On Wednesday evening, the Philharmonie de Paris hosted its inaugural concert, opening the building after seven years of dramatic, intermittent construction. The imposing, 2,400-seat space welcomed its visitors—including the Orchestre de Paris, prominent dignitaries, and French President Francois Hollande.
The building’s designer, Pritzker Prize–winning architect, Jean Nouvel, Hon. FAIA, however, chose not to attend the event as he claims the concert hall is not ready to be open to the public. Though the performance space is complete, the restaurant and exhibition space are ready for operation. Nouvel, who won a competition back in 2007 to design the hall and whose ultimate goal was to end the “eternal ostracism” of the low-income neighborhoods surrounding it, has been outspoken regarding his views of the hall’s management, the rising costs, and construction delays. In French newspaper Le Monde, Nouvel expressed his ire, writing that construction was rushed and that architectural and technical “exigences” (requirements) were not respected.
The project, now esteemed at 386 million euro (about $455 million), has endured a theatrical construction (work stoppages, cost overruns), close to being tossed in 2011 when, with the Great Recession in full swing, the state and city-funded hall made little financial sense. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, however, signed off on the project before Hollande was elected, giving the French architect the green light.
Architect aside, the Philharmonie de Paris is also a considerable stepping stone for the democratization of the arts in less favorable parts of the city. Aiming to bring the arts-oriented crowd from the center of Paris to its suburban location, the hall sits in the lower-income community of Pantin, which is largely made up of immigrants. Such a demographic does not traditionally conjure the thought of elitist events like classical concerts or opera, and yet, this hall is exactly that: a social experiment of sorts, with modestly priced tickets in the hopes that the arts—and the area—will be liberated of their social stigmas.