Tuesday 17 May 2011

Beaujon: the first vertical hospital

In the previous post I looked at the original 18th century Hopital Beaujon situated in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, but when it was transferred to Clichy in 1935, a radical transformation also took place. The project created the biggest and most modern facility in the country, using a mix of vertical architecture imported from the USA, and a more European garden city approach, and the result is still visually arresting today.

The building was designed by Jean Walter (with the assistance of a certain Urbain Cassan, one of the architects of the Tour Montparnasse!) who broke from the tradition of cottage hospitals to one where all facilities would be grouped together in an immense 13-story structure. Walter was not just fascinated by large-scale constructions, but was also a disciple of the garden city model of urbanism. Reflecting this, the Beaujon hospital is surrounded by sporting facilities and greenery, as well as a rather less inspiring cemetery on one side! A series of elegant balconies were also a key part of his original design, incorporated to encourage the circulation of light and air into the wards and patients out into the fresh air, but unfortunately these have been given over to another purpose today.

Before/after. The first photo dates from the 1960s, and shows how important the balconies were to the design. The block at the top of the rectangular stairwell also seems to have originally featured rather fetching giant crosses. The second photo shows the rather less interesting front entrance to the hospital as it stands today.

A few surprises can be found outside of the hospital walls. Alongside an unwelcoming doorway through to the morgue is a more cheerful message from street artist Jérôme Mesnager. Just inside, a small block is been named the Stanley Kubrick unit, which may provoke further unease in those who find this red-brick block a little unwelcoming...

The sheer scale of the hospital is more immediately evident when seen from the rear, and curiously it is this perspective which seems to have been more carefully designed. It is completely south-facing, offering maximum sunlight to the balconies and wards behind (and possibly unbearable heat in summer months!)

The architect Jean Walter is celebrated in one of the streets that leads up to the hospital.

Although much of the interior today is of a quite standard hospital banality, the twin staircases still offer a nice vintage perspective. Of course, it is impossible to visit most of the hospital - including the balconies - without a very good reason. A simple blogger's curiousity is not acceptable, and rightly so!

The balconies...It does seem from the picture (again dating from the 1960s) that these features were the highlight of the whole building design, and apparently widely used, so it is a shame to see how modern health and safety initiatives have transformed them into a means of escape or a system for supporting external piping. However, it could be argued that these metal staircases make the hospital seem even more American now!

Rumours suggest that the Hopital Beaujon is earmarked for future developments which may include another transfer or a closing down of the services altogether. It would be a shame to lose not only the specialities and skills of this institution, but also the striking visual impact of this era of the Beaujon story.


Cergie said...

Et tu avais une bonne raison de visiter cet hopital ?
Tu as toujours l'art de "positiver" et comment mieux ressentir que de l'intérieur ? Un hôpital c'est une organisation comme une caserne avec des circulations, une intendance et des visiteurs extérieurs. Comment rendre la mort ou la maladie plus acceptables ? Comment ne pas s'y habituer ? Au fond ceux qui comptent vraiment au bout du compte, ne sont-ce pas les vivants ?

Adam said...

Lucie - crois tu que j'ai visité pendant une pause déjeuner? J'aime bien - curieusement - l'ambience qui reigne dans les hopitaux. Ils sont des véritables villes dans les villes, où toute la vie passe, de la naissance à la mort. Les sentiments qu'on ressent dans ces endroits sont plus vif que dans nos vies ordinaires - aussi bien la joie, le soulagement ou la douleur.

Tim said...

You're becoming a bit of an authority on Parisian hospitals aren't you? If you fall sick which hospital do you think you'd like to be checked into?

Adam said...

Tim - My favourite is still the Salpetriere for many reasons, but I doubt in France that you ever really get a choice about where you're sent - especially if you have an accident! I'm sure I'd be out exploring all the little corners though, wherever I found myself.

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