LES HALLES DISTRICT
LOCATION Paris, France
DESIGNERS Antonio Monestiroli, Paolo Rizzatto
TEAM Joseph Campanella, Elisabeth Hammond, Cristina Manzoni, Joy Siegel, Jeffrey Stark
The theme of the Paris competition is an exceptional one on which it is possible to measure the culture of the modern city from a twofold point of view: on the one hand as a civil will to build new public places in the city, and on the other hand as the ability to define a typology of such places or at least general principles on which to base research for their architectural definition. Also for this theme as for many others there are few references in modern architectural culture and many in the ancient city. However, even the reference to the ancient city is complex; in fact, among the city squares of history it is necessary to distinguish: the square as an artifact of which the progenitor is the agora or forum, which is transformed into the market squares of the medieval city and the commercial squares of the nineteenth-century city; the square linked to a public building and its particular function; and the square untied from any civil or religious function and built as a system of formal representation.
“In the latter case, the square is built on a hegemonic function over the others: that of being the place of the viewpoints of the urban elements that delimit it. The earliest examples of this way of understanding squares are the royal squares of Paris, which from the earliest experiences have an exclusively formal role. They are given no function other than to be the enclosure of the King’s statue. They conform to the model of the enclosed court of the Louvre at the center of which is placed the statue of the King of France. Within the dense and minute fabric of Gothic Paris, royal squares take on the role of open places built at the center of a part of the city and with the task of identifying it. These squares often conform to the characters of the place: a crossroads, the proximity of a monument, the river, etc. Patte’s plan interprets Laugier’s theory of the city as forest by identifying a system of monumental places, the royal squares precisely, in which residence is configured and represented in different ways but according to a similar principle: the construction of a unified and formally accomplished place. Thus a system of courtyard-plazas is created in the city of large dimensions that become the distinctive forms of citizens’ places. The nineteenth-century city still assumes this principle, albeit through the issue of traffic nodes: the convergence of several streets at a single point requires an appropriate architectural solution. That of defining the place as a perspective place in which the streets themselves are depicted within the square is assumed. A system analogous to the scenic apparatus of the Renaissance theater that transports the architecture of the city to the stage. The city itself becomes a theatrical place. The compositional principle is that of representation, at certain points on the ground, of urban elements. Thus, there are two reasons for the architecture of squares in the historic city: the functional reason, namely the definition of a collective function in an urban place-civil, religious institutions, fairs, markets, etc. – and the representative intent whereby the open space is no longer tied to a particular function but becomes a place where the city represents itself. In many cases such a place also loses its common name; it is no longer called a square but takes on different names such as wide, field, meadow, etc. These two reasons, functional and representative, are often assumed synthetically. In these cases, the presence or absence of a civic function is no longer decisive: the representative intent is prevalent, as seen in the famous tables of Renaissance squares. Public buildings are placed in an open space that is not so much built to fit their function but contains and represents them as urban facts to be experienced. The only example in the modern city that takes this formal principle as the content of the square theme is the design for Alexander Platz in Berlin by Mies van der Rohe. The uniqueness of this example is perhaps due to the modern movement’s particular research on housing. To the definition of residential neighborhoods as units enclosed within themselves in which the theme of open spaces is played out within the neighborhood and takes on a particular scale, sometimes domestic and never generally urban as is the case in the historic city. Only in the recent experience of the new cities of northern Europe does the theme arise again, however it is almost always carried out in its strictly functional sense (these are almost always commercial squares) with results that are all in all disappointing and incongruous with those achieved in the history of the city. The Halles area follows the usual process of central areas in large cities when a large public building is demolished: the use of the area as a green area. This choice is undoubtedly common sense in a high-density urban context. The green area required by the call for proposals (4 hectares) poses the problem of defining its surroundings, which reiterates the general theme of the square or generally of free spaces. The principle assumed is to construct a free space as a place determined by the co-presence of two elements: the public buildings and the existing residential system. The architectural problem becomes one of establishing the form of the place that represents these elements by establishing a hierarchical order between them. The first question we have posed is that of the boundaries of the area. Since this is located in the center of a quadrilateral bounded by four traffic roads (Rue du Louvre, Rue Etienne Marcel, Boulevard Sébastopol, Rue de Rivoli) we decided to take the entire