Les Halles Market 1854-1857, Victor Baltard

Victor Baltard (1805-1874) is a French architect who worked in Paris during the Second Empire.

 He is the son of the architect Louis Pierre Baltard.

 1823 studied architecture and painting at the School of Fine Arts in Paris.

At the age of 28, he was awárded a grand prize for a project for a military school.

1833 he obtained a schólarship for a stay in Italy (1834-1839) where he studied archeology and drew reconstructions of ancient works such as the Parthenon in Rome.

From 1834 to 1839, he was in Rome as a pensioner at the Villa Medicis.

The Academy of France in Rome is then under the direction of Dominique Ingres.

 Upon his return, he gave classes in the theory of architecture at the School of Fine Arts.

1842 he is appointed municipal inspector of works and collaborates with Haussman in the remodeling of Paris.

His most important work is the Mercado de les Halles (1854-1859), the belly of Paris that Emile Zola says.

The building is linked to the surrounding road system and to the Orient station.

The project offers a weightless architecture with a cast iron skeleton and a wrought iron roof construction.

The structure is filled with glass and brick wall.

The pavilions have a glass roof, have the shape of a cross, and communicate with each other by means of traffic and include two lateral naves and a higher central nave on each floor.

Natural light penetrates through the latter and through the glass cover.

The complex is made up of a system of modules defined by the standardized measurements of the two-by-two-meter sales areas.

The transformations of Les Halles de Paris have always been involved in controversy, since the construction of the Central Market of the city, during the Second French Empire, forced to destroy a large area of ​​its medieval quarter.

But the biggest discussion arose in the late 1970s, with the transfer of the market and the demolition of the historic Baltard pavilions.

The disputes over the mission and formalization of that emblematic place in the center of Paris, opened a Pandora’s box that would confront politicians, architects and citizens in a succession of nonsense that would lead Les Halles to become the paradigm of urban disagreement, generating a controversy that would reach planetary dimensions. Then, ignoring everyone, the municipal authority imposed a solution that would end up being a failure.

For this reason, with the arrival of the 21st century, a new consultation process was opened through which the new political leaders wanted to agree, with citizens and professional experts, on the future direction of Les Halles.

After numerous technical reports, various public consultations and architectural competitions, work began on the new Halles in Paris in 2010, which is expected to be completed in 2016.

The current project is not without criticism, but part of a consensus that Les Halles had never obtained before.

Perhaps finally, the womb of Paris, as defined by Émile Zola, can become the desired urban heart.

In his 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris) Émile Zola described the daily life of Parisian society around the new central market that the Second Empire had just built.

They were large and modern steel and glass pavilions that sheltered the future of Parisians between fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, cheeses and sausages.

Les Halles, they were a gigantic urban complex that fed the city, it was the belly of Paris. A century later, the transfer of the market and the demolition of the pavilions left a great urban void in a privileged position, which the Parisian authorities aspired to turn into the heart of the city.

There the main railway transport node of the entire Parisian region would be located, which would be accompanied by an extensive endowment program, with commerce, culture, sports and leisure.

The Parisian authorities wanted to transform that hollow belly into a new heart that would pump activity to the rest of the city. It seems that things were in the guts, because this analogy also came to characterize the behaviors of the protagonists at the end of the 1970s.

Unfortunately, «visceral» attitudes, intense, emotional and, sometimes, little founded, presided for some time. time the future of Les Halles.

Starting with the authoritarianism of the then mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, who imposed a Plan against the opinions of citizens and professional experts.

Continuing with the architects, who extended the discussion to a great international debate that would place Les Halles as a paradigm of urban disagreement.

Continuing by the citizens themselves, residents and merchants, who took to the streets in protest at not being able to participate in the future of their neighborhood, or by the political opposition and by a wide range of urban specialists, who vehemently expressed their discontent on the future of the project.

After verifying the failure of the space generated in that context, at present, they have tried to amend errors and Les Halles is in a deep process of remodeling that, although it is not exempt from criticism, is based on a consensus between politicians, citizens and experts professionals like never before.

