Les Halles set to morph from beast to beauty

15th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) - In a major make-over for Paris' city centre, a garden promenade partially covered by a vast glass-and-copper roof was chosen Wednesday for the historic Les Halles site, whose once-lauded 1970s redevelopment is now seen as a prime example of urban blight.

PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) - In a major make-over for Paris' city centre, a garden promenade partially covered by a vast glass-and-copper roof was chosen Wednesday for the historic Les Halles site, whose once-lauded 1970s redevelopment is now seen as a prime example of urban blight.

After months of deliberation, Paris city hall awarded the task of reworking the site to 55-year-old French architect David Mangin whose vision of a leafy walkway integrating Les Halles with the surrounding cityscape was the simplest and cheapest of four proposals on offer.

The scene for 800 years of Paris's meat and vegetable market, Les Halles was gutted in the early 1970s to incorporate Europe's largest city-centre shopping mall and an underground rail hub that that now disgorges hundreds of thousands of commuters every morning.

However what was once regarded as a daring piece of modern planning is today associated with many of the worst aspects of city life: dilapidated buildings, gangs of bored youth and crime.

"Les Halles has become a place that Parisians avoid. But it should be a place that people want to go to. It should become a major public space - just like the Louvre or the Tuileries gardens," Mangin said in an interview before the selection.

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, a socialist, opened a competition for tenders a year ago, and models of the rival projects have been on display at the Hotel de Ville and on the Internet since June. Mangin's main rival was a Dutch bid to construct an array of multi-coloured towers.

Under the winning design the existing garden at the western end of the site - little-frequented now because of its palpable sense of insecurity - will be re-laid with lawns and trees, and a central promenade will extend from the domed Bourse de Commerce which will be converted for cultural displays.

At the other end - where the underground shopping centre "Forum des Halles" now descends - the promenade will continue under a two-hectare (five-acre) transparent roof set nine metres (30 feet) above the ground. Beneath, the commercial area and train-station are to be opened up.

Meanwhile a system of road tunnels which surface around the site will be changed so that - in the words of Mangin - the "urban continuity" between Les Halles and surrounding streets is restored.

Mangin's vision - which he compares to the leafy Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona - was criticised for being the most conservative of the four proposals.

But according to critic Jean-Claude Gardas, "He is working from the principle that whether we like it or not Paris is a 19th century city. It is not Singapore .... He is putting a balm on the wounds of Les Halles."

The Les Halles site was first built on in 1135 when King Louis VI moved the market there from the nearby Place de Greve where the city hall is located.

Dubbed the "stomach" of Paris, it was endowed in the 1850s with the huge metal halls for which it was famous in modern times.

Impracticality and the modernising spirit of the age led to the destruction of the halls in the 1970s as the market moved to Rungis in the southern Paris outskirts. Under the mayorship of Jacques Chirac, the site was supposed to re-emerge as a bustling tourist attraction.

Instead the development has proved unpopular from the start. Buildings have been difficult to maintain, vagrants and security guards proliferate in equal numbers, and most of the 800,000 people who pass through it every day do so at a hurry.

"We should not have to be doing this all over again 30 years on," Mangin said. "So we must learn from what went wrong the last time. We need to find a solution that will last."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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