quadrila-tero as the area of intervention. The dimensions of this area are 500 x 600 m such as to suggest the reduction of traffic within it to local or even pedestrian traffic. This is an indication contained in the large-scale urban blocks of Le Corbusier, Hilberseimer, May, who propose residential islands with their own formal complexity that identifies them. This is also a general principle of traffic rationalization that allows us to define “urban islands” in historic centers that can take on their own distinct formal identity. A rationalization principle that can become a city-building principle. For this reason, we have extended the area of intervention from Rue du Louvre to Boulevard Sébastopol by proposing the demolition of two blocks adjacent to the Bourse de Commerce and four residential blocks dividing the Halles area from Boulevard Sébastopol. This results in the area being sandwiched between two major traffic axes. The first choice for the general arrangement of the elements in the area was to place the new auditorium, called for in the call for bids, symmetrically with respect to the Commerce Exchange building, on the other side of the green area, thus establishing the dominant character of the open space. The new public building as well as the stock exchange, freed from adjacent buildings, is laid on the lawn near a main road and establishes the relationship between the entire open space and the road itself on one side, just as the stock exchange establishes it on the other. Analysis of the historical formation of the area allows us to establish how within the quadrilateral chosen and determined by Haussmann’s layouts the two parts to the north and south have always had clearly distinct characters. The area to the north is characterized by the convergence of two diagonal streets, Rue Montmartre of the old fabric and Rue Turbigo of the Haussmann layout, which join on the apse of the St Eustache church, thus constructing a particular place in the fabric. The area to the south, on the other hand, is determined by a series of streets parallel to Pont Neuf and the east-west trend of one of the most beautiful streets in old Paris, Rue St Honoré, which continues into Rue de la Ferronnerie where an old residential building in a line separates it from the Place des Innocents, the memory of the formerly founded Hospital des Innocents. On the eastern side of the area, parallel to Boulevard Sébastopol finally is Rue St Denis along which many Gothic houses of the old urban fabric face each other as well as on Rue St Honoré. These elements of the historic city were taken as the main data of the project with the aim of understanding them within a new formal system in which they could have maximum prominence. The subsequent choices were different. To build the twin towers (the hotel required by the call for bids) oriented according to the diagonals of Rue Montmartre and Rue Turbigo and placed astride the axis of symmetry of Rue Montmartre to mark its point of departure and arrival. The two towers, made of iron and glass, are placed next to the St Eustache church whose lantern height they echo, re-proposing a formal relationship, church-towers, historically customary. Recompose Rue St Honoré and the Place des Innocents with the reconstruction of the missing block by constructing buildings in a line parallel to the course of Pont Neuf. This direction coincides with the helio-thermal axis. The direction of these buildings allows a visual relationship between Rue St Honoré and the green space in the center of the project. This distribution in addition to being a suitable solution to the specific problem intends to refer to a choice peculiar to the modern movement, that of taking the course of the sun as the main reference for the arrangement of houses on the ground. This choice is even more evident within the nineteenth-century fabric in which housing has an entirely different logic of construction by high-density blocks. The intention is to construct with this system of parallel houses a monumental piece that stands as a whole as an element of the city’s architecture. The six parallel houses define the edge of the new Piazza degli Innocenti, which is thus restored to the original dimensions of the old hospital. The main choices of the project are: the liberation of the Trade Exchange, the construction of the new auditorium, the construction of the north side overlooking the lawn with the cathedral and the two towers, and the construction of the south side with the six parallel houses. The project could be limited to these interventions so that the existing residential buildings could in turn build the longitudinal boundaries of the vacant area. However, the competition called for new housing, so we placed new residential buildings in line along the long sides of the lawn. These buildings, as tall as the surrounding buildings and interrupted at major streets, build a homogeneous front, similar to the one they cover, leaving wide openings to the north at the St Eustache church and towers and to the south at the heads of parallel houses one story lower. All this in a system of relations between the north and south sides that are already present in the old urban fabric: between Rue Montmartre and the Place des Innocents, between Rue du Roule and the façade of the church transept, between Rue Pont Neuf and the towers. Relationships are established through the lawn, which thus becomes the place of the viewpoints of all these urban elements, old and new, reconnected in a new space in which they represent themselves. The meadow thus becomes the place of knowledge of urban complexity in that part of the city.
Massimo Ferrari (edit by) Antonio Monestiroli Opere, progetti e studi di architettura Electa Milan 2001
Francesco Moschini (edit by) Antonio Monestiroli Progetti 1967-1987
Edizioni Kappa Rome 1988