We are going to delve into the chronicle of that confusion that seems to have come to an end, and that began many years ago, with the construction of the central food market for Paris …

The Parisian Marais was initially a marshy area (marais means marsh) that, since the 12th century, was gradually integrated into the life of the city, as a space used for different markets.

These medieval facilities grew to occupy a large area, but their spontaneous arrangement was causing very serious circulation and health problems.

The Les Halles neighborhood had become a chaotic space and that is why an attempt was made to redirect.

There were several attempts at rearrangement during the 18th century that did not succeed, although some specific intervention did, such as the grain market (Halle aux blés), a circular building that was built between 1763 and 1767 according to the project by Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières, and which years later would be covered by a large dome (designed by Jacques-Guillaume Legrand and Jacques Molinos, 1782-1783).

But it was not enough. Napoleon Bonaparte himself launched a reorganization of the Parisian markets, although he did not have time to complete it.

The increasing intensity of commercial activities in Les Halles led the Prefect of Paris, the Count of Rambuteau, to plan a new arrangement that would improve the serious traffic and hygiene problems that were suffocating the place.

The restructuring resulted in the creation of a large central supply market.

In 1848 the process for its construction began, the design of which was commissioned to the architect Victor Baltard (1805-1874) who, after winning a competition, presented his final proposal in 1854.

Those known as Baltard Pavilions were a set of twelve ships of steel and glass. The first ten were built until 1870, during the Second Empire, while the last two (those next to the Halle aux blés) had to wait until 1936.

Each pavilion was dedicated to a specific product (number 3 for meat, 9 for fish, etc.) and in the streets that separated them, fruits and vegetables were sold.

To build the new Les Halles market, an entire neighborhood of Paris dating from the Middle Ages had to be demolished.

Only the church of Saint-Eustache and the Halle aux blés were saved, although in this case, the activity would be transferred to the new ships in 1873.

However, this singular circular building would be renovated by the architect Henri Blondel and reopened as a Stock Exchange Commerce in 1889.

For about a century, Les Halles was that belly described by Émile Zola in his novel, but the growth of the city and the consequent demand, ended up congesting the large market, making it extremely difficult to operate and complicating the dynamics of the environment.

In 1939 it was the largest food market in the world. That is why, in 1960, the French Prime Minister, Michel Debré approved the transfer of the wholesale business activity to the outskirts of Paris (to a new market to be built in Rungins) In parallel began a reflection on the new destination that the area should have.

In 1967, the results of the so-called “six-model competition” were presented with the ideas of six teams on the renovation of the extensive 15-hectare sector that was called Halles-Beaubourg (even then they were working with the idea of ​​integrating these two areas ).

The proposals were very varied and opened an intense debate. The authors were Claude Charpentier, who was committed to the protection of traditional Paris; Marot and Tremblot, who proposed a large central free space on the scale of the Louvre or the Palais-Royal; Faugeron, who projected a monumental complex in height; Marien, who from a classical position was the only one who proposed the preservation of the Baltard pavilions; A.U.A., Atelier d’urbanisme et d’architecture, a team that divided the performance into multiple projects; and Louis Arretche with Philippe Panerai, Jean Castex and René Verlhac, defenders of the maintenance of the urban fabric of the neighborhood referring to Les Halles pre-Haussmanianas.

On these bases, the City Council (the Conseil de Paris) created in 1967 the APUR (Atelier Parisien d’Urbanisme) to prepare a general planning scheme that would be approved in 1969.

The presentation of this scheme, which eliminated Baltard’s ships began the «battle of the pavilions», in which an important citizen movement tried to stop the demolition of the buildings, proposing them as containers for cultural activities (during this period concerts, exhibitions, theater, circus and a skating rink was even installed).

The great urban scheme of 1969 divided the original area into two separate sectors, one for Les Halles and one for Beaubourg.

In this, at the initiative of the French President Georges Pompidou, a competition would be called in 1970 for the realization of a large civic center, museum and library.

The competition would be won in 1971 by two young and unknown architects: Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.

