Friday 16 February 2018

Le Corbusier and a sinking feeling

A little over eight years ago on this blog I posted on Le Corbusier’s two 1929 Salvation Army projects in Paris. If his polychrome Cité de Refuge has since undergone extensive renovations and shines on the horizon, the concrete barge on the Seine, the Louise-Catherine, unfortunately sank in 20 minutes last weekend following the recent floods.

Already in 2010 the barge was little more than a shell moored on the quai d’Austerlitz, but it had a new owner and an ambitious project to bring it back to life. In the intervening years I’ve always looked down on the boat when passing by Metro over the Pont d’Austerlitz, looking for signs of progress. At first very little happened, but recently it seemed that the autumn 2018 reopening date might just be successfully met.

That though was before the waters began rising this winter, and the Seine flooded onto the quais. The Louise-Catherine rose with the water and slipped onto the bank. It was whilst moving the barge back into the river that an object – surely connected to the renovations – pierced the hull. When the boat was put back to float it instead filled with water and sank in just 20 minutes.

It seems odd today to see just an empty space, although footbridges, a ghostly half-submerged form and a single mast are still visible, and two large orange buoys mark the spot to warn passing traffic. As the water recedes further, more of the structure will begin to appear, and Paris will have its first aquatic wreck.

©Fondation Le Corbusier

"The barge was 80 metres long,” wrote Le Corbusier after the initial redesign from a coal carrying vessel to a static riverside refuge for the city’s down and outs. “We built, from the bottom to the top...a vast space divided into three compartments. We added 160 beds, a dining room, kitchens, toilets, sinks, showers, private apartments and a hanging garden on the roof of the barge”.

After the initial despondency, the barge’s owners have promised to quickly repair and refloat the structure before continuing the renovations, but all will depend on the extent of the damage. The Louise-Catherine has already had several lives – it would be impossible to imagine it not being reborn once again.


Susan said...

Dammit! I was at Austerlitz last weekend. I didn't know about this so didn't go and look.

Colin Bisset said...

Very sad but hopefully salvageable. I think the barge was originally intended to be moored in Paris during the winter as a refuge for homeless men, but during the summer it was meant to take groups of underprivileged children on summer camps outside Paris. But I've never seen evidence that this is what happened - no photos, at any rate. Maybe you know more about that.

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago, when I saw Louise, lonely abandoned, I think to all sdf who search for a refuge! Now the aquatic world squat in it ! Lovely world!

Hels said...

I thought we had discussed all of Le Corbusier's projects in Paris in lectures, but no one ever mentioned Cite de Refuge and the Louise-Catherine. 160 beds and all those extra living facilities on a barge? Amazing!

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