Monday, 30 March 2009

Le Parking Bellefond

My first post on this blog was about a garage, the fantastic art deco styled Grand Garage Haussmann, and I'm sure this post will not be my last on the subject. I don't have a driving licence, cannot drive and I certainly have no passion for cars, but yet I still find car parks fascinating. This is perhaps particularly true in Paris where the vintage models were often designed in interesting ways in order to be allowed into the city.

Advances in engineering techniques in the last thirty years have enabled the city of Paris to sink car parks underground, but in earlier times the problem was how to make these large buildings fit into a street in an aesthetic manner. Paris has never been big on practical brutalism and the purpose of these buildings had to be disguised. The Parking Bellefond in the street of the same name is testament to this fact, with almost no cars being visible from the exterior.

Looked at alongside its neighbours, solid, traditional Haussmannian appartments, this building could easily be a factory or warehouse. It is only at ground floor level that we see cars, but even here the purpose is disguised somewhat by plate glassed office units. Above, the whitewashed walls give a light feeling to the building, and the zig-zagging layers and frosted windows offer a touch of originality to the ensemble. With the potted plants and decorative emerald green mosaic tiling at the entrance, the building becomes almost attractive.

Why am I so fascinated by these multi-story car parks though? They certainly offer a graphic interest making them easy to photograph, but I think my regard goes beyond that aspect. It is more about their atmosphere, and the curious lighting that make them a favoured location for the modern day film noir. How many times have we seen car parks used as the scene of murders, drug drop offs and double dealings? They have become iconic city locations, places where nothing good can happen, and symbols of the machines that are slowly asphyxiating us. In the UK, where car parks mostly have a final rooftop level that is open to the elements, they have also become the urban place of choice for suicides.




The now demolished multi-story car park in Newcastle made famous by the film 'Get Carter'

As a mirror of the city as a whole, the Parking Bellefond has become a kind of vehicle cemetery. Cars are no longer welcome in cities, and far from being objects of pride and prestige they are now something to feel guilty about. Locals can leave their vehicles to rest on the higher floors, but beneath ground level there is a collection of old cars buried beneath decades of dust. It feels like the end of some kind of era, the death of the motor car and therefore the car park too. What will replace them in the years to come though and will any car parks survive to be observed by future generations?

11 comments:

Starman said...

Visitors to Paris never really consider car parks. Are they like American parking garages where you drive in, stay a few hours and pay for the time you were there? Or are they spaces that one buys for an exorbitant amount? I know that parking spaces are sold in France but I'm not certain how that works.

CarolineLD said...

Who would have thought car parks could make such an interesting post? And you've spared us the smell in the stairwells...

Adam said...

Starman: The short stay car parks are almost all underground in Paris now. This car park and the one I'd mentioned previously are of a different kind though and are remnants of the time when no appartment buildings had parking spaces of their own. All spots here are sold and sometimes rented on long-term deals.

Caroline: The fact that these car parks are in effect extensions of people's homes makes them cleaner than the standard British car park. I did think about taking a lift to the top floor here, but firstly I was scared that I'd get stuck, secondly that I'd get arrested as a potential thief and thirdly there was little point seeing as the whole building is fully enclosed.

Tim said...

I think the most characteristic feature about modern-day underground car parks in Paris (mainly run by Vinci, and all very swish and clean and with music being constantly piped in so that there's no way you could possibly feel you're going to be mugged or anything) is that the parking spaces have been designed according to an equation which is as follows: W = AWC x 1.01.

"W" is the width of the parking spaces, as defined by white lines painted on the ground. "AWC" is the average width of a car. I think the average width of a car is around 2 metres, hence the width of Vinci parking spaces being 2.02 metres. That means any passengers in the car must alight before manoeuvring into a vacant space, and the driver usually has to clamber out through the boot (or roof if driving a convertible) because no way is s/he going to be able to open the door.

This is what you're missing from not having a car, Adam...

Adam said...

Hmmm...doesn't sound like I'm missing much. Actually, I have no inclination to visit one of these modern, underground models, unless there are some other attractions down there.

By the way, does anybody have any idea what type of car this is in the picture? It doesn't look like any model I'm familiar with.

martine s said...

the car is a R8, renault 8 (from the sixties). Got to be quite famous in blue with 2 whigt stripes as the renault gordini (a normal car to be used in rallies)

martine s said...

white stripes, sorry...

Squirrel said...

Love the idea of all the sordid stories in the parking garage.

Paris is a walking friendly city like Dublin, NYC... I guess to avoid garages I would park far off and just enjoy the walk /public transport if renting a car-- (I would use the car to drive from country to country not around the city) Paris taxi drivers are the daredevils of the world--lots of fun.

Parking garages are scary depressing places for me of me--I only really use them when in Los Angeles.
In Italy our car went up on an elevator into a dark garage that seemed to be built into the side of a mountain-- all valet, we stayed outdoors during the process--and were free to wander on foot.

Cergie said...

Ce poste me plait bien, pour les souvenirs qu'il me rappelle de garage de ce type à Nancy où nous garions notre coccinelle VW près de notre domicile en centre ville.
Aussi pour le véhicule antique que tu montres qui transforme cet endroit en cour de ferme à la campagne où on voit souvent sous un hangar des véhicules dont on ne veut se séparer.
Ensuite pour ce que tu dis que ces lieux sont des scènes de films formidables... Peut-être parce qu'ils sont des scènes de crimes formidables ; combien de viols et de crimes dans la vraie vie dans les parking ?
Un parking n'est ni la rue = zone publique, ni le domicile = zone privée. Mais un entre-deux de tous les possibles.

Richard said...

How right you are about the 'parking' being unlike its British cousin.

My in-laws use a local one a few miles from Paris from time to time. Although underground - some of those in the vicinity have been converted from WW2 air raid shelters - this one has a coded entry system, attendants, CCTV, piped music ... and some gorgeous cars, some under covers, others sitting proudly in full view.

Mind you they are not all museum pieces, some are very definitely on their last legs!

Sam Anderson said...

From the outside, this parking garage looks nice and I hope it would be safe and secure for the vehicles of the people.
airport parking deals

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