Paris. As we all know, it’s the City of Lights. A certain level of enthusiasm fills the city due to its endless boulevards lined up with cafés and boulangeries, and parks at each corner, exerting a magnetic pull that attracts millions of people around the world towards it. If the cafes and the parks are not enough to describe the charm, then there are historic buildings and facades lining up the boulevards that take you behind in time to the various architectural movements of the time.
But how did it arrive at this stage? Who designed it?
Was it the same over a century ago?
The answer is No.
Just like every city, Paris also has a history. In the 19th century, the City of Light had to go through a gut renovation during the rule of Napoleon III, who appointed Georges-Eugène Haussmann, a public administrator. Haussmann transformed the entire city plan, as the French capital suffered from increased population and smaller houses, poor roads, and sewer conditions, also leading to various diseases.
Arc de Triomphe. When Napoleon III and Haussmann envisioned to rip off the entire city and build a new one, they began with the design of boulevards, radiating from Arc de Triomphe twelve in numbers, out of which four go in the cardinal directions of the city. Haussmann’s London tour inspired him to transform his city upside down. Wide boulevards, grand squares, parks, and trees, Haussmann thought, would be a solution for his cramped and dark city where sunlight could hardly penetrate. Boulevards form an important urban-scape of Paris. These wide boulevards served as a solution to the previous five-meter (widest) roads that could barely have space for wagons, carriages, and people to move together. The boulevards and avenues are lined with trees that make the streets airy that were previously stinky.
These wide streets cleared up the way to stand and observe the neatly aligned uniform-looking facades envisioned by Haussmann. Haussmann’s ideology was to design buildings that would have the same height as well as the same-looking façade. The five-story high apartment blocks replaced the small five-square-metered houses that could house over 20 people. Haussmann’s love for ancient monuments motivated him to build the apartment blocks in a neoclassical style.
The chaotic city overcrowded by people now had well-designed open spaces like urban parks where people could freely go and have leisure time. The urban parks that were located at the four cardinal points of the city covered 4,932 acres of the Paris land. Public squares were also designed throughout the city. This also gave the opportunity for designing the other urban facilities like the train stations, opera house, market squares, city halls, cafes, new schools, and theaters, etc.
Materials and Construction
The Haussmann Plan of Paris took 20 years to complete including the demolition of almost 20,000 buildings and construction of 34,000 new ones. The construction took place step by step, the first being the construction of the boulevards and avenues for the ease of movement within the city, including the services below the roads – the water, sewer, and gas lines. The construction of other major facilities like train stations was also given priority for the movement outside the city.
Streets were filled with cobblestone that was a good match for the building facades neatly dressed in cream-colored limestone, quarried outside the city. The stone facades showed an imposing appearance that automatically hid the height factor of the buildings and was designed in a neo-classical style having decorative details and intricate wrought-iron balconies
These Haussmannian-style apartments went up to only five stories of twenty meters height on the boulevards and up to four stories on smaller streets. A typical pitched roof was constructed at an angle of 45 degrees with five to seven window punctures to let maximum daylight in. Also, the windows were designed larger which occupied a large portion of the façade, allowing for airy and illuminated interiors during the day. The design of interior spaces was left to the owners by Haussmann, whereas the exteriors were kept standard for a uniform look.
A city’s sustainability is seen by how the people respond to the environment – through their interaction with the surrounding, with the streets, with the buildings, etc., and also the interaction of streets with its surroundings – the buildings, the shops, etc. The Haussmann Plan gave Paris wide roads that provide space for planting trees along the road that help with circulating clean air along with beautifying the streets.
Grand city parks like Bois de Boulogne to the west and Bois de Vincennes to the east, and numerous other smaller parks were built by Haussmann. The parks, along with giving people a place to sit in and relax, also provide fresh and clean air to the city. For public-street interaction, Haussmann provided kiosks, benches, and other street furniture.
Clean and fresh-water was provided to the city through the construction of a new aqueduct, and underground sewage systems and public lavatories were installed that cleared the sanitation issues in this newly built city. Gas lamps, first of its kind in the country, flickered on the streets through the gas pipes underground.
Today, as new and modern construction begin to line up the streets of Paris and alter the skyline, Eugène Haussmann’s uniform design throughout the city still attracts millions of people by its impressive street architecture and the urban plan that was thought about a century ago for the betterment of the future, turning the French capital into an architecturally significant city in the world.