Perfecting the Promenade: The Viaduc des Arts and CoulĂŠe Vert as Catalysts for Urban Ecological Connectivity Submitted by Davis Butner Penn Design@Paris June 9th, 2014 Professor Annette Fierro
The sport of ‘people watching’ is alive and well in Paris, a city which may very well have invented this common social practice. Particularly as a visitor, I myself am guilty of such pleasures of human social observation and have often sought the long, narrow parks of Luxembourg and Les Invalides in which to exercise my role as a modern flaneur. Yet, one set of parks I have encountered in the context of Parisian urban greenery set themselves apart, not only for their peculiar location and history, but for the transformations it has brought upon the surrounding urban fabric it so gracefully glides through. While functioning on multiple programatic levels as outdoor community centers and gardens as well as a pedestrian/cycling thoroughfare, not to mention a hot spot for commercial real-estate, Paris’ Promenade Plantée atop the Viaduc des Arts, transforming into the Coulée Vert at Jardin de Reuilly, serve as a cultural and ecological melting pot. Moreover, the concepts and impetus behind this revolutionary project of urban renewal set up a striking evolutionary paradox: a space for preserving traditions of French horticulture simultaneously would catalyze a wave of surrounding social, ecological, and architectural transformations within the surrounding urban fabric of the 12th arrondissement. In the following analysis, I hope to shed light on the historical context and urban transformations surrounding this unique example of a Parisian promenade in order to question its functionality within the 12th arr. and the greater city of Paris. Through such analysis I hope to better understand aspects of the Promenade Plantée and Coulée Vert which would set a strong precedent for a wave of similar urban structural renovation projects in the U.S and abroad. Historical Context To first conceive of the social and historical platform, both literal and contextual, on which the Promenade and Coulée Vert would come to occupy, we must first acknowledge the
very birth and evolution of the term ‘promenade’. For this we may turn to the a much earlier transitory period in the history of Paris. Penn Trustee Professor and recent tour guide Joan DeJean, in her newest book How Paris Became Paris, traces the origin of the ‘promenade’ to the credit of King Henry IV who, at the dawn of the 17th century was challenged with redesigning a dense and increasingly overcrowded city. Coined the “proumenoir”, DeJean quotes Henry IV’s idea for “a space where the inhabitants of [the] city can walk,” adding “this was a space intended for the everyday recreational use of the inhabitants of increasingly populated urban centers” (53). While referring to the design of Paris’ famed Place Royale, the same character would come to describe many of the city’s subsequent park designs: Open air walkways with neatly trimmed sod, finely manicured plantings and long orthogonal vantage points from which one could easily observe pedestrians throughout the park: a place to “see and be seen”. Original square promenades such as the Place Royale, or “Place de Vosges”, constructed from 1605-1612 would make way for more extensive public outdoor projects such as the opening of the Tuileries (originally a private courtyard and garden for Catherine de Medici) in 1667. (DeJean 110) Long orthogonal walkways leading from a central pond and surrounding clearing would become the center for social interaction and observation foreshadowing a similar focus of view key to the radial spoke plans of the Haussmann era. In considering the evolution of shapes and sizes of these gardens, one can easily note a similarity in their openness to the public, further emphasized by the onset of the French Revolution. Spaciousness, planarity, and orthogonality help to categorize the ‘egalité’ of French public grounds. Nevertheless, as post Haussmannian promenades including the esplanade des Invalides, the opposing esplanade Jacques ChabanDelmas, and the Jardin du Luxembourg expanded such longitudinal walkways, one may find a striking contrast to the non-orthogonal introduction of railroad systems, both above and below
