Pare de la Villette Paris France a deconstructed park design 197997

The Pare de la Villette has a complex development history. In 1979, the Etablissement Public du Pare de la Villette (EPPV) initiated the development and design process that resulted in the park. The goal, along with that of a number of other contemporary projects, was to make Paris once more the art centre of the world. The specific objectives were:

1 to create a product of international note,

2 to build a national museum of science and technology,

3 to create an urban 'cultural' park.

The site was 55 hectares (136 acres) of semi-abandoned industrial land in the northeast corner ofParis. It included a major slaughterhouse and a cattle hall/ sales yard.

A canal divides the site into two and another borders much of the site on the west.

The design of the park occurred in two phases: (1) an international design competition was held in 1982 and the winner announced in March 1983, and (2) the project was further refined by pragmatic changes by the winning team. The French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, announced the Concours International Parc de La Villette in 1982. The programme included a large museum of science and industry, a cité of music, a major hall for exhibitions, and a rock concert hall as well as the park. It required two existing structures on the site to be reused. The park was to reflect 'urban-ism, pleasure and experimentation' and was to achieve a unity in its architecture and landscape. The hope was that the development would be a bridge between city and suburb, and act as a 'gateway' to Paris from the east. This design agenda was a pure act of will of the French government rather than one based on a market study. It was developed under the strong influence of the then President of France, Giscard d'Estaing. He had chosen Adrein Fainsilber from amongst 27 French architects to convert the Grande Salle into a science museum.

The competition for the park attracted 472 entries from 41 countries. The team headed by Bernard Tschumi won the competition (see Figure 5.17a). He was then appointed head of the project team to implement it. In 1984, a closed competition for the Music Centre and for four housing schemes on the north side of the park was held (Baljon, 1995). The construction of the park began in 1985 and can be said to have been completed in 1997. The design was conceived so that it could evolve as construction progressed and changes are still occasionally being made. Its 'finished' state is shown in Figure 5.17c.

The design has attracted considerable attention because it was associated with a design ideology derived from contemporary literary analysis. It consists of three largely independent systems superimposed on each other. The first is a series of points at the intersections of a 120-metre (390-foot) grid, eight squares to the north and south and five squares east to west. At the intersections are a series of follies, their structural envelope covered by bright red-enamelled steel sheets (see Figure 5.18a). Tschumi designed them all. The second system consists of a set of lines. These are the paths of pedestrian movement organized in two interconnected systems. One consists of cross axes of covered galleries, and the second of a meandering

'cinematic' promenade presenting a sequential series of vistas and enclosures. The third system consists of the surfaces of the park. In addition, alleys of trees link the major activity sites of the park. The surface materials, grass and paving, were chosen to best afford the activities that were expected to take place in different locations.

The follies are 10.8-metre (36-foot) cubes 'divided three dimensionally into 12-foot cubes forming "cases" '. These cases according to Tschumi 'can be decomposed into fragments ... or extended through the addition of other elements' (Tschumi, 1987). Certain gardens on the 'cinematic promenade' were allocated to other architects to design. Each garden had, however, to be designed within the framework established by Tschumi.

The park contains of a mix of facilities. The Cité des Sciences, a science and technology museum, is housed in what was the largest of the old Villette's slaughterhouses (see Figure 5.18b). It is 40 metres (133 feet) high and stretches over 3 hectares (7 acres). Adrien Fainsilber (with Peter Rice and Martin Francis) had three major concerns in creating his design: water should surround the building, vegetation should penetrate the greenhouses, and light the cupola. The park also contains La Géode, a giant entertainment sphere with a high hemispherical screen, the Grande Halle, an old cattle shed converted into exhibition space, the Cité de la Musique, l'Argonauts, a navigation museum with a submarine parked outside it, and the Zenith Theatre. The theatre is a polyester tent designed for audiences of 6000 attending pop-music concerts.

During the summer, the Parc attracts as many as 15,000 people a day; during the winter it has about 3000 visitors each day. The French government has achieved its goal. The park attracts international acclaim

and, more importantly, attention. The acclaim that the park has received is based on its intellectual aesthetic ideology as a work of art and its intellectual under-pinning. It has been embraced by the architectural cognoscenti and has been extraordinarily widely published. The ideology has been proven to be difficult to transfer to urban developments. Any such plans, and there are a number of them, have remained on paper. In many ways the Parc de la Villette is indeed an urban design project combining landscape architectural and architectural features into a unified whole.

Major references

Baljon, Lodewijk (1995). Designing Parks. Amsterdam: Architecture and Nature Press.

Benjamin, Andrew (1988). Deconstruction and art/the art of deconstruction. In Christopher Norris and Andrew Benjamin, eds., What Is Deconstruction? New York: St. Martin's Press, 33-56.

Broadbent, Geoffrey (1990). Parc de la Villette. In Emerging Concepts of Urban Space Design. London: Van Nostrand Reinhold (International), 316-9.

Tschumi, Bernard (1987). Cinegramme Folie: le Parc de la Villette. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

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