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For almost all the years I’ve been doing my petits séjours in Paris the former site of the Les Halles food market has been a massive construction site. Finally, about a month ago, the Grand Canopy (La Canopée des Halles) was opened! My thoughts are almost perfectly captured by this Guardian article: A custard-coloured flop: the €1bn revamp of Les Halles in Paris, except I think “custard-colored” is way too kind; the text of the article says it better: “Ranging between sand and rancid butter depending on the light, the yellow steelwork casts a jaundiced pallor across the scene, lending the interiors a decidedly institutional air.” (my emphasis)

I grant the building two points: (1) It’s big. (2) Its sculptural undulations are, as a work of abstract art, rather cool. But having got that out of my system basically everything else about it is bad. Here’s what you see when you step up to the canopy. I had to go pano because the Nelson Mandela Park opposite won’t be open for another year or two — click on each image to get the full impact.

The Grand Canopy.

The Grand Canopy. (Click on image for full panoramic view.)

What thrilling treasures does this gargantuan structure invite you to explore??

Under the Canopy is ... nothing

Under the Canopy is … nothing. (Click on image for full panoramic view.)

Nothing! Nothing but staircases and empty, empty space. I mean really empty, as in Existentially Empty.

Existential Nothingness beneath the Canopy

Existential Nothingness beneath the Grand Canopy

Is this at least an efficient way to move a lot of people between the ground level and the train station and shopping mall below? Not really: there are exactly two escalators between the middle and lower level. What will happen at rush hour? Or when one of them has to be repaired? Who got the big bucks to think about simple things like this??

The shopping center itself is nice; a big improvement on its run-down, confusing and sometimes dangerous predecessor. There’s a Muji store, which soothed the psychic wounds that the canopy had inflicted.

Soothing Muji

Soothing Muji

Why couldn’t they have asked these people to design the new building? It would have been transcendental instead of execrable.

Update: Amusingly trenchant comments on the canopy from a favorable review of one of the restaurants in the new space:

“A recent article in The Guardian called the Grande Canopée, the new roof over the Forum des Halles in the center of Paris, a ‘custard-colored flop.’ I’d be more inclined to call it a regurgitated-custard-colored flop; custard doesn’t deserve such treatment. Although its swooping curves can be quite fetching from certain angles, it is basically just a fancy, very expensive (€216 million out of €1 billion for the entire Les Halles renovation project) hat for the badly conceived concrete wasteland underneath it. A shame that the city of Paris tore down one embarrassing eyesore just to put up another.” (my emphasis) Vive Champeaux, À Bas la Canopée!

2019 Update: I’ve also become a (somewhat qualified) fan of Champeaux. And, to be honest, I don’t hate the Grande Canopée as much as I initially did. I still think it was too expensive, and that the space beneath it is sterile and ill-conceived, but I have to admit that it has revitalized the shopping mall and the whole immediate neighborhood.