently lived, not in row houses as in London or in the country homes of the very wealthy, but in the new, enormous, dignified and nearly identical apartment buildings. These, Haussmann arranged to line and define his new boulevards. Though the apartment buildings were designed by private developers, not the city, to a certain extent their designs were regulated by the city and were an important part in regularizing Paris.

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS HAUSSMANN ARCHITECTURE

Imagine, if you will, unending narrow winding streets… they are unlit and very dark… there is horse manure and stagnant, filthy, choleric water all over the narrow road… the stench is horrible but there is no fresh breeze because the buildings are too tight along the street… the neighborhood is so completely packed with people that the noise and passers-by press in upon you… This was the reality of Paris in the early 1800s.

The basic fabric of Paris, then, was buildings hundreds of years old. Apartment buildings were developed as early as the 17th century, but did not become popular and widespread until the late 18th century. "Ancien regime" lodgings for the average Parisian were basic-- ground floor occupants would have a kitchen, while other tenants would adapt as many rooms on as many floors as they could afford for their purposes, cobbling together spaces and often sharing with others. Most buildings were only one or two rooms wide. By the 19th century, the average Parisian was thrilled that the new apartment buildings had rooms appropriate to their function, and all on one floor-- bedrooms for sleeping, kitchens for cooking, larger rooms for living and entertaining, and even hallways for bypassing other rooms.

From the time of the Revolution until the early 1800s under Napoleon I, not much housing was built… there was too much political and economic instability. Between 1800 and 1850 the population of Paris more than doubled, from 500,000 to over 1,000,000. Haussmann's improvements to Paris included huge numbers of housing units in apartment buildings lining his new boulevards. But most of this was aimed at the middle class-- the bourgeoisie -- which had been growing as a result of the industrial revolution. Housing was desperately needed by the poor, but they were generally left to their own resources. The wealthy always had adequate housing.

Haussmann, as Prefect of the Seine, in 17 years of rapid development threw down wide tree-lined boulevards throughout Paris; linking major sites with transportation hubs, cutting open old crowded neighborhoods by building avenues in the eastern part of the city, and creating new fashionable neighborhoods by building avenues in the west. At the same time, he installed sorely needed civic infrastructure for fresh water, sewage removal, lighting, parks, and so forth.

His broad boulevards lined with huge apartment buildings were like linear parks in themselves, and became centers of Paris shopping (shops on the ground floor), socializing (a generous sidewalk in front), and living (five to seven floors of flats above). Because Haussmann created the conditions for this explosion of apartment building in a few short years, these buildings are frequently called "Haussmann buildings"-- not due to his design, but simply as shorthand for a large attractive 1860's building on a classic Parisian boulevard.

Haussmann relied on the marketplace and private developers and builders, rather than public money, to build the apartment buildings lining his avenues. Through his actions an enormous amount of land was made available for developers. Generally speaking, buildings that appeared on Haussmann's streets, though differing, were visually unified. City planners consulted with private builders to encourage matching neighborhoods. In fact, it was in the developer's interest to follow a stock formula. While the buildings may seem ornate to us now, most of these basically "classical" facades are relatively conservative and were designed so as not likely to offend taste in a heavily competitive market.

The buildings along the Rue de Rivoli, designed and completed under another urban improvement scheme prior to Haussmann's time, were often seen as a general template for the rest of the city: a high ground-floor with shops (in the case of rue de Rivoli, there was an arcade-- but this was not copied later as pavement came to replace dirt roads and walks) -- then an "entresol" for use by the shopkeepers, usually as storage or living space; next, two or three stories of apartments separated by horizontal bands of limestone and wrought iron balconies; then another row of windows above the cornice and in the curve or slope of the mansard roof; topped off with another row of dormer windows high at the crest of the roof.

The quarter immediately around the Opéra is similar, though not exactly, but the horizontal character of the blocks remain. By unifying and (in a strange way) simplifying the "background" buildings of the city, the new centerpiece buildings (Gare du Nord, the Opéra, St. Trinite, et al.) at the termini of his boulevards would be set off to greater effect.

In the development of apartment buildings around the Opéra, deeds required the buyers [at 1,000 francs per square meter lots] to construct blocks of apartments-- with all façades on the Avenue itself -- to be ready in time for the opening of the Exposition in May 1878. Instead of preparing a model design for the façades, the City simply wrote into the deeds of the sale that all buildings on the Avenue should be of the maximum height authorized by the bylaws, and that the principal horizontal lines in each block should coincide, ensuring that all the windows would be at the same level. Balconies were obligatory.

Building façades were at times managed to an extreme. Pilasters on façades could not be more than 40 centimeters… in depth. Balconies required official approval, and even so could not project more than 80 centimeters. Corbelling was strictly prohibited, and so on. Heights of buildings were controlled as well, but landlords were free to build airless and crowded tenements behind the new fronts. Haussmann's new streets and buildings were often façades imperfectly concealing an older and denser urban fabric of alleys and courtyards still containing workshops and cheap lodgings.