ground within the city of Paris. Taking a more radial approach to Paris’ center, as seen in many 19th century illustrations and mappings of Paris’ railroad systems, the city’s transportation routes seemed to clash with pre-existing public areas of orthogonality, requiring a compromise in regards to both systems. (See fig. 1, 2) Our area of focus, located in the 12th arr. exemplified the symbiosis of both railroad and public walkways throughout its historic evolution. Named after the French general Pierre Daumesnil, who defended the Chateau de la Vincennes during the 1814 seize of Paris by AustroRusso-Prussian Allies, the avenue extends in a gradual right curve from the Chateau de la Vincennes to the Bastille, aligned perfectly by tracks originating from the Gare de Lyon. Constructed in 1859 for the steam locomotive ‘ligne de Vincennes’, the line was supported by an ornate brick and cement viaduct, consisting of semicircular arches to allow for perpendicular roadways to cross beneath. (Lampierre 1044) During the Haussmann era, these archways would be enclosed with large glass and metal mullion facades design by Patrick Berger (see fig. 3) to allow for the introduction of shops beneath the rail tracks. (1044) The result of such ingenuity and efficiency within pre-existing structural supports would be a vital first step towards revitalizing the 12th arr. formerly split in two by the effects of an industrial revolution and subsequent railroad expansion. Likewise, the use of the viaduct structure as both a support for the railroad above as well as shelter for commerce below exemplified the exceptional integration of public and industrial infrastructure which would define this site for the next century. As Paris would continue to revise and redesign its railroad systems with the introduction of the Metro surrounding the 1889 World Expo, the ‘ligne de Vincennes’ would eventually be rerouted to form the RER A line in 1969, leaving the Daumesnil viaduct a relic of an earlier transportation renaissance in the city. (Marechal 25) Utilized only beneath its enclosed archways,
the viaduct would remain preserved, yet barren until 1990, when the Marire de Paris would propose an extensive revitalization of the viaduct into an ‘avenue of the arts’. (26) It appears the proposal was to serve three main purposes: re-enliven the shops below the viaduct into a series of art galleries, preserve and essentially renovate the original viaduct structure as a token to the golden age of Paris’ railroad industry, and lastly, re-utilize the railway bed atop the viaduct as a public access walkway in the direction of the Bois de la Vincennes. Described in the tastefully French manner on the ‘Viaduc des Arts’ website as an ‘exceptional’ avenue, this proposal would virtually redefine the concept of a ‘promenade’ with the introduction of the ‘promenade plantée’, preserving the essence of French social culture and horticulture within a post-industrial urban ecology. Simultaneously the proposal echoed similar projects of late 20th century urban renewal in Paris such as Francois Mitterrand’s urban planning for ‘La Defense’, Montparnasse, and ‘Bibliotheque Nationale de France’ with the re-invention of the ‘raised platform’. Designed by landscape architect Jaques Vergely and architect Phillipe Matthieux, the new promenade would open in 1993, allowing pedestrian access atop the viaduct beginning near the Bastille Opera at the split between Rue de Lyon and Avenue Daumesnil, effectively linking the Bastille to the Jardin de Reuilly before transforming into the Coulée Vert to weave pedestrians and cyclists towards the Bois de la Vincennes. (Martin 102) (see Fig. 4) This introduction of a continuous promenade garden would effectively serve as a grafted vein of the Bois de la Vincennes into the 12th arr., providing one of the densest urban landscapes of Paris with nearby access to cultivated greenery. Characteristics of the Parks In keeping with the concept of a promenade, one will immediately notice aspects of Vergely and Matthieux’s French garden design which reinterpret the fundamental quality of sight
and perspective, particularly atop the viaduct. As in the case of the projects of Montparnasse and the BnF, the risen platform provides pristine perspectives below while remaining removed from the context of a surrounding urban fabric. Yet, in the case of the promenade plantĂŠe, elevation coupled with foliage and vegetation promises an element of privacy for the lofty promenader. Playing with density and vantage point, pedestrians encounter a range of conditions along the promenade providing at times natural enclosures surrounding long stretches of straight pathway, or in other instances clearings with pristine vantage points towards the streets below. A rhythm is in fact introduced beginning at the first entrance to the viaduct behind the Bastille Opera in which