Forty years after it was first published, Yvan Christ’s book Paris Utopie is back. Christ is an architectural historian, and his book lists all the urban projects in Paris that were proposed and scrapped over the past 200 years. Had they gone through, the face of Paris would have been radically different.
For instance, there would have been a lighthouse at Les Invalides, a gigantic elephant at the place de la Bastille, or pyramids in the heart of the city. If you’re familiar with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, you’ll have read about the giant elephant where Gavroche hid. All that was ever finished was the model made of wood and straw. Due to lack of funds, the pachyderm was never cast in bronze.
A real beauty was a proposal for a series of residential towers on the perimeter of the city that were supposed to be connected to one another by bridges. How about adding double ramps to the Eiffel Tower for parking on the first observation platform? The photo above was supposed to be a power plant at the base of the tower. The Isle des Cygnes, in the center of the Seine near the Eiffel Tower, could have been turned into an immense landing strip for private jets that looked like a stranded aircraft carrier. I find the Centre Pompidou to be less than lovely, but it would have been even more “interesting” had the proposal to build it in the form of a giant egg been accepted. How about enlivening your morning commute by crossing the Seine on a walkway in the form of a giant trampoline? Leafing through this book is like reading a novel by Jules Verne.
Québécois writer Monique Larue said, “Le temps des utopies ne dure jamais longtemps” (luh tem dayz ootoepea nuh doore zjameh longtehm), which means “the time of utopias never lasts long.” Looking at these visions of utopia, I can only be glad that they never got built, never mind that they weren’t long lasting.