The Beauty of Greater Paris

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Bertrand Lemoine is a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and the National School of Bridges and Roads, and is an accredited architect in France. He is currently Director of Research at C.N.R.S. (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) Until 2010, he was Director of the National School of Architecture; Paris La Villette, and until October 2013 he was General Director of the International Workshop of Greater Paris. Lemoine is a specialist in both the historical and current events of architecture, construction, and in particular, the metals of Paris and the surrounding areas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has authored 41 books and approximately thirty exhibitions. He is the director of the Journal STEEL, an architectural magazine.

The New “Greater Paris” is a development that includes Paris and its surrounding suburbs. It aims to improve the living environment of residents, to address territorial inequalities and build a sustainable city. The Greater Paris comes down to 5 major projects the completion of which is planned for 2030:

  • A sustainable and creative city
  • A new housing supply
  • A modern and extensive transport network
  • A new metro for the Grand Paris
  • Contracts Development

Beauty is not a concept that is spontaneously evoked when we think of Greater Paris in its entirety, even if the focus on Paris itself induces the image of a city that is particularly harmonious. It is precisely the tension between a type of beauty that can be agreed upon, and that of a beauty that can be discovered, that is the cause of an identity crisis of Greater Paris seen as a larger metropolis.

The beauty of Paris, as a historical center, is widely celebrated by writers, painters, photographers, and filmmakers alike. It is beauty that is understood by all and attracts 44 million tourists each year, making it the worlds primary tourist destination. Its beauty is multi-dimensional: monuments, buildings, public spaces, architectural details, objet d’arts, its banks of the Seine…

The beauty of the surrounding areas that make up Greater Paris, exist to us differently: open spaces, scenery and forests, but also factories, roads, and high tension lines. While this is another type of beauty, these things are more commonly associated with ugliness. This beauty differs from what characterized the City of Paris itself - that of the beauty of "centrality and density" -  even if a strong link exists between these two concepts.  The density of central Paris is not only a question of the ratio of inhabitants per square meter; it is also a matter of an urban density and logically has us question the usage of space.

Across Greater Paris, there is a clear association between these two types of beauty: of density and of open space. It could be considered as "isotropic" -- both the beauty of the center and the beauty of open space. There is beauty that is rooted in details. That can be juxtaposed with a larger perspective on beauty, that of the wider landscape or the view from afar. The conforming of proportions - that one could call harmony - or the art of things resonating with each other… these are also keys to the beauty of a metropolis.

A dimension of heritage is also important for understanding the idea of beauty. Preserving the city’s heritage is as important as ever for this capital, as it slowly renews itself to align with the times. Creating beauty is difficult. We must ask ourselves: what are the roles of architects, landscape architects, municipal leaders, engineers? Of everyone who works to create a contemporary beauty, which evolves into nothing other than our future? How do we preserve and develop what exists, and what parts can be reused, while creating beautiful  new spaces and architectural projects? There is a responsibility that should exist in the creation of new beauty - without which we would only have ideas from history.

The dimensions of fragility, change, and transformation also live in this concept of beauty. They are contrary to an idea that beauty is stagnant. As the light changes, a different beauty is made - just like as nature changes with the seasons. That which moves or changes corresponds to a perception of beauty that is more contemporary - as evidenced by Impressionism, the cinema and photography. How do we work with this changing duality? How do we subscribe to a perspective where the ephemeral, or even current events, can be the creator of beauty?

There is a also perception that beauty evolves over time-- that it is neither stagnant, nor unmovable. The 20th century has deconstructed the canons of traditional beauty based on the representation of nature and the human body, and has tried to extract an essence that goes beyond simple literal representation.. This radical evolution has tried to create a different type of beauty: the analysis of various sectors in order to understand more deeply the ways of the world. Perhaps it is about the re-enchantment of the world through deconstructionism; begging the question of a reinvented beauty in a changing society.

Discussing the nature of beauty requires that we refer to questions of representation, of perception, of sharing - and therefore that of social linkage. Who is to say that at any moment there is agreement on what is beautiful? If something evokes a beauty and touches us, then we must ask ourselves, what is the primal source of beauty? Beauty is foremost a construction: a search for, and transformation of, a perception.

A Greater Paris must systematically ask itself the question, what is beauty? All the work, and effort, and all the actions that are at the center of the project “The Greater Paris” should serve the public interest.  It is in the constant desire to create beauty that it is possible to build a more harmonious shared society.