carefully spaced sections of dense vegetation, effectively isolating pedestrians from their surroundings, are interlaced by clearings along the perimeter of the viaduct at instances where streets pass through below. This contrast between enclosure and openness timed at moments of intersection creates a sense of visual contrast questioning the role of observer and observed. In instances of dense planting along the edges of the viaduct, straight pathways allow garden goers to observe fellow promenaders while remaining removed from the urban fabric beneath. On the other hand, when crossing over perpendicular intersecting streets, clearings in the vegetation along the perimeter cause a shift in the potential roles of promenaders, allowing for views towards unsuspecting pedestrians and traffic but at the expense of being viewed unsuspectingly by subsequent passerby along the promenade (not to mention exposure to the surrounding balconies along the perimeter of the viaduct). (See Drw 2) Thus, with added perspective comes the price of privacy. One must likewise take into account the evolving edge condition of the viaduct and its transformation into subsequent zones of the Jardin de Reuilly and CoulĂŠe Vert to further comprehend the notion of privacy and transparency along the promenade. In the context of the
elevated viaduct, portions near the first kilometer from the Bastille Opera entrance are flanked by thick embankments, regardless of the density of plantings in coordination with streets crossings underneath. Yet, within the second kilometer, thick walls give way to thin metal bannisters and wood plank bridges extending over intersecting sections of perpendicular roadways. Thus privacy is further reduced as the garden and its pathways give way to increased transparency. Finally, upon reaching the Jardin de Reuilly, an arced steel and wooden footbridge extends the length of the park, opening up the pathway entirely to observers below as the viaduct and its seclusion dissolves into the parkâ€™s greenery. (See Drw 1) Such instances of privacy through elevation along the viaduct, or in better terms, the mystery it creates from onlookers below, enhances the inviting effect of the promenadeâ€™s ascending entrances. Turning to the first entrance to the viaduct behind the Bastille Opera house, one immediately notices the angle in which the entrance aligns to the diversion of Avenue Daumesnil from the straight axis of Rue de Lyon, catching the eye of pedestrians headed down the Rue de Lyon from the Bastille. This entrance allows for onlookers approaching the fork in the road to gaze directly through a large rectangular opening in the brick of the end of the viaduct through which curious pedestrians climb a set of gradual stairs to reach the level of the promenade above. Such systematic transparency is reflected in the position and composition of a number of side entrances, particularly seen in the intersection of Avenue Daumesnil and Passage Com AA12. As the preserved viaduct faĂ§ade provides a gap for the intersection of the perpendicular street, a steel elevated pathway extends in a graceful arc beyond the edge of the viaduct to expose onlookers below to the maze of public trails above, while a wide steel stairway ascends behind the arc. (See Drw 3)
Towards Bois de la Vincennes, both privacy and access are further explored by changes in elevation of the promenade from viaduct to Coulée Vert. The loftiness of the promenade above the viaduct gives way to a gradual tapering of ground and elevated garden at the Jardin de Reuilly, culminating in the transversing arced footbridge before resuming on the ground in a section known as the Allée Vivaldi. Conditions are soon reversed when, following a bend around a pivotal fountain at the end of the Allée, the promenade, joined by an intertwining bike path, tunnels beneath the intersection of Rue de Reuilly before emerging as the Coulée Vert. Subsequently, the Coulée Vert, though densely wooded, becomes easily accessible through a number of adjacent sidewalks as well as intersections with the aforementioned bike path. In this instance of opposition, the roles of perception and privacy are dramatically changed. Pedestrians once privileged with lofty views of plebeians below are now subject to the gazes of their former fixations from above, just before tunneling into the thick foliage of tangled pathways and passing cyclists. The result is a complete evolution of privacy and perspective from the height of the viaduct near the Bastille Opera to the grounding of the Coulée Vert leading to