Monday 30 December 2013

My 5 Favourite Posts of 2013

Following last week’s list of the most popular articles this year, here are the five articles I personally enjoyed producing. Visitor numbers were not quite so high for these, so if you have not done so far, please click on the links and read the stories!
I hope that next year I will still be able to publish such a list and not just simply reproduce the only 5 posts of the year!

The list is in no particular order.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

The Top 5 posts of 2013

Back again due to popular request (ie to satisfy my own curiosity) the annual list of the top five most-read posts on Invisible Paris. Come back next week for a list of my 5 personal favourite posts this year (which strangely enough – like last year – bears no resemblance to the list of most read articles). 

Keeping with tradition, I have also added a few notes for each post to explain why I chose the subject, why I think it worked and how the story developed. 

I was also happy to note that reader numbers for the articles were a good percentage higher than the top 5 from last year. If my output is declining, I’m glad to see that my audience remains interested in what I do manage to produce!

Friday 20 December 2013

Auguste Perret: Huit Chefs d'Oeuvre !/?

The life and work of Auguste Perret, one of the most important 20th century architects in France and Paris, is currently being celebrated in an exhibition that runs until February 19th 2014. As an added bonus, the exhibition is being held inside one of his own buildings, the fantastic - and still quite secretive - Palais d'Iéna.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Introducing Invisible Lyon

Following the launch of Invisible Bordeaux two years ago, I'm pleased to announce that the Invisible empire in France now stretches to three cities, with the arrival of Invisible Lyon.

As I mentioned previously, the Invisible City concept is all about being curious and keeping your eyes open, and having the desire to hunt out and recount the forgotten stories of your own personal environment. I'm assured that Lyon - a place that I personally have never visited - is an excellent invisible city with a very wide range of potential material!

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Pigalle: the battle is lost, but who won the war?

According to the New York Times, the charm of the Pigalle district has been destroyed by a recent influx of American trendsetters. Pigalle may be defeated, but the guilty party is not fashions but instead simple economics.

Thomas Chatterton Williams’ article for the paper, ‘How hipsters ruined Paris’, is a smartly observed piece which managed to get under the skin of both Parisians and imported Americans – quite an achievement in itself. It is however let down by a glaring oversight. The writer laments the falling of one of the city’s bastions and yet seems completely unaware of the fact that he is a soldier in the invading army.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Le Cimetière de la Villette

The three principal cemeteries in Paris - Père Lachaise, Montmartre and Montparnasse -  see large numbers of tombstone tourists, but few people venture out to the other smaller burial grounds in the city. A look in photos at one of these, the cimetière de la Villette. 

Like the majority of cemeteries in Paris, the La Villette graveyard was originally created to serve the needs of a small village community on the outskirts of Paris. The cemetery we see today is actually the fourth one in this particular village, the growing suburb having quickly filled the other three (which were all abandoned then built over). 

Thursday 24 October 2013

Crop The Block: How Parisians See Paris

Launched this autumn, Crop The Block is both a website and a collective of video artists. Their point in common? A love of Paris.

"At Crop the Block, we adore Paris" declares the team on the website. Not just any Paris though, and certainly not the caricatural 'ville musée' seen in thousands of You Tube clips. The Crop The Block ethos is the promotion of "a vibrant Paris, where each district has its own life, style and personality."

Friday 11 October 2013

Three Imaginary Homes

Over the last few months social networks in Paris have been gently humming with tales of a fake building in the city. A strange situation, because not only is this story rather an old one, but it is also far from being unique. Here I look at the building in question as well as two others, each of which is unique in its own way.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Tunnel de Napoléon

The last thing you expect to see when visiting a site during the annual Journées du Patrimoine is a dead rat, but then the Tunnel de Napoléon is not a typical heritage site. 

The tunnel is the second place linked to Napoléon III I visited during the weekend, but it has very few similarities with the Cité Napoléon. Whereas that site, an experiment in social housing, was concerned largely with the hygienist ideals of light and air, this storage tunnel near the Parc de Bercy is tenebrous and fetid. But it is also apparently worth preserving.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

The Cité Napoléon

The recent Journées du Patrimoine (heritage days) event gave me the opportunity to explore two places usually closed to the public - both of which are linked to Napoléon III.

The first, the Cité Napoléon is the better-known of the two. Situated on the Rue Rochechouart in the 9th arrondissement, it was the first attempt to create decent housing for the working classes in Paris. 

