Monday, 14 December 2009

Chatelet Les Halles

For many visitors to Paris, the first glimpse of the city is the gloriously scruffy transport interchange at Chatelet Les Halles. For those living in the city, it is an almost unavoidable hub, welcoming 750,000 passengers a day. Creaking, crumbling, peeling and slowly falling apart, it somehow still manages to be efficient.

Welcome to the underground – the deep underground. The principal Metro and RER interchange is a submerged network of platforms and tunnels which itself sits underneath an underground shopping centre. This is the largest underground train station in the world, positioned beneath the largest underground shopping centre in the world.

Laying deep beneath the surface of the city, it is unsurprising to find a lack of natural light. It is a city of hundreds of thousands of fluorescent lamps and yet it remains brightly polychrome. This is a child of the 1970s, a creation from a time when colour was considered an essential element. The colours are codes if only we could follow them, but in today’s monochrome world we’ve forgotten how they work. Soon the whole system will be renovated and the colours will go; the red benches, the blue tiles, the yellow walls. In their place will come the standard, uniform aseptic white environment.

Chatelet – Les Halles is not loved, but it works. Back above ground, the district in which it is situated has been adopted by the communities who gather here, notably young people from the surrounding suburbs.
In a report commissioned by the city of Paris on this theme based around interviews with this young population, the results point towards the maintaining of the current layout. Architects and urbanists have been queuing up to make their mark on this tender heart of Paris, but who would they be working for?

A typical comment from a suburbanites is that it would be impossible to make it better. The transport interchange works, the shopping centre is successful and the concrete gardens outside provide areas where young people can relax and not feel judged. If Parisians find the area ugly and the young people threatening, well they’ve still got Saint Germain, the Marais and just about the whole of the rest of the city for them.

A concept that appears
in this report is ‘reparisianisation’. There is a fear amongst the young people interviewed that by renovating the area (work is scheduled to start in 2010) and making it fit more into a more typical Paris feel, the spirit of the place will be destroyed. It is a project based largely around esthetics that have proved not to be pleasing to Parisians, but is this not purely a bourgeois judgement on a part of the city that has never belonged to them? This is the famous ‘belly’ of the city, the previous home of a centuries old market that reeked of animal carcasses and alcohol. Today the population is another kind of proletariat, but Chatelet – Les Halles is still a celebration of diversity and a joyous display of colour in the face of what is often stifling conformity.

13 comments:

David said...

If I'm not wrong, the RER-Metro hub is "just" the largest in Europe, not in the world. I think one in Tokyo is much bigger.

As far as the remodeling is concerned, I personally think it should be done. Maybe not of the hub (although some restoration would be a good thing), but the mall is slowly falling apart and is not practical at all and as far as the gardens are concerned, they're ugly, unpractical, definitely not a place you want to hang out in if you're more than 18, and the whole area is totally unsafe at night.

Starman said...

Thanks for reminding me, I must check it one more time before it's gone.

Starman said...

David...why do you say it's unsafe at night?

David said...

Because it is.
I'm talking about the garden area, not the metro hub.
But by night, I mean, late, like after 2AM.

Owen said...

Ah, the belly of the architect ?

Obviously a subject that will draw many divergant opinions in the press before all is said and done. Personally I've always avoided the area like the plague, the underground shopping and the concrete gardens just seem to be totally lacking in charm, and have been appropriated by the disenfranchised youth from the suburbs...

Although I do like St Eustache...

Thanks for this thought provoking presentation of the issues here...

Gourmantic said...

I avoid Chatelet les Halles station like the plague when visiting Paris. I find it too seedy and so large and intertwined that often you're walking for what seems like kilometres just to catch the metro.

It might be efficient to use it as a hub for connections but I'd rather go out of my way on the metro and in the process discover more interesting stations to photograph (something of a 'hobby' of mine when in Paris).

But having read your post, I wish I had gone there when I was in Paris last month. Just to take a few photographs and say, au revoir.

Adam said...

David: You may well be right - I'm just relying on Wikipedia here!

Personally I'm somewhat divided on the subject of the remodelling. Clearly something needs to be done as it is dirty and scruffy, but I would still argue that it has been successful. Why change something that works? Obviously if there are security issues they need to be sorted out, but I don't think we should try to take Les Halles away from the group that has adopted it.

David said...

Don't always believe what Wikipedia says... ;-)

Shinjuku station has more than 3 million passengers a day, it's the largest station for traffic.
Nagoya station is the largest station for size.

"I don't think we should try to take Les Halles away from the group that has adopted it."

I have mixed feelings on the issue.
On the one hand you're right, and the whole thing is another attempt to gentrify Paris a little more and push the working classes away a little more.
On the other hand, this neighborhood is more or less the geographical center of the city, and also one of the ugliest ones...

Cergie said...

A propos de cadavres d'animaux, tu connais la maison Aurouze, 8 rue des Halles, of course ?

jakubowski said...

there are a few connections at Chatelet, I never was able to find

jonnifer said...

Your second picture is stunning. Just goes to show that there are interesting things all around you if you only look.

Anonymous said...

i love the Chatelet exchange. I love walking the 1 km (more or less) between line 11 and line 14. I like learning the illegal shortcuts that, if you are willing to brave down a crowd going in the opposite direction, can save you a few steps along the way.

Awesome urban infrastructure. Thanks for posting this!!

Jonathan Hayes said...

I wouldn't mind them brightening up the place, but I don't care that much what they do, just as long as they improve the signage.

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