The Beaubourg Center (Center Pompidou) would be inaugurated in 1977.

The new zonal scheme for Les Halles, after the disappearance of the markets, opened a new opportunity to revitalize the center of the right bank of the river Seine.

The core position and the size of the area made this place the ideal place to locate there the central interconnection point of the RER (Réseau Express Régional), the railway network that structures transport and communications in Paris and its region.

This decision gave the finishing touch to the existence of the pavilions.

In 1969 the Les Halles Market was definitively moved, which is divided between the new Rungins International Market and that of La Villette.

The operation was impressive. More than 20,000 people, 1,000 companies, thousands of tons of goods and materials moved from one area of ​​the metropolis to another.

In 1971 the demolition begins. Only two pavilions were preserved, although they would be dismantled and rebuilt, one in Nogent-sur-Marne and the other in Yokohama (Japan). The Stock Exchange building (which would be declared a Historic Monument in 1986) also remained standing.

After the demolition, the great excavation began for the construction of the station that would be opened in 1977.

This great railway node had to be built at a depth of twenty meters to enable the different links and save urban infrastructures.

When the station was completed and covered, the result was a huge hole (le trou des Halles) that remained for several years (until 1979) and even served as the setting for the filming of several films.

As a complement to the station (the largest in Europe), it was thought to create something similar to an “underground city” that would associate a set of commercial, cultural, sports and leisure facilities with the great transport hub.

For this purpose, the SEMAH (Société d’Economie Mixte pour l’Aménagement des Halles) was created in 1970, an institution that involved public and private capital and took over from the SEAH, (Société d’Etudes pour l’aménagement du quartierdes Halles) which had been created in 1963 to direct the process (SEMAH would be transformed over the years into the current SEM- Societé d ‘Economie Mixte- Paris Center).

To carry out the promotion of such an ambitious building, SEMAH partnered with the real estate agency Serete Aménagement (which would later be converted into Espace Expansion) and together they defined the commercial project that would be located between the RER station and the exterior surface, filling in the extraordinary hole .

In 1971 they convened a competition that was won by the architects Claude Vasconi (1940-2009) and Georges Pencreac’h (1941) who had proposed a square on descending levels formalized by glass facades that curved as if they were large waterfalls.

This project organized the underground part and would be known as the “Forum des Halles” which, with a program of 43,000 m2 of surface on four levels, was inaugurated in 1979.

President Pompidou died in 1974 and his successor, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, has his own vision for Les Halles.

That same year, the Ministry of Culture urgently called a new competition for the sector, which was resolved with unusual speed.

After many vicissitudes, the winner was the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill (1939), who prevailed over the other nine contestants by convincing his vision of a new “monument within the city”.

The arrangement (which was to incorporate the Vasconi and Pencreac’h Forum) featured a large central garden in which an elliptical plaza defined by a large colonnade stood out and which was delimited by imposing classical buildings that formed the façade of the streets. Rambuteau, Pierre Lescot and Berger.

Bofill’s project and particularly its large monumental blocks, found a cold reception in the Paris City Hall, beginning to make different alternative counterproposals.

Even the College of Architects presented a new planning of the area, based on the Bofill scheme, but integrating solutions from different architects.

Finally, the general approach of the project would be maintained, although with modifications, such as the disappearance of the ellipse.

Bofill, who came to carry out four versions of his proposal with different collaborators, continued with the project of the perimeter houses and the landscaper Alain Provost was in charge of the conception of the garden, finally obtaining, in 1977, the license for its construction.

But then, a political tidal wave rose that would cause him to wreck, because the confrontation between President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and his former Prime Minister, Jacques Chirac, would find a battlefield in Les Halles.

Chirac, who had helped Giscard win the Presidency in 1974, was appointed Prime Minister of France, but in 1976 he left the government in opposition to the President.

So he founded a new party to run against him in the next elections, managing, in the first instance, to win the mayoralty of Paris in 1977.

The mayoralty would be for Chirac the platform from which to project his political personality and Les Halles would be one of his battle banners.