Haussmann's boulevards and the apartment buildings that line them are an integral and iconic image of Paris. And of course, remain an important source of housing today. As the city has continued to grow, the flats for one middle-class family with a servant have frequently been divided into many smaller apartments to satisfy the ever increasing need for living space in the city.

While Haussmann did not architecturally design his namesake buildings himself, it is his overall plan for Paris that allows many of us today to enjoy the pleasures of strolling the boulevards and admiring, if not living in, a "Haussmannian building."

Editor's Note: David Peterson is an architect and architectural historian in Seattle, Washington. Having taught architectural history at the University of Washington, he now works for a Seattle firm and as a hobby conducts architectural tours of Paris through tour operator SkyVue Paris Adventures (http://www.skyvue.com)

, the 1850s through 1860s saw a period of calm during which there was an explosion of private and public construction projects.

It was also during this time that the Industrial Revolution, which had long been underway in England, caught up in France. Marked by the growth of machinery, factories, and mass-produced goods, it caused an enormous number of people to move from agricultural work in the countryside to look for jobs in the city. Paris, although still not as large as London, in the 1830s was by far the largest city in France with a population of 900,000. The next largest cities, Lyon and Marseille, had just over 100,000. Paris still had an air of the Middle Ages; dark winding streets, narrow passages, a lack of sanitation and lighting, and few open park spaces. The flood of people only made things worse.

Most famous perhaps of Haussmann's accomplishments are the spacious boulevards which ring central Paris. The wide, landscaped streets were designed to link existing major monuments with new important structures (such as the new train stations which were springing up in response to the popular new form of transportation), to allow rapid movement through the city-- and, not coincidentally --were wide enough that an unruly citizenry would have a hard time building barricades across them (as they had not so long before). The main areas of his activity concerned the Louvre, the Tuileries, the approaches to the Hôtel de Ville, the Rue de Rivoli, the area around the Opéra, the avenues leading up to Place de l'Etoile, the Cité and the Grands Boulevards… in all 150km of new roads

The boulevards could rarely be designed as perfectly straight thoroughfares… the ideal, as that would provide an impressive prospect across the city and give a sense of the grandeur of the new city. As often as possible they were made up of straight segments. Sometimes, buildings were constructed specifically to provide a "node" at the intersection of several of these grand straight streets-- for example, the church of St. Augustin. The Most famous of all of Haussmann's building-centerpieces was, of course, the Opéra, from which an entire neighborhood expands.

That was another important aspect of the new boulevards-- to open up new areas for residential development and to help relieve the densely populated medieval fabric of the central city. To do so, however, Haussmann demolished slums and displaced thousands of people… a controversial cost today, although barely mentioned at the time. Following the new residential development came shops, parks, libraries, schools, churches, and so forth-- the necessary elements that make up neighborhoods.

Under Haussmann, the Bois des Vincennes and the Bois des Bologne were made public parks, and a whole network of small neighborhood parks was initiated. The Les Halles central market was built and the Ile de la Cité was cleared of most of its medieval buildings, including those in front of Notre Dame, and replaced with the Palais de Justice and other government buildings.

Not the least important in the new development was the subtle conveniences which are crucial to a working city. A new storm-sewer system was built under the city streets and drained into the Seine. Gas lighting was installed to light the previously dark and dangerous streets. Aqueducts brought new sources of fresh water to the city. And perhaps most interesting, the regularization and installation of street furniture and fixtures (light poles, benches, tree plantings and tree grates, kiosks, and so forth) which provided a reassuring level of quality and familiarity throughout Paris no matter which boulevard one might choose to stroll.

Parisians and visitors alike took to the new tree-lined boulevards and open spaces with glee. Men and women strolled and paraded in their finery… seeing and being seen. They window-shopped at stores now loaded with peacetime, industrial-revolution consumer goods, visited the gigantic new department stores Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, the Opera, parks, and the many diversions now available to the enormous urban population.

They frequently lived, not in row houses as in London or in the country homes of the very wealthy, but in the new, enormous, dignified and nearly identical apartment buildings. These, Haussmann arranged to line and define his new boulevards. Though the apartment buildings were designed by private developers, not the city, to a certain extent their designs were regulated by the city and were an important part in regularizing Paris.

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS HAUSSMANN ARCHITECTURE

Imagine, if you will, unending narrow winding streets… they are unlit and very dark… there is horse manure and stagnant, filthy, choleric water all over the narrow road… the stench is horrible but there is no fresh breeze because the buildings are too tight along the street… the neighborhood is so completely packed with people that the noise and passers-by press in upon you… This was the reality of Paris in the early 1800s.

