The Dressing on a Paris Wound
After five years of construction, the “Canopée des Halles” has opened to the public. Once the central marketplace for Paris, it was demolished in 1971 and replaced with the Forum des Halles, a modern shopping mall built underground and directly connected to a massive RER and Métro hub. Mayor Anne Hidalgo called the district of Les Halles a “wound” needing “dressing” to “heal.” Past mayor of the city Bertrand Delanoë once called it the worst urban planning disaster in the history of the city, and Émile Zola called it “Le Ventre de Paris” — or the “Belly of Paris” — in his novel set in the 19th-century marketplace.
The Canopy is the name given the new glass structure designed by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti made of 18,000 sand-colored glass panes spanning 96 meters with a height of 56 meters. The wings of the structure offer up 6,000 square meters of cultural facilities and water cascades from the roof over walkways leading to the lower spaces. It was inaugurated yesterday as the new symbol of the district and opened to the public.
Within the structure is now a 1,400 square meter hip-hop cultural center called “La Place” with recording studio, two rooms of 400 and 100 seats, open to dance, graffiti, fashion and a business incubator related to ‘movement.’ There are 150 stores and two new brasseries by Alain Ducasse and Philippe Starck. Studio and rehearsal rooms for artistic associations adjoin a library. In addition there is a 2,600 square meter conservatory with 27 music rooms, three ballrooms and a dining area. Meanwhile the shopping center is almost completely renovated with 75,000 square meters of retail space, of which 15,000 were newly created spacious walkways with accented ceilings, LED lighting and a light marble floor to add more light.
Underground is the largest station in Europe hosting 750,000 passengers daily through Châtelet-Les Halles station, with three RER lines and five Métro lines.
Some 300,000 people pass every day in the neighborhood, half of which frequent the mall. It is scheduled to be completed in 2018 once the work on the station is complete and the final ‘delivery’ of the garden designed by David Mangin.
Once all is said and done, the results of an improved district will be all telling in the form of increased values of adjacent property. Those who for years have said they wouldn’t want to live near Les Halles may be eating their words. Of course, the project does not come without controversy. What would any new structure in Paris be without criticism?! It’s been called “massive, ugly and yellowish” and even a “ruinous project” considering its annual maintenance budget of 450,000€ and a cost of a billion euros. One neighborhood association wrote “This is a horror and even worse, it cost a fortune.” The Pyramide du Louvre and the Centre Pompidou have been called even worse names!
Pay no attention to the naysayers and go see for yourself. I intend to stroll over there today and make my own judgment call!
Special note: Watch a fascinating Hyper-Lapse Film called “Bonjour Paris” by Tyler Fairbank who spent two weeks in Paris this past summer exploring the city and capturing many of the touristy things to do.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
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