The 1981 presidential elections faced Giscard and Chirac and this dispute favored the victory of the socialist François Mitterrand.

However, Chirac would end up achieving his aspirations since he would become President of France in 1995, a position in which he would remain until 2007.

The Bofill project was branded from the mayor’s office as an imposition from the government that undermined municipal autonomy and, in addition, it was argued that, from the French Presidency, a proposal had been supported that did not understand the “essences” of true Paris.

The controversy erupted when, after the start of the works, at the end of October 1978, Chirac paralyzed and rejected Bofill’s project (who was accused of being a «protégé» of Giscard).

The decision was presented as a new direction for the urban policy of Paris based on «respect for the architecture of the old neighborhoods», criticizing Bofill’s project as a «false monumentalism».

The Spanish architect started a bitter controversy declaring that the decision was arbitrary and illegal and that the mayor was an authoritarian character, incapable of dialogue.

However, the fall of the proposal was received with relief by the neighborhood associations and even by some opposition politicians, who, although they criticized the form, were basically in agreement.

But the hopes that a process of participation of citizens and professionals would be opened to define the future of Les Halles were soon frustrated.

Chirac pompously declared himself to the media as the new «chief architect of Paris» and imposed a new Plan that would be presented in 1979.

There was no unitary approach and the sector was segregated into different independent areas (without any citizen participation, architectural competition or municipal democratic approval).

The result, in addition to lacking unity, offered very discreet results. In the solution adopted, the new closure around the Forum stood out, which was awarded to Jean Willerval (1924-1996) who proposed a very different architecture in which some curious shapes stood out that soon received the qualification of «umbrellas» or «chanterelles». This building would be inaugurated in 1983.

Mayor Chirac’s decision upset the group of architects, who considered that the proposed scheme was vulgar, without architectural ambition and meant the loss of a great urban opportunity for Paris.

The most notorious protest action was that undertaken by the Syndicat de l’architecture, an unofficial group of young and progressive architects that sought to establish itself as an alternative to established professional groups. It had been founded in 1978 by various architects, including Jean Nouvel.

The Syndicate launched an international architecture competition in 1979 to gather ideas for Les Halles. With this, the Les Halles project transcended the Parisian and French sphere to become a subject of international debate.

The consultation was an unprecedented success, considering that there were no financial prizes and its aim was simply to encourage debate.

There were 1,900 registered and finally 600 proposals were presented (a third of them French).

The jury was another attraction, since it included figures such as Henry Lefebvre, Carlo Aymonino or Philip Johnson (the organizers had invited political representatives of the parties that made up the Parisian city council to be part of the jury, but none accepted). Among the participants were many renowned architects such as Charles Moore, Raimund Abraham, Stanley Tigerman, Léon Krier, Aldo Rossi, Vittorio Gregotti or Christian de Portzamparc.

There were responses of all kinds, utopian, realistic, ironic and even some quite crazy.

The objective of attracting attention and generating an international debate was more than achieved. However, despite the success of the convocation, the main purpose, which was to influence official planning, was a failure.

The lack of real influence was compensated, in part, by the media projection, since, at the beginning of 1980, with the support of the magazine “Architecture d’Aujourd’hui” an exhibition of the proposals was organized that attracted more than 50,000 visitors. Subsequently, the exhibition toured various cities (such as Marseille, London, Florence, Berlin, Vienna or Amsterdam) multiplying the recognition of the competition. Some of his proposals became influential references for the young architects of the moment.

The desire for concerted urban reforms opens a new future for Les Halles. Beyond the intense controversy that its construction generated, Les Halles were a failure.

The ordination was implanted as a “foreign body” disconnected from the surrounding urban fabric and deactivated the life of the area.

The space lacked charm and had become an inhospitable place (the extensive concrete surfaces made it a “microwave” in the opinion of the few passers-by).

There were also construction problems since when it rained there were multiple leaks that complicated the activity of the lower spaces.

Les Halles were usually deserted, forgotten by Parisians and also by tourists. Consequently, trade was declining. Les Halles was transforming into a black point of the city, in a conflictive and insecure place, frequented by homeless people, prostitution and where drug trafficking began to settle.

