Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Cranes are Flying!

From day one, we have always been knocked out by the views from our flat. The venerable Église St-Eustache is our closest landmark, with the round dome of Le Panthéon, across the River Seine over in the 5th arrondissement, the furthest.

In between, we also see very clearly the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the tower of the Tour St. Jacques. No matter the season or the hour of day, our eyes are always drawn to the windows and these Parisian icons.

Now, they have been joined by other shapes -- the flying cranes that for the past two years have been bisecting the sky at all times and in all weathers as they work on one of the biggest urban renewal programs in years: the remaking of the Forum des Halles.

Since the 12th century, this site -- in the very centre of the city -- was home to street markets, just rough stalls at first, small shops succeeding them and then, in the 19th century, the stunning series of Baltard Pavilions that housed the sprawling market for a hundred years or more. With traffic congestion in the 1960s, the markets moved out to Rungis, and the city administration made the decision to tear down the pavilions (two were saved; one may be found outside Paris, the other one is in Japan!), create a new underground rail system (the RER), and build a giant shopping mall with cinemas and a swimming pool, also underground, with open space at the surface.

To say that the new building was unpopular is a vast understatement. Just about everyone hated it and began immediately figuring out how they could tear it down. Finally in 2002, the Mairie de Paris undertook to "redevelop" the 4 hectare site. That's almost 10 acres in the very heart of the city! The estimated cost four years ago was 809 million euros.

When we got here last year, the cranes had taken up residence and demolition was in full swing, smashing all that sixties concrete and hauling it away. 

The entire site had been fenced off, rows of "temporary" office blocks had been installed, creating a city within a city.

This year, once the skies cleared a bit and we could venture outside without turning into blocks of ice, we walked down rue Montorgeuil to check on progress.

The outside walls are now covered with artist renderings of the main design, showing a swoopy canopy roof covering the entrance to the underground complex and a portion of the extensive landscaped gardens, planned for the surface level.

And, sure enough, at the rue Lescot end, there's the beginning of that swoopy roof that will extend out and become the canopy. The scope and scale of it all is astonishing.

At the other end of the complex, by the Bourse de Commerce, all is still chaos and rubble, with some elements of the old gardens still there, but eventually, this too will be cleared, new gardens will be planted, a children's playground will be installed and, if we are to believe the posters, the area will be transformed!

And not just above ground. The multi-level underground shopping mall will have a vast open entrance that will allow light and air to spill down to the nether regions, where currently people scurry along dim hallways lined with shops. Supposedly, St. Eustache will be visible from the third level underground! There will be more cultural facilities and a revamped transportation centre.

Indeed, when it is completed, it could well become the "oasis in the midst of a city" as the brochures describe it and as the posters on the construction site depict. It is scheduled to be completed in 2016 and we will be following its progress all the way!

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, little Miss Toots turned one year old ten days ago. How that year flew by.
She celebrated by eating Hedgehog Cake...

...wrestling with her Mum (who made the cake)...

...and posing formally with Papa.

Happy Birthday, Clio!

À Bientôt!

1 comment:

  1. Wow hope it all looks as amazing as they promise once all the work is done. Clio is so cute x