Parc de la Villette in Paris
The Parc de la Villette is a park in Paris at the outer edge of the 19th arrondissement, bordering the Boulevard Périphérique, which is a ring road around Paris, and the suburban department of Seine-Saint-Denis.
The park was designed by Bernard Tschumi, a French architect of Swiss origin, who built it from 1984 to 1987 on the site of the huge Parisian abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and the national wholesale meat market, as part of an urban redevelopment project. The slaughterhouses, built in 1867 on the instructions of Napoléon III, had been cleared away and relocated in 1974. Tschumi won a major design competition in 1982/83 for the park, and he sought the opinions of the deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida in the preparation of his design proposal.
The park houses public facilities devoted to science and music, playgrounds for children, and thirty-five architectural follies. The park is the home to:
- Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie
- La Géode, an Omnimax domed theatre
Since its completion in 1987, the Parc de la Villette has become a popular attraction for Paris residents and international travelers alike. An estimated 10 million people visit the park each year to take part in an array of cultural activities. With its collection of architectural follies, themed gardens, and open spaces for exploration and activity, the park has created an area that relates to both adults and children.
Designed by Bernard Tschumi, the park is meant to be a place inspired by the post-modernist architectural ideas of deconstructivism. Tschumi’s design was in partial response to the philosophies of Jacques Derrida, acting as an architectural experiment in space, form, and how those relate a person’s ability to recognize and interact. According to Tschumi, the intention of the park was to create space for activity and interaction, rather than adopt the conventional park mantra of ordered relaxation and self-indulgence. The vast expanse of the park allows for visitors to walk about the site with a sense of freedom and opportunity for exploration and discovery.
The design of the park is organized into a series of points, lines, and surfaces. These categories of spatial relation and formulation are used in Tschumi’s design to act as means of deconstructing the traditional views of how a park is conventionally meant to exist.
The Parc de la Villette boasts activities that engage all people of all ages and cultural backgrounds. The park is a contemporary melting pot of cultural expression where local artists and musicians produce exhibits and performances. On the periphery of the park lies the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, the largest science museum in Europe. There is a convention center and an I-MAX theatre. The park acts as a connection between these exterior functions. Concerts are scheduled year round, hosting local and mainstream musicians. Dividing the park is the Canal de l'Ourcq, which has boat tours that transport visitors around the park and to other sites in Paris. Festivals are common in the park along with artist conventions and shows by performers.
Open-air film festival
The Parc de la Villette hosts an annual open-air film festival. In 2010 the festival's theme was "To Be 20" ("Avoir 20 ans") and featured films about youth and self discovery around the age of 20. In 2010 films were shown by American filmmakers Woody Allen and Sofia Coppola as well as French and international filmmakers.
Probably the most iconic pieces of the park, the follies act as architectural representations of deconstruction. In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration, but either suggesting by its appearance some other purpose, or merely so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or other class of building to which it belongs. Thirty-five follies are placed on a grid and offer a distinct organization to the park. Architecturally, the follies are meant to act as points of reference that help visitors gain a sense of direction and navigate throughout the space. While the follies are meant to exist in a deconstructive vacuum without historical relation, many have found connections between the steel structures and the previous buildings that were part of the old industrial fabric of the area. Today, the follies remain as cues to organization and direction for park visitors.
Recently, some of the follies have been renovated to house restaurants, information centers, and other functions associated with the park’s needs that were not envisioned in the original design.
The Parc de le Villette has a collection of ten themed gardens that attract a large amount of the park’s visitors. Each garden is created with a different representation of architectural deconstructionism and tries to create space through playfully sculptural and clever means. While some of the gardens are minimalist in design, others are clearly constructed with children in mind. Le Jardin du Dragon (The Garden of the Dragon) is home to a large sculptural steel dragon that has an 80 ft slide for children to play on.
The gardens range in function; where some gardens are meant for active engagement, others exist to play off of curiosity and investigation or merely allow for relaxation.
Architectural deconstructivism and the park
There have been many criticisms of the park since its original completion. To some, the park has little concern with the human scale of park functions and the vast open space seem to challenge the expectation that visitors may have of an urban park. Bernard Tschumi designed the Parc de la Villette with the intention of creating a space that exists in a vacuum, something without historical precedent. The park strives to strip down the signage and conventional representations that have infiltrated architectural design and allow for the existence of a “non-place.” This non-place, envisioned by Tschumi, is the most appropriate example of space and provides a truly honest relationship between the subject and the object.
Visitors view and react to the plan, landscaping, and sculptural pieces without the ability to cross-reference them with previous works of historical architecture. The design of the park capitalizes on the innate qualities that are illustrated within architectural deconstructivism. By allowing visitors to experience the architecture of the park within this constructed vacuum, the time, recognitions, and activities that take place in that space begin to acquire a more vivid and authentic nature. The park is not acting as a spectacle; it is not an example of traditional park design such as New York City’s Central Park. The Parc de la Villette strives to act as merely a frame for other cultural interaction.
The park embodies anti-tourism, not allowing visitors to breeze through the site and pick and choose the sites they want to see. Upon arrival in the park, visitors are thrust into a world that is not defined by conventional architectural relationships. The frame of the park, due to its roots in deconstructivism, has tries to change and react to the functions that it holds within.
The Parc de la Villette is: It is served by lines 5 and 7.
- Parc de la Villette website
- Galinsky: Parc de la Villette
- Archidose: Parc de la Villette
- Review essay on Parc de la Villette
- Images and Links Resource collection
- Follies Parc de la Villette 3D model of two of the Follies