The Petite Ceinture is a 17 mile railway circumscribing central Paris. It was built in 1852 to connect the Gares of Paris, became one of the world's first suburban transit systems, and fell into disuse during the 1930's as the Paris Metro succeeded it in efficiency. Today it is abandoned and little known, preserved by indecision over its future. It is a retreat from the city, and a home for underground culture. In places raised up, depressed or underground, it is an exceptional place to look back upon the city of Paris.
This is a rough journal of what I've found on the P.C. as well as during walks around Paris.

samedi 2 août 2008

Petite Ceinture in the West of Paris, and the threat of interruption to the track elsewhere

The Petite Ceinture is considerably more integrated into its surroundings in the Western arrondisements of Paris (16eme and 17eme), than along any other stretch. Yet this seems to be in a way that has eroded or eliminates the original form and experience of the Petite Ceinture. Although the original path gives form to the buildings that surround the line, much of the track has been taken up, and in many places - between the point just south of Place Tattegrain and Porte Maillot - the trench is covered up or filled in to make space for tennis courts, parks that honor yet more war veterans, parking lots, even restaurants and clubs. Perhaps the wealth, and consequent security of this area of Paris means that the Ceinture - this no-man's-land - is a viable open space; it is easier for the neighborhood to take ownership.
It seems that poverty has preserved the Petite Ceinture elsewhere in Paris. Now, however, the expanding ripples of wealth spreading toward the outside of Paris mean that the Petite Ceinture is threatened elsewhere - and possibly in more disruptive ways than in the West of Paris. The 'Paris Rive Gauche' is a 350+ acre development that stretches along the Seine, south of Gare d'Austerlitz to the Petite Ceinture. Tracks there have been removed, and significant earthworks are evident around and along the line. It is unclear whether there is any intention to restore the tracks; it is hard to imagine a need to do so. As part of the 'Paris Rive Gauche', the neighboring boulevards are being widened. One central artery, Avenue de France, is under construction, and is depicted in many maps as eventually running directly over the Petite Ceinture where a large steel truss bridge now spans the Ivry-sur-Seine rail lines. Further East, near Parc de Bercy, there are plans to develop public housing on the track.

mercredi 23 juillet 2008

Parks, their proximity to the Petite Ceinture, and what this might mean for the future of the Ceinture

Many of Paris’ major parks have historically been built at the periphery of Paris, where land is available; cheap, abandoned, or in need of transformation. Bois de Boulogne (to the West, designed by engineer Jean Charles-Alphand and Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps) and Bois de Vincennes (to the South-East, also by Alphand (of Buttes Chaumont fame) with architect Jacques Hirtoff) were formalized as parks by Napoleon III during the 1850’s – 60’s. They were conceived as the ‘lungs’ of Paris – transforming extant, but ‘dangerous’ forests into breathing room for an increasingly congested city (Paris’ population had almost doubled within the 20 years between 1851 and 1870 from 1.05 million to 1.97 million (Paris through the Ages, plate XIVa). At the same time, other parks were being developed toward the periphery of Paris. Parc Buttes Chaumont (pictured below), an old gypsum quarry (hence Plaster of Paris) in the North-East of Paris (19eme), was conceived by Alphand, and converted into a hugely popular park between 1866-67. Parc Montsouris, to the South, was conceived in 1860, inaugurated in 1869, and fully completed in 1878. It is built over an area of Paris that was heavily quarried for limestone, leaving a warren of ‘Carrieres’ that compromised the integrity of the soil and thus rendered the area unsuitable for building upon. The Petite Ceinture runs through both Buttes Chaumont and Parc Montsouris, and kisses Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes on the city-side of each.

Indeed, the Petite Ceinture is integrated into the concept of Parc Buttes Chaumont as a ‘reclaimed’ industrial site, bringing attention to the infrastructure. The railway is exposed in a trench along most of the east side of the park. Look outs are situated adjacent to the track. A bridge was constructed over the track, and a restaurant sits above the mouth of the tunnel, looking along the track, as it is oriented on axis with the track itself (pictured below).

This notion of ‘public infrastructure expressed’, particularly with regard to transport, is common throughout Paris. The metro line 6, running over the Seine at bridge Bir Hakim (pictured below), and metro line 2 (pictured two beneath), occupying the footprint of the Fermiers around Paris built between 1784-89, both express the might of industrial technology. They reveal the pulse of the urban routine and provide unique views and public interaction for both passengers and those at street level.
Large steel and iron trusses carry passengers above ground, supporting gathering spaces, commerce, and pedestrian throughways beneath. In turn, the metro passenger experiences their city in a way that the underground metro, pedestrian, cycle, or vehicular transport does not afford. The Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Center are both icons of infrastructural expression – the movement of the public up through the city, or through the façade of a densely urban area is thus facilitated.

