Saturday, August 20, 2016

La Défense The Opposite Of Paris

Most of Paris is relatively life size and people friendly.  Below is a view from Montmartre.  Except on the southern edges of Paris the buildings are mostly about five stories or less.


But out west is a sprawling area of of high rises and large sterile plazas called La Défense that are the opposite of what Paris seems otherwise to be.   Where we are staying is close to La Défense and we walked over there our first day.


Here's a huge pond of water with whimsical poles sticking out.  In the background you can see a huge arch (red and white) that mimics in its own way the Arc de Triomphe, which when I turn around, I can see in the distance.  (See picture below).  Where all Paris build like La Defense, such a straight line view would likely have been blocked by sky scrapers.  I would note one clever feature of this pond.  The water flows toward where I'm standing and then there's a flow along the close edge.  I suspected something like that when I saw all the garbage collected in the corner to the right (not in the picture.)  I confirmed this with a man working on the fountain there.

OK, now here's the view when I turned around and you can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.


In The Flâneur, Edmund White writes about some of the Paris neighborhoods on page one quotes a definition of a big city as including tall buildings.  He goes on,
"By that definition Paris is deficient in tall buildings, although President Pompidou had a scheme in the sixties and early seventies to fill Paris with skyscrapers, he succeeded only in marring the historic skyline with the faulty towers of a branch university, Paris VII at Jussieu (which recently closed because it was copiously insulated with asbestos), the appalling Tour Montparnasse - and the bleak wasteland of the office district, La Défense.
La Défense has few apartment dwellers other than Africans and the rootless, whereas the young white middle class for whom it was intended are all off living in the restored Marais district with its exposed beams and period fireplaces.  La Défense went directly from being futuristic to being passé without ever seeming like a normal feature of the present."
Now, that's a pretty sweeping and racist sounding statement, but I've heard echoes of his concern about the anti-Parisian high rise forest from others, without the racist undertones.  So I suspect his main thrust is that the high-rises and broad cement plazas are the problem.

While there are architectural eye-catching buildings, my sense is more that these are examples of architects trying to do something different that the typical rectangular skyscraper.  But they don't succeed in my opinion.  Like this one that looks like it's got a cancer growing inside that's almost bursting at the seams.


Or this one.


















Or this one.    

I suspect I'm just being cranky, reflecting the thoughts of others who know Paris far better than I.  I know nothing about how functional these buildings are.



But is this sweets shop in this massive mall preferable to walking a bit from your house down a people scaled street to a little boulangerie? 










There are some trees, but they are carefully spaced the same distance apart in rows.  Though I suspect if I look at other parts of Paris I'll see the same things.  More trees may eventually make this more human scaled.









This giant sculpture is interesting, but not particularly warm, though I can see kids finding fun in its twists and turns.  But it does look like some sort of huge menacing insect.




Better is this Joan Miro sculpture.  I found a writer praising it for bringing color and life 'in this harsh cold environment' [La Défense].'








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