Monday, January 23, 2012

Paris Transformations. . .

 Back in November, my photos of graffiti in Paris' Belleville neighbourhood elicited mixed reaction. To put these scenes in a fuller context, I wanted to come back and give you an idea of the gentrification that seems to be slowly transforming this area, an area that has historically been much more affordable, supporting many, many immigrants, particularly African ones.
Recently, its reasonable rents have made it attractive to artists and young people -- Petite Anglaise blogged about it and then turned that blogging into a book; Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris captures the street scenes and markets beautifully.

But as the artists move in, along with the upwardly mobile youngsters, the cool factor rises, and construction sites replace old with new. . .

And some of the new will, yes, offer social housing, as the sign below announces proudly. . .

 but historic buildings and tiny alleyways are "condemned because of the construction/works," -- as we found to our disappointment when the walk we'd been trying to trace was dead-ended by this affiche.
Still, as sad I am to see less fortunate inhabitants being pushed aside and heritage areas lost to "progress," I fell in love with this building several blocks away. We're always struck by the vibrancy of London's skyline, its moving-forward chaotic energy which can make Paris' prettiness, albeit well-loved by both of us, a bit safe, a lot conservative. . .  But check this out. . .
I love the way those pastel & concrete-coloured slices engage with the grey geometries in the foreground.
This building, by architect Freédéric Borel, has been here since 1999, and it strikes me as meeting a need for new housing in a manner that completely reinterprets, yet respects, Paris' aesthetics. . . after all, it's still beautiful, non?
Haussmann, of course, didn't leave his stamp out here in the 20th. The streets are free from that imposing regularity that gives much of Paris its comforting, uniform beauty. But I think these lines, the interactions of colour (and with the sky -- glorious!) the lightness of the glass chatting with the heavier concrete, are quite lovely in their own way.

As you can see, we had to circle the block to get images from different directions -- you can see why. I had to follow that orange-red box.
Look how it beckons from a distance!
A different Paris, perhaps, than we generally see, but a vibrant and engaging part of the city. It took us until our 9th visit to finally get up that hill, but we'll try to get back there this spring (about which, more later . . .)

What do you think? If you've been to Paris, have you made it up to Belleville/Menilmontant? Did you like? If not, do these photos challenge your ideas of what Paris looks like? In a good way? Or . . . ?


  1. I haven't been to that neighborhood but do very much admire the Borel building pictured here -- love good modern design, embrace progress. The issue affordable housing will always be with us -- planning that makes room for both the less fortunate and the upwardly mobile makes the most sense.

  2. I've not been to that arrondissement but find much to admire in this post. The past is gone and while much must be preserved, the people living in the here and now need housing, and opportunity for expression. The slices of modernity juxtaposed against the old are a striking witness to civilization's fluidity.

    I prefer the old but recognize the need for change. And I wonder sometimes how this era will be remembered in the future.

  3. Do you know Steward Brand's book, "How Buildings Learn?" If not, you would enjoy it. He shows the transition over time. Belleville is familiar to me, a friend's daughter has an apt. there. I like the area, which changes rapidly yet still feels old and local.

  4. The Borel building is very interesting--what is housed in it?

  5. Thank you Mater, I always love seeing photo's of Paris. In my 5 visits I have not been to this area, maybe next time? It looks vibrant and interesting (great graffiti shot!) Can't wait to hear more about your upcoming trip! With 1 daughter in University and the other 2 years away, Paris will probably have to wait a few years for me :(

  6. Susan: Yes -- I know I enjoy my own home better when I know others are adequately housed.
    Lorrie: Exactly -- "civilization's fluidity" -- so often, the architecture of the past that we have come to love was seen as new, ugly, and intrusive in its beginning. Striking a balance is the challenge.
    Duchesse: I've been bumping up against that title (just reading Ken Greenberg's Walking Home, about your last, beloved city of Toronto) and will have to get a copy. We loved the day we spent in Belleville (and the friends we met -- Algerien-Parisiens who bought me a Kir Royale!). Will def. head back there this year.
    Terri: Residential apartments, apparently -- I love to imagine one being mine . . .
    Diane: Ah yes, we've done those years of getting the kids through school. And now we're taking advantage of the window before old age sets in to spend their inheritance! ;-)


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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