More recent parks have continued the traditions of building toward the periphery of Central Paris, reclaiming abandoned industrial sites, or sites in need of transformation, while expressing public infrastructure. Like Parc Buttes Chaumont, Parc Andre Citroen, pictured below, (built between 1992 - 1999 by landscape architects Gilles Clement and Alain Provost) celebrates its intersection with an existing railway line (RER C, which was once a spur of the Petite Ceinture network).
Toward the West end of the park the Seine is framed by the horizon of the parc and the graceful lines of a railway bridge. Passengers witness the activity of the park as they pass above, while park visitors are reminded of the rhythms of city life while they take their leisure. In addition, the parc occupies the footprint of an old, iconic industrial site – the demolished Citroen factory, after which the quay beyond is named. The Petite Ceinture runs along the southern edge of the Park’s "Black garden".
Parc de la Villette (designed by Bernard Tschumi (furniture by Phillippe Starck) in 1982, in consultation with French philosopher Gilles Deleuze) also sits on an abandoned industrial site - the old slaughter house district, and its design is ostensibly geared towards bringing the observer’s attention to the history and infrastructure of the site. Canal de l’Ourcq, which once brought livestock from the North-east of France, runs through the middle of the Parc (pictured below).
The Petite Ceinture runs within .1 miles of the southern edge of the Parc, near the “access ouest”. The P.C. and the parc share an exceptional view of one another at the point where the Petite Ceinture crosses the Canal de l’Ourcq along a heavy truss bridge.

It is arguable that the Bamboo garden pictured below (Alexandre Chemetev), within Parc de la Villette, is more successful than Parc de la Villette in bringing attention to its position relative to the surrounding infrastructure. Weepholes in the wall register the moisture content in the soil, which is effected by the leakage of water into the soil from the nearby canal.This creates a micro climate – warmer and moister – that facilitates the growth of a wide varibamboo that would be otherwise unable to grow in Paris. As is true throughout much of Paris, pedestrian paths are aligned above sewer lines, an infrastructural intersection that is highly articulated in the Bamboo garden.

Parc de Bercy, pictured below, (designed and built between 1993-1997 by architects Bernard Huet, Madeleine Ferrand, Jean-Pierre Feugas, Bernard Leroy, and landscape architects Ian Le Caisne and Phillippe Raguin) is in the South-East of Paris, running along the Right bank of the Seine. It occupies the strip of land once designated to the reception and storage of wine from the South of France. Railway tracks, cobbled alleys, mature plane (Platon/sycamores) trees that once shaded the wine barrels, and wine cellars have been integrated into the design of this park. The Petite Ceinture once connected to this railyard, and the line passes within ¼ mile from the south-eastern edge of the Parc.Other, smaller parks dot the periphery of Paris. The newly constructed Parc de Belleville, above, (built in 1988, designed by Francois Debulois) cascades down the southern side of ButteBelleville in the east of Paris, and offers an excellent view of Central Paris. It runs over the Petite Ceinture, which emerges at the southern tip of the Park.

Jardin de la Gare de Charonne, below, in the east (20eme), occupies a small lot adjacent to the Petite Ceinture.

The Promenade Plantee, which is a comparable and useful precedent for sites such as the Petite Ceinture or the New York High Line, and Square Charles Peguy (designed by Jacques Vergely, landscape architect, and Phillippe Mathieux, architect) is a reclaimed rail viaduct that was once a spur from the Petite Ceinture towards Gare de Lyon. The Promenade Plantee and the Petite Ceinture intersect in the South-East of Paris, just north of Parc de Bercy.

Jardin du Moulin de la Pointe and Jardin Juan Miro, are in the South of Paris (13eme), near the Porte d'Italie. They are both modestly sized. Jardin du Moulin de la Pointe covers much of the surface of the P.C. tunnel running between Rue du Moulin de la Pointe and Ave. Pl. de l'Italie. Parc George Brassens, pictured above and below, (opened in 1974) is an 8.7 hectare park that ooccupies an old abbatoir district in the South of Paris (14eme). The Petite Ceinture runs under the park, and along the full stretch of its southern edge.

