Wednesday 17 September 2008

Le Grand Garage Haussmann

(43 Rue Laborde, 75008)
Typical visitors to Paris, if they were to think about the subject at all, may note how rare it is to see a car park in the city. It’s rather surprising therefore to discover an art deco car park, but almost equally surprising to see just how well it fits in to its environment. At first le Grand Garage Haussmann strikes you as a building that would be more at home in Miami, with its sculptured, almost completely glazed frontage, but take a step back and you can see how it has been designed to blend into its Parisian surroundings.

Being the same height and width as its typically Haussmannian neighbours, it doesn’t shock by its scale, and by hiding its principal activity (providing parking spaces for cars) behind frosted glass windows, it does not immediately reveal to passers by what its purpose is. Make no mistake though, behind this attractive façade is a thoroughly practical building.

Le Grand Garage Haussmann is quite clearly a pre-war construction. We can imagine what must have been a pure white paint job, with the red lettering and tablecloth tiling around the ground floor office adding a daring decorative touch. What is truly remarkable however is how little this building has changed since its inception. The façade is now showing the effects of years of polution, but the art deco block lettering has not changed, and the tiling is still in remarkable condition.

In fact, rather than a car park or garage, we can almost imagine this building to be a cinema or theatre, with the name of the latest show emblazoned across the front, and the name of the establishment running down the façade. It’s a proud building, and one that has been preserved by the fact that it has clearly served a useful purpose since it was built. Long may this continue!

Finally, if you ever wander past this building, make sure that you also visit the Ghisoni boulangerie further up the street, which serves fabulous Corsican sandwiches.

Related information:
The 20th century garage building boom has been much decried, but recently there have been moves to celebrate these sometimes iconic modern constructions. The most notable exponent has been Simon Henley’s “The Architecture of Parking”. (
Read an interview, buy the book, or look at some extracts).

In this book, he praises the very nature of car parks, which are often damp, poorly lit spaces, and rejoices in their gothic, film noir atmosphere. I’m not sure what he’d make of the Grand Garage Haussmann though as it’s about as far as you can get from this picture in the car park world. Being almost entirely glazed, the light surely floods into the parking areas, and being above ground, condensation cannot not be a problem either. Rather than a film noir, it would probably be more suited to a gentle romantic comedy!

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