the expanse of Bois de Vincennes: a renovation of the very concept of an evolutionary promenade. Greater Functionality within the City of Paris Having now considered the history and characteristics of the promenade and Coulée Vert, one must take into account the role of this so called ‘vein’ of connected parks and pathways within the larger context of the 12th arr. and Paris as a whole. To do so, we must first turn our attention to one of the so called ‘lungs of Paris’, namely the Bois de Vincennes to which one is led through the Coulée Vert. Envisioned by Napoleon III in 1855, the park was to include a number of themed gardens scattering the grounds of the Chateau de Vincennes, a former palace of the King of France. (Marechal 14) Evolving into the likes of Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park as
an ecological staple and equalizer in contrast to the density of Paris, the bois would provide the city with a sizable natural buffer, as well as a newfound site for recreation following the institution of paid vacation in lieu of the industrial revolution. Nevertheless the park would continually struggle from poor access from the city, relying almost entirely on the transportation brought forth by the ligne de Vincennes and adjacent railway systems for the broader city population. Effectively, the repurposing of the railroad viaduct into a promenade, thus linking together a series of parks and gardens in its path, provides direct public access to the bois. Through careful and creative structuring of side entrances and access ways, oriented to cultivate the curiosity of onlookers through a play of perspective from adjacent street corners, these aforementioned entrances coupled with frequent signage help direct pedestrians towards la Vincennes. The promenade and coulĂŠe thus serve not only as a vein of public greenery within the 12th arr., but a funnel for the greater city of Paris, connecting the densely populated region surrounding the Bastille directly to the right lung of Paris in a single act of industrial beautification. One must also take into account the constantly shifting edge condition of the viaduct, linked gardens, and promenade trails from the perspective of pedestrians below as an architectural invention to evoke curiosity for exploration from adjacent passerby. Each section of the promenade, leading either to a strategically placed side entrance or public garden, offers intrigued observers easy access to the promenade, simultaneously offloading adjacent streets of pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
The combined functionality of this inserted parkway within a greater urban landscape thus invites and efficiently siphons the public to areas of community interaction, free from the disturbance and disturbing of automobiles. Resulting Evolutions to Surrounding Urban Fabric While much attention thus far has been given to the context of the promenade itself, little has been mentioned concerning the effects of this urban renewal on the surrounding urban fabric through which it soars. In a sense, the system of connected parks serves as a datum for the translation of opposing urban ecologies, from densely packed core to the openness of the Vincennes forrest. Along this datum, one can in fact read the timeline of evolution within the area surrounding the promenade, written into the architecture adjacent to the promenade itself. What may seem hidden within the design of adjacent facades at first, becomes increasingly evident as one is introduced to the types of buildings bordering the viaduct en route to Jardin de Reuilly. One type of building presents a barren stucco wall to the edge of the promenade, metaphorically turning its back, while a second type boasts a sea of balconies, reflective of the emergence of the balcony in the Place de Vosges. Finally, a third type envelopes the promenade entirely, hosting its gardens within a central courtyard and allowing for multiple vantage points both internally and externally towards the trail. In each of these examples, one can see that by reading the amount of glazing and/or transparency on the adjacent faรงade indicates the time period in which it was built. Barren stucco walls thus signify a building erected during the time of the 19th/20th century steam locomotive. Balconies on the other hand, reveal that the building was created following the rerouting of the railroad for the RER A from as early as 1969. Finally, buildings enveloping the promenade boast that they were constructed most recently along with the viaduct des Arts after 1993.