In the South-West corner of Paris, south of Parc Andre Citroen, is Square Carlo Sarrabezolles. It is just south of the Petite Ceinture, near Pont Carrigliano, on the other side of the Maracheux.

Much of the Petite Ceinture along the Western edge of Paris (mostly in the 16eme) is now parkway - on grade, with tracks removed. The remainder has been filled in and consists of parking lots, tennis courts and small community parks. This western stretch of the Ceinture is interrupted in the middle of the Western edge of Paris by Jardin Ranelegh (early 1900's).

Parc Clichy Batignolles, pictured in the middle of the image below, (opened in 2007) is a 4.5 hectare garden in the North-East of Paris (17eme), taking the place of obsolete railyards and sheds near Junction St. Lazare. It aims to bridge the existing green space of inner Paris (specifically Square Batignolles, at the bottom of the picture) with the suburbs beyond the Peripherique.

Increasing focus is being placed on this area of Paris, and considerable development is due to occur around the Park. The Petite Ceinture runs within .1 mile of the North end of the Parc, and would run through the middle of the development pictured above (looking North).

dimanche 20 juillet 2008

ARVs: Alternative Rail Vehicles

These images are from an article published by Heiko Hansen for the "Vehicles of Registration and Omniscient Observational Mechanics" workshop in Istanbul.

"Flying Carpet" - according to the article:

It runs along a single tram track, using it as a monorail, its wheels propelled by an electric motor. The cushion lies on top of a mechanical system that allows the driver to balance wh en seated in the Lotus position. This posture not only mimics the operation of a “real” flying carpet, but also links body posture to movement in a way that driver has to be Zen to operate …

The experience of driving Tapis Volant is semi-automated: The vehicle glides along the tracks, accelerated by the act of tilting forward and comes to a standstill when leaning back.

Cabin Taxi, Germany. As part of a movement to develop autonomous movement along a common rail system, Germany funded a project that involved pods that could be self controlled and would run along an elevated rail network.

Rail Velo, designed by artists Raphael Zarka and Vincent Lamaroux. This seems to be the neatest marriage between an ARV and the local taste for bicycles. I wonder how you could institute a system of public Rail Velos (like the Velib), without running into difficulties such as people biking at different speeds, or turning off the main track to park the bike.

vendredi 18 juillet 2008

Useful maps from APUR

Recently discovered the Prefecture of Paris, and its APUR dept (Atelier Parisien d'Urbanisme) They produce analytic studies, and their attendant maps of various kinds throughout and around Paris (however, they don't have a basic, highly detailed paper map!).

Distribution of Places of Commerce and Residence

Pretty great map - major views from the Ceinture back into Central Paris. Am working on a similar diagram. I like the graphics, and contour underlay. I think it would be interesting to have a similar diagram that showed views out toward the Banlieu also.

Intersection between Petite Ceinture and metro lines

Classis map of the original Petite Ceinture and its stations

jeudi 12 juin 2008

Sunset from Montmartre

Jay, Makie and I headed to the top of Montmartre at 8:30 last night - it doesn't get fully dark until almost 11. It's a fifteen minute, 1/2 mile walk from the apartment. And the light was phenomenal. Here you can see the view from the apartment window looking towards the base of Montmartre...

And this is the view from the top (if you can open it in a separate window it's cooler)....

Paris almost seems small from this point. In the middle are the Pompidou Center and Notre Dame, with a line of Paris' rare few skyscrapers and the Pantheon in the background....

And this is top of the hill - Sacre Coeur (kinda ridiculous looking, and not very Parisian even though it's in the top three Parisian icons - one cool thing about it is that it's made of self cleaning stone, so it gets gradually whiter every year) - it's covered in tourists during the day, then replaced by drinkers, pot smokers and street performers at night. The steps are not self cleaning and smell awful. We saw french break dancing. It looks like American break dancing. And a flame person...pretty mesmerizing

And this was the Doge and I deciding to be 80's rockers in front of one of the Moulins.

dimanche 8 juin 2008

samedi 7 juin 2008

Villa Savoye, June 7th, 2008

Jay and I have been wandering Paris since he arrived six days ago, visiting museums and buildings of interest both new and old (mostly old). A trip to Villa Savoye means our first journey outside Central Paris, and a glimpse of one of Corbusier's most iconic buildings. The Villa Savoye (Villa Savoir in French) is a pilgrimage site for anyone with any interest in modern architecture - so for two architecture students this was like meeting a celebrity - putting a face to a name we've heard a thousand times.

