Thursday, 9 February 2012

Move along, nothing to see here…

All cities have their secrets, and Paris is no exception. It has its secret places too, but these are not deep underground or hidden behind high walls. The best way to hide a building in a city it seems is to make it as banal as possible.

A police presence needs to be visible in a city, but what about the back end of the operation? Where do they stock equipment, make repairs, test new products and programme support software? The answer in Paris is at the Direction Opérationnelle des Services Techniques et Logistiques, and an obscure building in the 13th arrondissement.

Bizarrely, this building manages to be at once completely anonymous and clearly visible. Anonymous due to its lack of any coherent architectural style or decorative feature, but visible thanks to the tall aerials and masts perched high up on the building’s roof.

What occurs inside exactly is not entirely clear. Indeed, it's not entirely clear exactly how you get inside! The official address is 4 Rue Jules Breton, but there does not even seem to be a door at this address (apart from a rather large garage door). Walking around the perimeter of the building (either on foot, or virtually via Google maps) makes the access problem no clearer (although via Google you do get a sneaky view into a garage where several marked and unmarked police cars are parked). This is a structure closed to outsiders, with no mention of its purpose, and only a pair of French flags and a couple of security cameras show you that this is an official building.

So what does happen inside? A recruitment site gives a vague idea. This is a place where the police get their uniform and guns, where vehicles and communication tools are tested and repaired, but also a place where heavy machinery (helicopters, boats) can be supplied. Clearly it has a role to play in surveillance too, possibly from the rooftop rooms which must also offer fantastic views across the city. 

The insides of this building are destined to remain a mystery, but perhaps its better that way. We can imagine an Ali Baba's cave of technology, staffed by slightly eccentric Q clones, but the reality is probably a lot more ordinary. The outsides - cracked and grimy concrete - already seem to tell us that there is nothing to see here.

8 comments:

Peter (the other) said...

Geez, I always wondered what that was. My febrile mind wondered weather it was something to do with the hospital, perhaps a top secret nuclear medicine research facility (yikes!). Police... hmmm. Thanks as ever for expanding my acquaintance of Paris.

Adam said...

Peter: Yes, of course, this is your neck of the woods! It is an interesting little area - opposite is a hospital for the police, alongside a freemason's temple that I've already written about, and on the corner the Institut de Paléontologie humaine.

soundlandscapes said...

Thanks for shedding light on this Adam. I've often seen it and wondered what it was. I've had it down as everything from a power station to a factory of some sort and all points in between! I find it a bit eerie that there is no obvious entrance.

Kiki said...

it's funny, we all seem to have taken notice of the building with all those antenas and we all asked ourselves 'what on earth' is going on inside this structure but it took Adam to get moving....
it's utterly strange to have an address of a garage door, don't you think?! evil things must be going on, surely? or not.... probably just another boring place!
thanks for opening up our horizon once again :)

Tim said...

I think there must be some batcave-like basement - that's probably how they get in and out of the place.

Peter (the other) said...

"... batcave-like basement"

:-) I like that explanation! It's time for Paris to have a super-hero type super-hero. Signaled from the Eiffel Tower by the searchlight image of something... lumpy, the chariot of le mec fromage-super bursts up from the non-descript building, only to be stuck in traffic trying to get across Gobelins. "Criminals, they're all criminals" he shouts, shaking his fists at the 91 bus that just cut him off. "Merde! I knew I should have taken the river!" Settling into the fact it will take a half hour just to get to Montparnasse, he muses "I really might learn how to ride a moto someday, now let's see what's on TSF." Besides, his girlfriend always expected him to be late. Oh, what was he supposed to pick-up on the way?

Nathalie said...

Ha Adam, what a find !
I've just seen the movie The Mole which I found as boring as can be - your post sparked my interest much more !

Nathalie said...

I like Tim's idea of an underground entrance - how exciting ! ;)

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