Books

A New Guide Maps the Overlooked Brutalism of Paris

The Brutalist Paris Map plots 40 sites of postwar architecture in Paris that are far off the well-trod tourist path.

“Les Choux de Créteil” logements, Créteil, designed by Gérard Grandval (1966-74) (photo by Nigel Green)

Paris is a city I feel I know fairly well; I’ve even been to some far-flung sites like the Cimetière des Chiens (Cemetery of the Dogs) in Asnières-sur-Seine and walked the abandoned train tracks of the Petite Ceinture. But the new Brutalist Paris Map from Blue Crow Media, in collaboration with Robin Wilson and Nigel Green of Photolanguage, offers over 40 sites I’ve either never seen, or only given a cursory glance. The map, as its title declares, plots the concrete behemoths of the city for locals or tourists who want to explore some of the City of Light’s least luminous architecture.

The “Brutalist Paris Map” (courtesy Blue Crow Media)

“Unlike the brutalist legacy of other European capitals, the brutalism of Paris did not manifest many cultural buildings of the city centre,” writes Wilson in an introduction to the map. “In Paris we find principally brutalist housing, administrative, office, and university campus buildings.” For instance, the pointy angles of the 1970–72 “Les Étoiles” in Ivry-sur-Seine designed by Jean Renaudie and Renée Gailhoustet, or the blocky Maison du Brésil at la Cité Universitaire designed in the 1950s by Le Corbusier. There’s also the 1970s housing of “Les Choux de Créteil,” so nicknamed because their round details appear like “choux,” or cabbage. The map, with text in French and English, follows cartographic publications from Blue Crow Media, like “Brutalist London,” “Brutalist Washington, DC,” “Constructivist Moscow,” and “Modern Berlin.

A few of the buildings are so far-flung they don’t actually make it on the physical map, such as the Cimetière Intercommunal in Clamart from 1956, a cemetery of startling geometric details designed by Robert Auzelle and Ivan Jankovic, and the Petite Bibliothèque Ronde children’s library from 1965 with furniture by  Alvar Aalto and circular forms in its interior and exterior. Others are more central in the city, including the formidable UNESCO building at Place de Fontenoy designed by Marcel Breuer, Luigi Nervi, and Bernard Zehrfuss in 1952–58, although it’s quite likely its Instagram footprint is somewhat less than the nearby Eiffel Tower. All chronicle the attempt at a postwar vision of the city that emphasized utility and modern forms.

The hard lines and raw material of these buildings, captured in Nigel Green’s crisp photographs that accompany the map, seem out of place in this French city of past regencies and Haussmann’s 19th-century design. (Some of these photographs and map research will go on view this April in an exhibition at the Institut Français in South Kensington, London.) Yet by pausing outside their stern façades, or taking a journey on the RER to a more off-the-beaten-path locale, the brutalist buildings can be a portal to a 20th-century consideration of what this city could, and should, be.

The “Brutalist Paris Map” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
The “Brutalist Paris Map” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Bourse du Travail, 1 Place de la Libération, Bobigny, designed by Oscar Niemeyer (1974-78) (photo by Nigel Green)
Caserne de Pompiers, Paris, designed by Jean Willerval, Prvoslav Popovic (1968-73) (photo by Nigel Green)
“Les Daumiers” logements, Courbevoie, designed by Michel Folliasson (1974-76) (photo by Nigel Green).
“Les Étoiles,” Ivry-sur-Seine, designed by Jean Renaudie, Renée Gailhoustet (1970-72) (photo by Nigel Green)
“Les Orgues de Flandre” logements HLM, Paris, designed by Martin S van Treeck (1973-80) (photo by Nigel Green)
Le central téléophonique Murat, Paris, designed by Pierre Vivien (1970) (photo by Nigel Green)
Maps of Brutalism around the world (courtesy Blue Crow Media)

Brutalist Paris Map is out now from Blue Crow Media.

comments (0)