Former French president François Mitterand was born on October 26, 1916. His lasting legacy was a series of improvements to the monuments of Paris, known as les grands projets (lay grahn prozjay) or les grands travaux (lay grahn trahvo), which means big projects or big jobs. The real name was much more, well, grand: Les Grandes Opérations d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme. The projects – that cost an estimated 4.6 billion Euros – have been compared to the undertakings of Louis XIV, and we know that those led to the near bankruptcy of the country and the fall of the monarchy. Ironically, les grands projets were created in part to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Revolution.
The plan began in 1982 and consisted of:
- the Pyramid of the Louvre
- the musée d’Orsay
- le Parc de la Villette (a cultural and science exhibition grounds)
- l’Institut du Monde Arabe (a cultural institute)
- l’Opéra de la Bastille (the largest opera building in Paris)
- la Grande Arche de La Défense (it completes the Axe historique that starts at the Louvre)
- the Ministry of Finance (sometimes compared to a toll plaza due to its long narrow shape)
- la Bibliothèque nationale de France (four 25-story towers that each represent an open book, housing 10 million volumes), and
- the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center in New Caledonia, the only Grand Projet not built in France)
Another project, the Centre International de Conferences was planned but never built due to cost overruns on the Bibliothèque.
Mitterand died on January 8, 1996, almost a year before the Bibliothèque opened. Love them or loathe them, Mitterand’s projects certainly did change the appearance of Paris more than anyone else in the 20th century.
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