Friday 6 September 2013

Place Fréhel: the Missing Tooth on the Rue de Belleville

The Place Fréhel, I recently discovered, is an excellent example of a 'dent creuse.' The Place is a mysterious little parcel of land with some interesting stories to tell, but this additional piece of poetry is both pleasing and apt.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

The Secret Life of the Gare Montparnasse

Like churches and hospitals, places of purpose, with distinct rules and behaviours, there is a special atmosphere in a train station that I find difficult to resist. For most, the train station is a point of departure or arrival, a place to spend as little time as possible. For others it is their place of work, for others still a place to sleep or beg. Rarely is it a place to visit.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Through La Chapelle, in Search of the Croix de l'Evangile

At the bottom of the Rue Marx Dormoy, near the La Chapelle Metro station sits Le Capucin. It's the epitome of the banal Parisian cafe, the kind of place where you can still eat hard boiled eggs at the bar. On this morning, my neighbour at the counter is one of the city's street cleaners, his flourescent green plastic broom - matching his uniform - propped up outside at the doorway. The coffee is unsurprisingly tasteless, but it jolts me in to action, and sends me off on my mission.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Concrete Paris: A new Invisible Paris walking tour

Now available on Apple and Android smart devices, a 20th century architectural tour of the city’s 16th arrondissement.

This new walk, created in association with Pocket Guide
, takes you across the the city's westernmost arrondissement, but is also partly a walk through two villages that stood just outside of Paris until the middle of the 19th century; Auteuil and Passy.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

The Paris Archives: Died on the 4th of July

At around 10.45am on July 4th 1905, a young policeman succumbed to a gunshot wound he had received earlier that day. This was not the first such incident that year in Paris - or even in the previous 30 days - but several elements were reunited this time to make the case particularly memorable. 

Reported in breathless detail by the press the next day, the incident itself was as banal as it was pointless.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

The Cité 212: Where Social Housing Meets the History of Aviation

Living within sight of an airport may seem undesirable today, but there was a time when such locations were considered glamorous. Although the areas surrounding the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports are today dominated by warehouses, motorways and modern box hotels, a glimpse of this previous era can still be seen opposite Paris's Le Bourget airport.

Situated to the north-east of Paris and surrounded by the kinds of towns where nobody chooses to live, Le Bourget struggles to retain any glamour today. Nevertheless, it is still one of Europe's leading airports for private jets, and can also now boast an exclusive Gogasian art gallery in one of its old hangers.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

A Pigeon's Eye View of Paris

Patrice Rambaud aka 'L'œil du pigeon' is a trained architect and talented urban illustrator with a fantastic eye for Paris. He has already self-published an atmospheric and offbeat look at the city's 20th arrondissement - but he needs your help to complete the other 19 districts!

Saturday 1 June 2013

I Remember When This Will All Be Trees

A visit to what will become, in 2014, the city's first forest.

You need a lot of imagination to visualise a forest in this location. It looks more like an oversight or a service road, squeezed between what was until recently a wasteland and the city's périphérique motorway. The wasteland - or friche - has given way to a strip of modern office blocks and a new multi-screen cinema that will open in a couple of months time, but the motorway still announces its presence with a continuous rumble.

Thursday 16 May 2013

On Cities and Silence

After publishing books on the quiet corners of London and Amsterdam, artist and writer Siobhan Wall has now focussed her attentions on Paris. I ask her what attracts her at once to cities and silence, and why quietness is so important to her.

Friday 26 April 2013

Marcel Hennequet: An Uncelebrated Poet of Paris

The name Marcel Hennequet may be largely forgotten in Paris today, but it is engraved into some of the most imaginative interwar buildings in the city.

What links the Boulevard Periere in the 17th with the Rue Scheffer in the 16th? The answer is a set of twin buildings, both designed by the architect Marcel Hennequet, and both wearing a particularly innovative material.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Life Begins at 40: Has the Olympiades Development Reached Maturity?

No other part of Paris has undergone such a radical transformation as the 13th arrondissement in the last 50 years, and nowhere is this more visible than at the Olympiades development, celebrating its 40th birthday this year. But have these transformations been successful?

Rarely has a shopping centre been less appropriately named than the Centre Commercial Oslo. Sandwiched at the heart of the Olympiades development, it is home to a strip of Asian restaurants and stores. Alongside the original signage - sporting hellenic-inspired font in Greek blues and whites - Chinese lanterns hang from the false ceilings, and gaudy baubles flash in shop windows.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

The Ruins of Neuilly-sur-Seine

Although officially the richest town in France*, Neuilly-sur-Seine is built within a landscape of ruins. In search of these vestiges of destruction amongst the modern-day architecture of affluence.

