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The Urban Landscape in France





Baron Georges – Eugene Haussmann (1809 – 1891)

Major achievements as a town planner:

Long straight boulevards for ‘communication’ and circulation

Improved sewer/sanitary conditions including fresh water supply

Enhanced prominent architecture within the city

New and re-designed parks provided clean fresh air to the city – the lungs of an industrial city

He was also responsible for uniform simple facades spread across Paris giving unity to street lines.

The accomplishments of Haussmann would not have been possible without a great deal of help from many other designers, one of these was Jean Alphand.


Jean Alphand (1817 – 1891)

He was an engineer with expertise in bridge and highway service, with a certain appreciation of art. Alphand was responsible for the leisure grounds, the parks – both the reformation of previous ones and the design of new ones. Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Champs – Elysees, Parc Monceau, Buttes – Chaumont, and Parc Montsouris. The parks reflected the taste of the period – primarily English in origin and were designed as promenades for leisurely strolls.


Paris before the improvements of Haussmann

A cholera epidemic in 1832 led to notable changes in the urban structure of Paris. The relationship of deaths to the density of the urban districts was very clear. The death rate was highest in the densest part of town. Priority was placed on two primary things:

1. Decreasing the density of the center by moving people to new developments in the outlying areas.

2. Make the city a cleaner place by creating sewers and fountains. Improvements to the sewer system were expansive. Water mains were built from the river to supply water to a system of hydrants that were left to run continuously. The continuous flow of water provided more cleansing to the streets of Paris than the previous infrequent pattern of rain storms. Raised sidewalks higher than the roadway; roof gutters on buildings; and drainpipes to direct water to desired locations along the curb to increase the permanent flow of water; also happened.

New fountains provided water to the city. Although simple hydrants or faucets would have provided clean water to the neighborhoods, highly decorative fountains were made instead, probably reflecting an Italian influence and the desire for the beautification of Paris. Public urinals and gas street lighting were also designed.

Further beautification of Paris was achieved through the creation of tree lined esplanades along the river Seine, and boulevards inside the city. The boulevards consisted of three lanes of traffic. The center lane was for vehicles, and the two outer lanes were for pedestrian traffic. The vehicle lane was separated from both of the pedestrian lanes by a row of trees offering some protection to the pedestrian from passing vehicles.


Paris of Napoleon III and Haussmann

The straight avenue or “cannon-shot boulevard” of Paris is primarily a product of 1850 – 1870, and attributed to Napoleon III from designs by Baron Haussmann. The back alleys and streets of Paris witnessed on many occasions, major riots (street fighting) during the early half of the nineteenth century. Napoleon III found this occasion to be remedied through the construction of a series of wide, straight streets, a strategy that may have roots in military strategy of trench defense.

Between 1853 – 1869, Haussmann spent two and one half billion francs on improvements in Paris. One and one half billion of that was spent on street improvements. Four primary aims of Haussmanns schemes:

1. “To disencumber the large buildings, palaces, and barracks in such a way as to make them more pleasing to the eye, afford easier access on days of celebration, and a simplified defense on days of riot.”

2. “the amelioration of the state of health of the town through the systematic destruction of infected alleyways and centers of epidemics.”

3. “To assure the public peace by the creation of large boulevards which will permit the circulation not only of air and light but also of troops. Thus by a ingenious combination the lot of the people will be improved, and they will be rendered less disposed to revolt.”

4. “To facilitate circulation to and from railway stations by means of penetrating lines which will lead travelers straight to the centers of commerce and pleasure, and will prevent delay, congestion, and accidents.”

Haussmanns designs were completed in three main phases based on various strategies for financing.

The first phase included the construction of the Rue de Rivoli. Removal of many houses cleared the way to the Louvre. Along the new street, market halls were also constructed giving rise to entire new districts, not just a new street.

The first phase also included ” the transformation of the Bois de Boulogne into a place of recreation for the elegant world.”

The second phase included the extension of the Boulevard Sebastopol across the Seine to the Latin quarter, and beyond it was continued as the Boulevard Saint-Michel. Also in the second phase was the adaptation of another park on the opposite side of the city. The Bois de Vincennes was transformed into a park for the working class.

Also included were further extension of previous boulevards, and construction of new boulevards, some through relatively new upper class neighborhoods. Haussmann met strong resistance to the construction when it interferred with wealthy neighborhoods.

Also intended by Haussmann was a 250 meter wide boulevard with “vast plantations” that was to surround or encircle the city along the line of the fortification. The greenbelt was to be lined with walks and it would have connected the Bois de Bologne with the Bois de Vincennes and numerous communities along the path. It was never completed.

The third phase included the extensions of the Champs – Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and beyond.

The creation of the Place de l’Etoile – where twelve avenues come together – needed no extensive building demolition, it was open country and grainfields. Grainfields in the area were later replaced by urban improvements forming Paris of the 20th century.

Also in the third phase was the construction of new streets in the suburbs and two new parks, the Montsouris in the southern portion and Buttes – Chaumont in the north.



Paris: International Exhibitions – 1867-1914

During the period of 1867-1914 Paris hosted a number of International Exhibitions. One of the most enduring structures – the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 Exhibition and intended to be used for subsequent exhibitions. Few of the buildings or spaces had any major impact on architectural thought or practice (at least not at the scale of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago). However the 300 meter tall Eiffel Tower has become an icon of Paris.


Parc des Buttes-Chaumont


Buttes-Chaumont was created as part of Haussmanns vision for Paris, and was designed by Alphand. The park was built on the site of previous quarries, and included a lake surrounding a prominent overlook, a cascade falling into a cave, and a series of sweeping promenades.

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