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A very French Evolution in Paris’ 13th Arrondissement

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Paris is divided into 20 districts known as arrondissements, and essentially they’re the villages of Paris and often quite distinct from each other, especially in architectural style and the layout of the streets.

The architecture of Paris is astounding: from Roman to Medieval, Renaissance, Gothic, Belle Époque, Haussmann, Art Deco, Art Nouveaux right through to contemporary, and, somehow this mishmash of styles works wonderfully. It makes for one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

It’s a city with a long historic past which is evident right in front of us through its architecture. From the Roman baths in the basement of the Musée de Cluny, the baroque style of the Louvre, grand boulevards like the Champs-Elysées, the wiggling streets of Montmartre with its  village vibe – the more you look, the more you see and it’s still evolving.

13th Arrondissement: A new look for an old District

Take the 13th Arrondissement on the Left Bank, also known as the Gobelins district as the famous Gobelins tapestry makers are based here. Not known as a major tourist destination though it is home to China Town and location for the vibrant Chinese New Year parade, it is being put on the tourist map thanks to a huge revitalation project. The area known as Paris Rive Gauche once housed an industrial area in a prime position lapping up to the edge of the River Seine, but it was all but abandoned as industry changed in the mid 20th century.

What is happening here is the result of the largest city plan to come to fruition since Haussman reorganised the streets of Paris and it’s astounding.

The city authority needed to make room for more residential areas and the 13th Arr. had this large industrial area that was wasted. They also wanted to relocate the national library of France which had outgrown its space. They held a contest in the great tradition of city development, not unlike that which saw the birth of the Eiffel Tower. The creator of the Pyramid at the Louvre, LM Pei, was on the jury and the winning design saw the construction in 1994 of the enormous glittering glass building that is now home to the France’s National Library. This was the beginning of the rebirth of a whole new part of Paris.

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The area has essentially become an architects’ playground with some of the greatest names in the business designing buildings or renovating existing space. From Sir Norman foster to Rudy Ricciotti, designer of the iconic MUCEM in Marseille, architects have been busy transforming this area and like a very modern sleeping beauty, it’s emerging. Glass and iron buildings, lacy concrete, hanging gardens, quirky green spaces, river views and lots of sleek black cubes are evident here but now and then splashes of colour. The style is overwhelmingly sleek and chic but it’s like an haute couture outfit, the bones of the piece are simple but perfect and then it’s accessorised with a little colour, a little detail, a little humour even.

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You might think that only millionaires could afford to live in this part of Paris, but the planners have ensured that local people aren’t priced out by encouraging businesses to set up here which helps to subsidise the costs.

wallace-fountain-painted-pink-13th-arrThis is a village with a social conscience and the concept works, people here are proud of the rebirth of this once unloved area.

The eclectic renewal of this area has truly put it on the Paris map. It feels a bit like Greenwich Village in New York, arty, young, vibrant, trendy, the three Wallace Fountains in the area are not the traditional green of the city, but instead they are painted bright pink, yellow and red. There are artists’ quarters where the street art is amazing and playful touches like painted street posts.

It’s an area that’s constantly changing – a very French evolution.

Take a tour of the 13th arrondissement with www.architecturedecollection.fr in English or French

More on Unexpected Paris
How Google’s Cultural Insitute creative team turned detective in Paris and discovered Marc Chagall’s secret at the Paris Opera House
5 Off the beaten track things to do in Paris – including the Harry Potter link!
12 Fascinating facts about the Eiffel Tower
10 Incredible facts about Paris 

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