The balcony façade, while allowing for residents to easily observe promenaders and enjoy the gardens through the comfort of one’s own home, nevertheless raises a question of privacy for its occupants. As noted by excessive vandalism within the park, mainly through graffitti, these balconies are often the first to receive damage, largely due to their proximity and accessibilty from the promenade. While this is certainly the intent of the original design in allowing for increased connectivity between the promenade and adjacent residents, it seems one must consider the fine line between accessibility and visibility amidst a need for privacy. As for buildings straddling the promenade, one may come to see a contradiction between the intent to renovate vs. retrofit the viaduct. A repurposing of the promenade envelope, while providing increased accessibility for residents, seems to detract from the traditional landscape and preservation of the viaduct itself. Thus questions must be raised over the need for limitations in future adjacent design despite a clear motive towards increased connectivity along the promenade. Project Comparison: NYC’s High Line (Renovate vs. Retrofit) A suitable example of this same debate can be considered in New York’s successful High Line project, for which the Viaduct des Arts was a clear precedent and influence. In comparison to the program of the highline, one can safely say that this project represents a retrofitting rather than a renovation, as the remaining structural support of an earlier elevated NYC railway system is largely integrated into the design for the garden and walkways themselves rather than preserved for its originality. Thus, one may consider questions of orientation between the two projects, comparing the relation of the High Line’s trail and streamlined vegetation to that of a more orthogonal zigzagging pathway of the traditional French garden landscape of the promenade plantée. Likewise, one must consider the relation which the High Line has to the
streets of NYC below, noting its largely open sections which cross perpendicular intersections below in order to catch the eye of pedestrians above. One may note that the entrances to the High Line are often located at each of these intersections, similar to the promenade, but largely alter the structure of the original railroad itself, counter to the promenade’s preserved viaduct walls. Thus one may begin to conclude that while intentions of connectivity and perspective remain constant between the two projects, one takes the approach of renovation while the other benefits from the flexibility of a retrofit design. Finally, I would like to raise the question in considering which aspects of the promenade have triggered such a massive wave of similar industrial renewal projects in the U.S. and beyond. Cities such as Chicago and Atlanta have already begun to consider elevated garden projects, while studios such as the AA in London have begun to consider projects in Bilbao and Moscow. For this I consider the edge condition of these projects as effective in producing both connectivity for their surroundings, as well as prime architectural real estate for eager ‘starchitects’ craving a good plot of land and constant pedestrian publicity. It seems that the High Line boasts this concept most successfully in that it brings attention to a formerly poorly maintained section of Manhattan with a surge of commerce, construction, and revival. Would one consider this as the same outcome of the promenade plantée? What aspects of the insertion of such a traditional garden within an already dense landscape may have caused such a projects intent to fade through the years to come?
Figure 1: Train Schedule Showing Radial City Stations (Pavillon de l’Arsenal)
Figure 3: Patrick Berger illustration of viaduct storefront glazed facades (Lampierre 1044)
Figure 2: Arial Perspective of Radial Railroads towards Paris (Pavillon de l’Arsenal)
Figure 4: Mapping of the green vein through Paris’ 12th arr. from the Bastille to Bois de la Vincennes Promenade Plantée, Jardin de Reuilly, and Coulée Vert system
Site Photographs Solid RED :: Exterior Structure/pathways Solid Blue :: Promenade Plantée Dotted RED :: External Perspective Dotted BLUE :: Internal Perspective Dotted BLACK :: Dimensions
Drw 1 :: Promenade bridge over Jardin de Rueilly
Drw 3 ::: Perspective of Side Entrance to Promenade Plantée Drw 2 :: Clearing Section of Viaduc des Arts
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Lubell, Sam. Paris 2000+. New York: The Monacelli Press, 2007. Print. (BnF) Simon, Philippe. Paris Visite Guidee: Architecture, Urbanisme, Histoires et Actualites. Paris: Pavillon de l’Arsenal, 2007. Print. (Cité) Texier, Simon. Paris: Grammaire de l’Architecture, XX – XXI Siecles. Paris: Parigramme, 2007. Print. (Cité)
The Viaduc des Arts and Coulee Vert as Catalysts for Urban Ecological Connectivity PennDesign@Paris Davis Butner 2014