We woke late to an overcast day, had a typically slow breakfast, and went from Metro to RER (A5), passing tens of 'Immeubles' - the hideous descendents of Corb's Unite - on our way out to Poissy (40km almost due west of Paris), where we caught the bus (50 to La Coudriae) to the gate of the Villa. The entrance as it is now, is unremarkable; a white metal mesh gate in a white wall identical to any of those next to it. We walked down the winding gravel driveway beyond the gate, and one of the first things we saw was a gate house - something neither Jay nor I had ever seen in photos or heard of in books or lectures. The guide book (Deborah Gans' The Le Corbusier Guide - excellent so far) doesn't mention anything about it. We wondered whether it is original.....

The path continues for about 200 feet through the mature, and naturalistic grove of trees, until it empties out onto a large, lawn-covered clearing - as if like Vitruvius' well manicured clearing. The Villa is central.

The doge had recently re-read an article about the house, and chose the authentic entry sequence - along the driveway, under the house, between the pilotis, and around to the east side of the garage. I snapped pictures from all round, trying to find the classic facade from the four almost identical sides (Villa Rotunda?, - another square-plan, identical-on-all-sides country house). Entry was free for students, and we stashed our backpacks in the garage - surprisingly small for a three car garage (in fact, the scale of the building is deceptively large in photos). There's a cool detail in the two skylights on the east and west ends of the garage ceiling: the skylights are built within planters on the main floor above, so the view up through them is not just of the sky, but of lavender, rosemary, and perhaps a passer-by. There is a sense of connection to the rest of the house upon arrival.

We spent most of the afternoon at the house, wandering around, taking photos, and spending a lot of time drawing - we sat in original Corb furniture as we sketched! Many things said by professors or books were even more impressive in person (Sam calls the house the perfect house) - the natural transition between rooms, and inside and out; the use of color; the framing of views within the house, and to the landscape beyond (there's a fantastic built-in desk on the top balcony with a view to the Seine in the bottom of the distant valley - this really plays with sense of scale and distance. Also the profile of the horizontal roof line crops the top of the mature trees beyond, giving a painterly white-green-blue effect); the rough finish of tile work in the kitchen and bathroom; the ramp in the center of the house (whereas Frank Lloyd Wright places the hearth in the center of the house? - here Corb places an element celebrating the experience of passage), the ramp that takes you from top to bottom, from inside to outside, and keeps your connection to the rest of the house uninterrupted (a staircase cannot do this); the way the spaces become abstract in their color and shape, and you feel slightly disoriented, until someone walks across the doorway, and suddenly the space becomes earthly again. I particularly loved the skylight above the entry to the southwest bedroom - the effect it has on the the colorful walls, and the focus on the doorway as a destination at the end of the hallway. And also the size of the sliding glazed doors in the main living room! It took three of us to close one of the panes - there are two panes and each must be about 10' x 12' (120 s.f. of glass - thick glass!). The columns in the main first floor courtyard were also interesting - elliptical in plan, not circular like the columns throughout the rest of the house. I assume this is to strengthen the wall in the direction of maximum force: the major axis of column in plan is perpendicular to the wall, thus in line with the wind load upon the wall. Moreover, the eyebrow above the horizontal window on that same wall is the profile of a very gently sloped trapezoid - effectively a truss serving the same purpose as the elliptical columns.

We didn't meet many people (although Jay coincidentally got a call from his old architecture professor). Most walked around in silence. Occasionally some informed person would lead their friends around the house stating the obvious like a real estate agent: "and this is the main room...". There was a girl who floated around the house offering to inform any French-speaking visitor. When no one was around to be helped, she was reading one of two books on Corbusier - clearly incredibly enthusiastic about her job. She was thrilled to see that we were sketching, and was the one who asked if we'd help close the large sliding doors. We all tried, and failed, to share our enthusiasm.

We stayed until closing, and walked back to the train station via an ancient church (12th century) where Louis-the-something was christened in 12-something, and which Le Duc redesigned in the 19th century. There was an excess of ornamental details, and Jay was seduced. Unfortunately, while I was outside, and Jay inside sketching, the church was locked, and it seemed Jay was locked inside - for about an hour. Eventually the steward arrived, and we were reunited in time to miss our train by 30 seconds. But we were back in Paris before long, and finished the day with our first real dinner out of the apartment - in a restaurant along Canal St. Martin - delicious; Jay had carpaccio, and I had a white salt-water fish I'd never heard of, followed by tiramisu and creme brulee. A decent birthday.