Urban Mutation in Paris:
Birth of a Shiny New Quarter
A lone banker on his cellphone in the glass bridge between buildings.
Anyone who remembers Boulevard Macdonald as it was a few years ago might want to pay a visit now – the derelict zone around the enormous 1970s Macdonald warehouse in Paris’s 19th arrondissement is being transformed into a shiny new quarter called Rosa Parks/Macdonald.
This is part of the 200-hectare Paris Nord Est urban-regeneration project, bigger than the whole of Paris’s first arrondissement. This traditionally industrial area, crisscrossed
The area as it was, with, to the left, the former car pound on top of the Macdonald warehouse.
by major infrastructure like canals and railway lines and edged by the Boulevard Périphérique (the ring road around Paris), is being restructured. Some of the important ideas behind this enormous project can be seen coming to life on Boulevard Macdonald.
The Macdonald warehouse, with an imposing façade more than 600 meters long, has been rethought by superstar architect Rem Koolhaas’s firm OMA. The building acts
The Macdonald warehouse reconversion in progress. Below: visualisation of the completed building by night.
as an almost continuous base facing the boulevard, above which new structures are being added onto the roof, where in the past you might have gone to recover your car from the pound.
Different segments of the building, designed by a mix of French and international architects, have different uses, adding diversity to the street frontage. When this €240-million mixed development is finished in the near future, it will house over 1,000 new apartments, primary and high schools, a gymnasium, a nursery school, offices, startups, supermarkets and shops. The building’s website describes the warehouse as “une tour couchée,” – roughly translated, “a horizontal skyscraper.”
Across the street is the recently finished ZAC (zone d’aménagement concerté) Claude Bernard, a development zone of nearly 15 hectares sandwiched between the boulevard and the Périphérique. Again, “mix” is the keyword, meaning a combination of office buildings, housing and facilities, but also, as in the previous project, a social mix encouraged by high proportions of low-cost housing.
Activity along the boulevard is already being generated by the 14-screen UGC cinema, shops and the bar/restaurant Cock Art (reviewed recently on Paris Update). This compact, high-density development has a particularly striking feature that attracts the eye: three different office buildings occupied by BNP Parisbas have been “stitched” together with glass bridges. A lone banker silhouetted against the sky (pictured above) talking on his cellphone created an unexpected moment of urban poetry during a recent visit.
More rural in nature is the first narrow sliver of the Forêt Linéaire (Linear Forest) to be
Above: the Forêt Linéaire as originally planned (image: Agence Ter). Below: the first phase as it looks today.
completed. The idea is to help integrate the city and its infrastructure with a continuous line of trees forming an ecological corridor along the Péripherique. The landscape architecture firm Arpentère has designed the first hectare of a planned 24. Two thousand trees have been planted, representing different stages of forest development. Their growth can be measured with the help of a sculpture of giant surveyors’ poles, while funky piles of old tree trunks from the Bois de Boulogne provide homes for insects and animals as they do in mature forests, and walls of gabions (rock-filled cages) enclose areas inaccessible to the public to protect the wildlife.
Desénclavement or “opening up,” is a key concept in this part of Paris, which has been cut off and inaccessible for so long. Crucial to the success of these projects is the T3 tram, inaugurated at the end of 2012, which runs in front of the Macdonald warehouse. A new tram/train interchange named after Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who fought against racial segregation in transport, will open toward the end of 2015 and is expected to serve 85,000 travelers a day. And a footbridge linking the ZAC Claude Bernard with new developments on the other side of the Périphérique is now being built, with another to the north crossing a branch of the canal.
So much transformation is happening in this part of the city that in a decade it may be impossible to remember that it was once a bit rough around the edges. Go and have a look at the fascinating process of urban mutation while you still can.
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