Running north to south through the heart of Neuilly, a town that touches Paris's western edges, is the Boulevard du Château. Although difficult to track down today, the chateau this road refers to once occupied 170 hectares of land and dominated the river beneath. After wandering aimlessly around the somewhat sterilised streets of the town, I eventually find the remains of the building, not on the Boulevard or Rue du Château, but on the corner of the Boulevard de la Saussaye and the Boulevard d'Argenson.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

A Walk On the Waterfront

A building transformed into a giant paint pot might seem surprising, but it is only one of several curiosities on the quixotic Quai d'Austerlitz.

Take the lines 5 or 6 of the Metro as they fly across the Seine and you won't help but notice the giant luminous blobs of paint oozing down the sides of a riverside tower block.

Standing on the Quai d'Austerlitz, this is the creation of urban artist Idem, who decorated the empty building over two days at the end of 2012.

Monday 11 March 2013

Searching for Somewhere on the Road to Nowhere

One of the first posts I wrote on this blog back in 2008 was about a mysterious bricked-up passageway in the 9th arrondissement. Thanks to the recent intervention of a reader who happens to live above the arch, I have been motivated to - partially - solve the conundrum.

My original post on this archway at the end of the Cité Fenelon did not even consider what may be on the other side. It was a curious feature of the cityscape, but one that I quickly forgot about - until a reader contacted me with more information.

Saturday 2 March 2013

A Musical Map of Paris

An interactive online map highlights the musical geography of Paris, but what does it tell us about the city?

The map, originally created to accompany an exhibition held last year in Paris, plots the lyrical locations of over 200 songs that have Paris as a theme. It's a simple, fun tool to use, allowing you to zoom in on specific districts, then to click and listen to the songs. 

Imagining Paris as a musical map is fascinating. The city becomes a place where you can be transported from one district to another not by Metro, but by song. At each stop it is in theory possible to learn something about the area's history and identity from this musical footprint.

Friday 22 February 2013

The Invisible Dossiers: A Room with a View

What links a vintage postcard, a forgotten novel and a lost film? The answer - a small room in a Paris left-bank hotel.

Since I began posting on Invisible Paris it has always been clear to me that there are certain subjects for which the blog format is not suitable. These slippery topics have stretched out over months, lead me on tangents in and out of Paris, and have never yet been published - until now.

Friday 15 February 2013

The Densest Building in Paris

In what is already Europe's most crowded capital city, it is perhaps an unenviable honour to be labelled the densest building in Paris. Though undoubtedly hefty and imposing, the building that claims this crown is not without a certain grace and charm - and one or two surprises!

Designed by the architect Léon Nafilyan* in the 1930s, the construction takes up a long strip of the Rue Raynouard - a residential artery that lies parallel to the Rue de Passy in the 16th arrondissement. The design, sometimes labelled 'American style', has a density that is more often associated with city-centre office blocks, but it also shows how the modern style of architecture had been completely adopted by the middle-classes in this period.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

The Salle Cortot: a wardrobe that sounds like a violin!

Auguste Perret's Salle Cortot offers a blank exterior to passers by, but its interesting interior can be experienced for free during lunchtime concerts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays!

The Salle Cortot on the Rue Cardinet in the 17th arrondissement is the concert hall of the École normale de musique de Paris, an institution that was created in 1919 by the pianist Alfred Cortot.

This particular date is not insignificant. Coming just after the end of the First World War, Cortot's declared intention was that his school would teach French music to international students, with the hope that this would limit the spread of Germanic influences.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

A Murmuration of Starlings

On and around a condemned building in the Rue de l'Orillon, a group of starlings is currently putting on a performance each evening at dusk. But for how long?

Around an hour before sundown they begin to gather. Not in trees or on rooftops but instead on the metallic branches of an giant television antenna. A clandestine and somewhat dangerous-looking installation, it nevertheless provides the perfect look-out spot across the city.

They arrive in groups of 15-20 birds, feral packs that have spent the day scavanging across different parts of the city. The birds jostle for position on the arial, before setting out on their mass pre-bedtime swooping, twisting display.

Sunday 27 January 2013

The Swimming Pool that Sank and other Watery Tales

Having a fascination with obscure - but atmospheric - vintage Paris postcards, I naturally couldn't resist this curiously framed river shot, taken from the bankside in front of the Hotel de Ville.