The basic fabric of Paris, then, was buildings hundreds of years old. Apartment buildings were developed as early as the 17th century, but did not become popular and widespread until the late 18th century. "Ancien regime" lodgings for the average Parisian were basic-- ground floor occupants would have a kitchen, while other tenants would adapt as many rooms on as many floors as they could afford for their purposes, cobbling together spaces and often sharing with others. Most buildings were only one or two rooms wide. By the 19th century, the average Parisian was thrilled that the new apartment buildings had rooms appropriate to their function, and all on one floor-- bedrooms for sleeping, kitchens for cooking, larger rooms for living and entertaining, and even hallways for bypassing other rooms.

From the time of the Revolution until the early 1800s under Napoleon I, not much housing was built… there was too much political and economic instability. Between 1800 and 1850 the population of Paris more than doubled, from 500,000 to over 1,000,000. Haussmann's improvements to Paris included huge numbers of housing units in apartment buildings lining his new boulevards. But most of this was aimed at the middle class-- the bourgeoisie -- which had been growing as a result of the industrial revolution. Housing was desperately needed by the poor, but they were generally left to their own resources. The wealthy always had adequate housing.

Haussmann, as Prefect of the Seine, in 17 years of rapid development threw down wide tree-lined boulevards throughout Paris; linking major sites with transportation hubs, cutting open old crowded neighborhoods by building avenues in the eastern part of the city, and creating new fashionable neighborhoods by building avenues in the west. At the same time, he installed sorely needed civic infrastructure for fresh water, sewage removal, lighting, parks, and so forth.

His broad boulevards lined with huge apartment buildings were like linear parks in themselves, and became centers of Paris shopping (shops on the ground floor), socializing (a generous sidewalk in front), and living (five to seven floors of flats above). Because Haussmann created the conditions for this explosion of apartment building in a few short years, these buildings are frequently called "Haussmann buildings"-- not due to his design, but simply as shorthand for a large attractive 1860's building on a classic Parisian boulevard.

Haussmann relied on the marketplace and private developers and builders, rather than public money, to build the apartment buildings lining his avenues. Through his actions an enormous amount of land was made available for developers. Generally speaking, buildings that appeared on Haussmann's streets, though differing, were visually unified. City planners consulted with private builders to encourage matching neighborhoods. In fact, it was in the developer's interest to follow a stock formula. While the buildings may seem ornate to us now, most of these basically "classical" facades are relatively conservative and were designed so as not likely to offend taste in a heavily competitive market.

The buildings along the Rue de Rivoli, designed and completed under another urban improvement scheme prior to Haussmann's time, were often seen as a general template for the rest of the city: a high ground-floor with shops (in the case of rue de Rivoli, there was an arcade-- but this was not copied later as pavement came to replace dirt roads and walks) -- then an "entresol" for use by the shopkeepers, usually as storage or living space; next, two or three stories of apartments separated by horizontal bands of limestone and wrought iron balconies; then another row of windows above the cornice and in the curve or slope of the mansard roof; topped off with another row of dormer windows high at the crest of the roof.

The quarter immediately around the Opéra is similar, though not exactly, but the horizontal character of the blocks remain. By unifying and (in a strange way) simplifying the "background" buildings of the city, the new centerpiece buildings (Gare du Nord, the Opéra, St. Trinite, et al.) at the termini of his boulevards would be set off to greater effect.

In the development of apartment buildings around the Opéra, deeds required the buyers [at 1,000 francs per square meter lots] to construct blocks of apartments-- with all façades on the Avenue itself -- to be ready in time for the opening of the Exposition in May 1878. Instead of preparing a model design for the façades, the City simply wrote into the deeds of the sale that all buildings on the Avenue should be of the maximum height authorized by the bylaws, and that the principal horizontal lines in each block should coincide, ensuring that all the windows would be at the same level. Balconies were obligatory.

Building façades were at times managed to an extreme. Pilasters on façades could not be more than 40 centimeters… in depth. Balconies required official approval, and even so could not project more than 80 centimeters. Corbelling was strictly prohibited, and so on. Heights of buildings were controlled as well, but landlords were free to build airless and crowded tenements behind the new fronts. Haussmann's new streets and buildings were often façades imperfectly concealing an older and denser urban fabric of alleys and courtyards still containing workshops and cheap lodgings.

Haussmann's boulevards and the apartment buildings that line them are an integral and iconic image of Paris. And of course, remain an important source of housing today. As the city has continued to grow, the flats for one middle-class family with a servant have frequently been divided into many smaller apartments to satisfy the ever increasing need for living space in the city.

While Haussmann did not architecturally design his namesake buildings himself, it is his overall plan for Paris that allows many of us today to enjoy the pleasures of strolling the boulevards and admiring, if not living in, a "Haussmannian building."

Editor's Note: David Peterson is an architect and architectural historian in Seattle, Washington. Having taught architectural history at the University of Washington, he now works for a Seattle firm and as a hobby conducts architectural tours of Paris through tour operator SkyVue Paris Adventures (http://www.skyvue.com)