Thursday, April 30, 2009

Then and Now: 28 rue de Vaugirard, Paris


Mid-century planners often touted that replacing older buildings with high-rise towers would allow equal or greater population density while providing more open space at street level. This is definitely true, and there was potential to be had. Though, in many unfortunate cases like this one, that extra "open space" turned out to be completely lifeless.

Original photo: "Paris (XVème arr.). 281 rue de Vaugirard." Collection Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 17 Mar. 2009.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin and the Église de la Trinité, Paris


Original Photo: "RV-159159." Dec. 1958. Collection Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 25 Mar. 2009.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The obligatory Paris in the spring post

A few months back, someone warned me that Paris in the spring was overrated. That was simply untrue.

The gardens of the Palais Royal.

La rue Montmartre.

Le boulevard Jules Ferry.

And the lovely canal St-Martin.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The EU District, Brussels

As one might expect, the growth of the European Union, and the partial consolidation of its functions in Brussels, profoundly altered parts of the city's built form. I'm not yet too sure what the area was before, but in the past few decades, the area directly east of Brussels' core has become known quite simply as the European District, home to the European Commission, European Parliament and a host of related institutions. Naturally, the district is one of the world's largest government and office centers, if not the largest.

At first glance, the pure grid plan of the streets, as well as the uniform height of its office towers, is in many ways quite reminiscent of Washington D.C. Unfortunately, the EU quarter also shares some of the worst urban design problems confronted by American office ghettos. The district as a whole is rather lacking in street life, and feels profoundly separated physically and psychologically from the rest of the city.

Not that it doesn't have redeeming qualities. The area immediately to the west of Parliament is particularly nice during the day, home to the very pleasant Square de Meeus, as well as many cafes and restaurants that serve the thousands of European government employees from all over the continent. But again, thanks to an exclusively public sector work force, the shutters stay closed on evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Worst of all, its most important thoroughfare, the Rue de la Loi (Law Street), is surely one of the deadest urban streets to be found anywhere in the world, despite the fact that it runs on top of a major subway line. There are no street trees to shield the nonextistent pedestrians, nor the empty storefronts or the bleak, uninspiring buildings. Even cars seem to avoid the roadway. I don't even believe that planners could consciously create such an uninviting place even if they tried, and as much as I hate to say it, it's really nothing short of a major embarassment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A walk through Ixelles, Brussels

The commune of Ixelles consists of several largely residential neighborhoods immediately to the southwest of Brussels' central core, which I likely would not have visisted had I not taken a walking tour of the city's extensive collection of Art Nouveau residences. Ixelles' built form owes much of its nature to the growth of the city's late 19th century bourgeoisie, which created many tranquil streets of handsome town houses built in a large variety of styles, including Art Nouveau.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the long, straight rows of 3-story houses remind me quite a bit of certain streets in Boston, just with less red brick. It also seems that Brussels suffers from a dearth of street trees, which could easily amplify the beauty of already handsome streets like these in Ixelles.

Nonetheless, the commune's crown jewel is its particularly fine park, Les Étangs d'Ixelles (the Ponds of Ixelles), which as you may have guessed, has a rather lovely pond whose banks seem particularly well-suited to afternoon picnics. Its surrounding streets form a particularly ritzy collection of large town houses and luxury apartment blocks.

Last but not least, Ixelles has one of the largest examples of Streamline Modern architecture, and certainly one of its masterpieces, la Maison de la Radio, which has housed the city's major radio and television broadcasting firms since 1938.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium

(please click to enlarge)

Despite being one of western Europe's largest metropolises, the capital of Belgium, and the home of the massive European Parliament and other international institutions, the city of Brussels remains strangely unknown to those who have never visited. In fact, I arrived in Brussels with little idea of what to expect, apart from fries, plenty of beer, and the Grand-Place, pictured above. Though the square dates back to the turn of the 2nd millennium, all of its existing buildings (except the Town Hall, not pictured) were renovated or built in a patriotic flurry of the late 19th and early 20th century, in exceptionally ostentatious brand of eclecticism.

Despite being at the heart of Brussels, the grandiose Grand-Place is a bit out of character with the rest of the city, which is generally not as uniquely extraordinary. Nonetheless, in reflection of its very multilingual status, the city is also more diverse and multi-faceted than any other that I've come across in Europe.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A little preview of things to come

Sorry about the recent lack of updates. Guess where I've been in the meantime?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Then and Now: Boulevard Raspail north of rue de Vaugirard, Paris

c. 1900-2009

Original photo: "ND-3722 Res." Collection ND/Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 20 Mar. 2009.