Thursday, 11 October 2012

Anyone for tennis at the Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil?


The lawn leading up to the main greenhouse at the Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil would seem to be an ideal spot to place a tennis court - but don't tell that to the garden's regular visitors. A conflict with the neighbouring Roland-Garros tennis stadium has created a storm in this genteel world.

Today there is so little space left in Paris that sites are beginning to merge into one another. Nearby, the new Fondation Louis Vuitton building is eating up 11,000m² of the Jardin d'Acclimatation, whilst across Paris at the Parc de la Villette, the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall has taken up another 19 800 m² of greenery.

The proposed redevelopment of the Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil and the Stade Roland-Garros covers an even larger area, and will see the two sites moving ever closer to each other. For the supporters of these quiet gardens - one of the four botanical sites of the city of Paris - this must be resisted at all costs.


The two sites are currently divided by the Avenue Gordon Bennett, but the divisions run much deeper than a single road. In this battle for space, it is less a case of 'we were here first' (the gardens were opened in 1897, the tennis stadium in 1927) and more a case of 'we're richer and more important than you'. The French Open tennis tournament, one of the four stops on the annual Grand Slam circus, risked losing its place if it didn't expand, and the only possible direction was across the road into the gardens.

The proposed solutions involve closing the gardens for the duration of the tournament, and using them to host receptions for the multinational sponsors. A number of greenhouses will also be demolished (although only the more recent buildings 'without any architectural merit'), and replaced by more modern facilities - but on a smaller scale.

Although no work has begun as yet, there is little chance that the garden will be able to fight off the advances of its noisy neighbour. And this will of course be a shame, although not the death of the gardens.


They will still be just as pretty, and the monumental tropical hothouses just as (literally!) breathtaking. For all but three weeks a year, they will surely be just as quiet as they are today. On Sunday mornings, elderly couples will still come and read their newspapers in the shade of hundred-year-old trees as local cats tiptoe across the dew-damp lawn.

The oversized fish will still slowly glide around the pond in the grande serre, and alongside them the caged birds will still sing in vain for their freedom.

The gardens have an air of timelessness, a place of endless cycles that nothing could disturb. They invite discovery, from Rodin's scowling mascarons to unexpected picnic lawns, giant palms to prickly cacti. Interestingly, the gardens themselves morph into another green space, the Square des Poètes. A wire fence runs down the middle of a shared lawn, mysteriously dividing the two worlds.


The gardens will survive, but of more concern is the message spread by these new constructions. Paris must still be the home of all major cultural and sporting venues, whatever this may mean to existing spaces and to the development of the rest of the country. When the French Open was threatened with elimination from the affluent Grand Slam circuit, proposals were made to move the tournament out to new state-of-the-art centres in the Paris suburbs, but such radical solutions seem not to be possible in France.

These new facilities - both sporting and artistic - will continue to raise the prestige of Paris, and attract ever increasing numbers of visitors. Those already in the city will just have to squeeze up a little bit.

1 comment:

Glose said...

lovely garden ... I did not know!
I expect spring for the visit ;)

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