Swiss-born architect Bernard Tschumi, FAIA, with offices in New York and Paris, won an international design competition for a park on 125 acres that formerly held Paris’s slaughterhouses. His scheme, an “urban park for the 21st century,” was heralded as the first built demonstration of philosopher Jacques Derrida’s deconstructivist theories.
A grid at 400-foot intervals was marked out on the flat site by bright red “follies,” which serve varied purposes (cafés, information kiosks, etc.), each a variation on a 36-foot cube. The plan’s underlying geometry was not arbitrary, but was aligned with two large structures to be retained on the site and the old canal bisecting it. Superimposed on this grid were meandering paths devoted to lawns and themed sunken gardens, including a bamboo grove and a miniature vineyard. Far from bucolic, the park was programmed to include a science museum and an exposition conference hall (in the existing buildings), plus a variety of performance halls.
Tschumi’s design was controversial in 1985 and still is. The Project for Public Spaces website includes this park in its Hall of Shame, saying, “Once the novelty of the structures wears off, there is little to sustain one’s interest or imagination.” But the website’s user comments almost all defend the park, noting that it is consistently well populated, with a younger and more diverse demographic than Paris’s traditional parks. Its impromptu soccer games are praised. One supporter writes that Parisians who go there would probably give it “an overwhelming thumbs up.”
1985 P/A Awards Jury
Reginald W. Griffith
Eric Owen Moss, FAIA
William Pedersen, FAIA
Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, FAIA
Steven Winter, FAIA