It is rare to see Paris cloaked in such a gloomy London-style pea soup fog, particularly in postcards, but the subject of this picture is not the weather. Instead, the photographer has focussed his camera on three fantastically grimy children onboard a barge.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Celebrating Oscar Niemeyer at the Siege du Parti Communiste

I have previously written about the Paris HQ building of the French Communist party on this blog, but last weekend gave me the opportunity to explore the interiors - and to take plenty of photographs!

To celebrate the life of Oscar Niemeyer, the building's architect, who died at the end of 2012 (aged 104!) - the doors of the French Communist party HQ were opened to the public for the weekend. Naturally, for a place that has prided itself on its secrecy, not all doors were open, but it was possible to visit the most interesting parts of the building.

Sunday 13 January 2013

L'Albatros: a Skeleton of Silent Film

When researching my recent post on French silent film star Max Linder I was surprised to discover that the studio in which he made most of his films was still standing. At the earliest opportunity I headed out there - camera in hand - to investigate.

The story of the studios goes back to 1904, when Charles Pathé, in competition with Georges Méliès and the Star Film company, decided to add a new facility in Montreuil to those he already owned in neighbouring Vincennes. The location he chose was an old race horse stables, with the horse boxes being transformed into dressing rooms!

Far more modern was the glass construction he built alongside for filming. Although it may have been unbearably hot in summer, the idea was that it would let in a maximum amount of natural light, a necessity in a time before sophisticated lighting rigs on sets.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Les Echelles du Baroque: a Post-Modern Pastiche

In the 1980s, Paris and its surrounding towns developed a taste for the post-modern architecture of Ricardo Bofill and his disciples from the 'Le Taller de Arquitectura' movement. To see how their schemes fit into today's city, I took a walk around the Place de Catalogne.

Like most architects, Bofill is not somebody who has ever lacked ambition. Asked to redevelop an area behind the Montparnasse train station, Bofill - who was already behind a series of mega developments in the Paris suburbs - proposed 'les Echelles du Baroque', a huge and rather pretentiously-named apartment block.

Curving around a roundabout, and spiraling backwards into two distinct plazas, the development contains the considerable total of 274 apartments. Nevertheless, forced to respect planning restrictions in Paris it contains only 7 floors (despite being in the shadow of the 59-floor Montparnasse tower, built 10 years earlier). 

Walking around the development, the first thing that strikes me is how dated it looks. This is not necessarily a bad thing - after all, art deco or art nouveau architecture is equally date-stamped, but this scheme was supposed to be a timeless one, a reminder of classical forms and structures. 

The 'Le Taller de Arquitectura' team is said to include not only architects, engineers and planners, but also musicians, film-makers and philosophers. Although based in Barcelona, the team has built more apartments in France than in any other country (over 2000 in France against 1500 in Spain). Why though were the French so taken with this particular style and ideology?

The answer probably was that it flattered them (Bofill cites both Mansard and Ledoux as his key influences) and it was hoped that it would change public attitudes towards architecture following the uncompromising constructions of the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, Bofill claimed that he wanted his constructions to reconcile the public with modern architecture and to create 'monuments for the people'.

Outlining his motivations, Bofill states that he tries " decipher the spontaneous movements and behaviour of people, and to detect the needs of change that they might unconsciously express." But if these desires and wishes are never consciously expressed, how could he be so sure that his take on 'classical' city designs - which he claims are embedded in humanity's collective conscience and memory - are what people really want?

The problem is that none of this seems entirely convincing. It may be modelled on baroque designs and feature classical Doric columns, but it is - as writer Andrew Ayers put it - "a Legoland 'Versailles for the people' classicism" in pre-fabricated concrete.

In many ways it is an architecture that seems more suited to the new towns where Bofill first worked in France, places such as Marne la Vallée (the Palacio d'Abraxas) and Saint Quentin en Yvelines (les Arcades du Lac) that had no specific identity and were looking for something a little regal (whilst also keeping costs low). In Paris, Bofill's architecture can always be compared to original classical models, and quickly revealed as the pastiche it is.

Although Bofill's desire has always been to create neighbourhoods by stitching disparate entities together into the city fabric, there is little evidence that any kind of community has developed here in the 25 years since this project was finished.

It is in fact something of a forgotten zone, a passageway for cars crossing the city. Indeed, although the development has the curved form of an Italianate piazza, it remains simply the edge of a roundabout.

Bofill's golden age in France has clearly passed. His group has produced very little in Paris and the surrounding area in the last 20 years, suggesting that this was an post-modern experiment that never really worked.
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