A walk in the park

Today, (or, to be exact, yesterday, since I’m writing this on Sunday) a trip up the the XIXe arrondisement to visit a park and the just-opened concert hall.


The Parc Buttes-Chaumont is one the nicest parks in the city. The site was originally a gypsum quarry until it was turned into a park under Napoleon III.


Unlike the level, geometrically laid-out gardens of the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Palace, Buttes-Chaumont has a more natural arrangement with dramatic elevation changes. At the bottom of the park—quite literally, it’s 30 m below the higher section—is a small lake with an island towering above it.


The park is situated in the highest part of the city, which makes for some nice views of the Paris skyline. Unfortunately skylines always come out a bit underwhelming in photos, but you can make out Sacre Coeur and Montmartre in the distance (which still offers better, less obstructed views of the city than this park). But overall, a beautiful park to walk around, or run laps around if that’s your thing.


A disused railway line cuts through the east end of the park. At the far end, where the rail lines go underneath the intersection demarcating the north east corner of the park, were what appeared to be a group of SDFs (sans domicile fixe, the french euphemism for bum). Some of them were standing around a barrel with a fire in it. Which, given that it wasn’t all that cold, maybe 10°, and the almost embarrassingly cliché aspect of the the whole scene makes me half suspect that the city was paying them to be there to provide some faux-authentic grittiness.

Anyways, enough about the park.

Paris opened it’s new Philharmonie this past week, though not without controversy. The whole project was over budget by a factor of about three—eventually costing somewhere in the vicinity of €350 million—it was a few years behind schedule, and the architect threw a tantrum, wrote a bitter article about how the project was rushed, and refused to attend to opening last Wednesday.

It will come as no surprise to you that the thing is ugly as hell.



On the architectural renderings at least, the building sometimes looks light and reflective. Up close, you can see how the effect is achieved, or supposed to be, with a complicated multi-toned grey pattern. In real-life and from a moderate distance it just looks grim, like something inspired by the aesthetics of a crumbling concrete overpass.


At least in the summer, the trees will have leaves. The website has the usual modern architectural twaddle about the building and le dialogue avec le parc. Which perhaps suggests the problem. Maybe our elites, the people who commission and design public buildings, really have no idea what a building is for. The proles might tell you they exist to provide space to house particular functions and that being nice to look at doesn’t hurt. But to someone high on the noxious fumes of self-regarding theoretical bullshit, perhaps the idea that a building should engage in dialog makes sense. Who knows? But if we’re going to go with that metaphor, I’d like to think it’s not so much having a conversation with the park as it is shouting abuse at it.

At any rate, so ends the first chapter of my time in Paris. Next week it’s off to Quebec to go skiing, then a week of family vacation somewhere warm and sunny, followed by eight weeks of exile in the US of A. Maybe in three weeks I’ll have some brilliant photography and scintillating commentary on the Sunsphere, which, like the Eiffel tower, was built for a World Fair.