Everyone was clamoring against Les Halles, including the real estate sector, which saw prices fall by around 30% in relation to the neighboring Marais district.

In 2001, Bertrand Delanoë became the first socialist to become mayor of Paris.

The Les Halles problem is one of the first that he tackles and for this reason he asks the SEM Paris Center to carry out various professional technical reports, as well as public consultations, to set the criteria for the renovation of the area.

In 2002, a first call for ideas among architects was launched, which received 32 proposals, from which four finalist teams were selected, two French (Jean Nouvel -AJN- and David Mangin -SEURA-) and two Dutch (Rem Koolhass -OMA – and Winy Maas -MVRDV-) who would develop their proposals in more detail.

These proposals also resembled two by two.

The Dutch offered a more complex vision, in which they colonized all available space, with «artifacts» that sought to express the complexity of modern life.

A diversity of shapes and colors explained the extensive program that, in the case of OMA, were signified in the spectacular towers that pierced the surface connecting the different underground levels.

For their part, the French proposals were much more restrained, proposing a large free central space that would guarantee the pedestrian continuities of the neighborhood and giving prominence to the historic circular building of the Stock Exchange and the Saint-Eustache church that would act as a counterpoint to the new architecture .

In both cases, the new building was expressed with a large roof that flew over the concentrated spaces of the new Forum.

The two ideas gave a very relevant role to the central garden, even in the case of Jean Nouvel’s proposal, the large coverage welcomed a high extension of it.

In April 2004, the results of this international competition for the urban redevelopment of the complex were exposed to the public with the intention that the winning solution be voted on.

Many debates were opened in the press, roundtables were organized and residents gathered on platforms to defend their vision for the future of their neighborhood.

For example, 33 associations (of residents and merchants in the area) together with 1,281 people (residents, individual merchants and even non-resident users in the neighborhood) were grouped in a platform called Collectif Rénovation des Halles from which they sent the mayor their recommendation to award the victory to the project presented by SEURA.

The jury, in tune with the citizen request, and arguing the realism of the proposal, finally designated SEURA, the team led by David Mangin (1949), as the winner for the general planning of the area, communicating that new competitions would both specify the large deck raised as the central garden.

In 2007, a new competition was called, this time for the building (the so-called “aerial part” of Les Halles). The proposals that reached the final phase were signed by renowned architects such as Massimiliano Fuksas, Toyo Ito, Paul Chemetov or the Spanish Tuñón & Mansilla. These projects were also exhibited at the Pavillon de l ’Arsenal in Paris.

The final victory corresponded to the idea of ​​Patrick Berger (1947) and Jacques Anziutti, who proposed a glass roof that was molded from the dynamics suggested by the environment and internal flows.

The project was presented under the slogan «canopy», a word that reflected the intention of creating a «tree canopy» as a metaphor, as if the space were covered by a giant leaf.

This covering will act as a large translucent awning that warps in response to the circumstances of each moment, offering daytime shade and lighting up the spaces at night.

In the words of Patrick Berger, its design is an «articulation between the built space and the plant environment, and the» canopy «will resonate with natural energy and urban energy.»

The project was not spared either criticism, for example from Claude Vasconi, who saw his building for the Forum disappear.

Shortly before his death, the architect showed his surprise at a solution that he considered very radical and absurd for making the «crater» disappear since, according to him, it was the only way to bring natural light to the different basements.

Berger and Anziutti would also end up being commissioned to restructure the RER Chatelet-Les Halles underground station, and for the large garden they would have the collaboration of the landscaper Philippe Raguin.

The beginning of the works was presented by the then First Deputy Mayor and Delegate Councilor for Urbanism and Architecture, Anne Hidalgo (who would get the mayoralty in the municipal elections of 2014).

The great emblematic project of today’s Paris (which has a budget of 802 million euros) seems to have closed previous stages of controversy and disagreements.


Publicado por ilabasmati

Licenciada en Bellas Artes, FilologÍa Hispánica y lIiteratura Inglesa.

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