ⓘ Grands Projets of François Mitterrand
The Grands Projets of François Mitterrand was an architectural program to provide modern monuments in Paris, the city of monuments, symbolizing France’s role in art, politics, and economy at the end of the 20th century. The program was initiated by the 21st President of France while he was in office. Mitterrand viewed the civic building projects, estimated at the time to cost the Government of France 15.7 billion FF, both as a revitalisation of the city, as well as contemporary architecture promoted by Socialist Party politics. The scale of the project and its ambitious nature was compared to the major building schemes of Louis XIV.
This grandiose plan, commencing in 1982, was termed as a "testament to political symbolism and process" launched in the post-World War II France, as an exercise in urban planning. The Grands Projets, described as "eight monumental building projects that in two decades transformed the city skyline", included Louvre Pyramid, Musee dOrsay, Parc de la Villette, Arab World Institute, Opera Bastille, Grande Arche de La Defense, Ministry of Finance and the Bibliotheque nationale de France, the last and most expensive of the lot. The projects did not all begin under Mitterrand - the Musee dOrsay, the La Defense Arch, Arab World Institute, and La Villette commenced under his predecessor, President Valery Giscard dEstaing – but they are attributed to Mitterrand as they radically changed form under him.
Built between 1981 and 1998, the Grands Projets were constructed of similar materials, in less than two decades, within an urban landscape, and displaying related ideologies. Several of the monuments would display transparency, reflection, and abstract form. Considered to be visible, durable and controversial elements of Mitterrands years in office, the Grands Travaux or Grands Projets Culturels, were officially known as the Grandes Operations dArchitecture et dUrbanisme. François Mitterrands Socialist government of the 1980s was strongly focused on promoting culture, and it was one of the centrepieces of his presidency. Mitterrands government allocated more money into art than had ever been seen in the past or since. They were commissioned to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
Mitterrand drew his inspiration for the Grands Projets from President Valery Giscard dEstaings Centre Georges Pompidou of the late 1970s. The Centre Georges Pompidou was the result of an architectural design competition in 1971 which selected a team comprising Italian architect Renzo Piano, the British architect couple Richard Rogers and Su Rogers, Gianfranco Franchini, the British structural engineer Edmund Happold who would later found Buro Happold, and Irish structural engineer Peter Rice. Reporting on Rogers winning the Pritzker Prize in 2007, The New York Times noted that the design of the Centre "turned the architecture world upside down". The Pritzker jury said the Pompidou "revolutionized museums, transforming what had once been elite monuments into popular places of social and cultural exchange, woven into the heart of the city." Mitterrand, seeing the passion that went into the building project and having a will to produce the best possible buildings, pursued his Grands Projets based on similar architectural competitions which would attract architects from a wide field to develop the city to its architectural potential.
2.1. Influenced Musee dOrsay
In 1977, the government made the decision to renovate the Gare dOrsay Orsay train station into the Musee dOrsay. The Italian architect Gae Aulenti oversaw the design of the conversion from 1980 to 1986. The work involved creating 20.000 square metres 220.000 sq ft of new floorspace on four floors. The new museum was opened by Mitterrand on 1 December 1986, and even though it began before he took office, the work is attributed as one of his Grands Projets.
2.2. Influenced Parc de la Villette
Parc de la Villette, located in northeastern Paris, now includes a science museum and an exhibition hall. A project titled "Parc de la Villette" was launched in 1979 to create a national park with a music centre and a museum devoted to science and technology. The project is spread over an area of 55 acres 22 ha. In an international competition held in 1982 in which 460 teams from 41 countries participated, Bernard Tschumi, a French architect of Swiss origin, was chosen as the architect to build the complex, in March 1983. The objective was to make Parc de la Villette an artistic, cultural and popular centre in Paris. Tschumi designed the park from 1984 to 1987 on the site of the former Parisian abattoirs, which had been built in 1867 by Napoleon III and demolished and relocated in 1974. The park project was successfully completed in stages with the gardens of the Park and the Maison de la Villette getting established in October 1987, the Music and Dance centres in 1990, Music and Concert Halls inaugurated in January 1995 and Music Museum inaugurated in January 2000. It now hosts the annual Open-Air Film Festival.
2.3. Influenced Grande Arche de La Defense
Grande Arche de La Defense, the Great Arch of La Defense, is a monumental building located at the northern terminus of the Grand Louvre–Place de la Concorde–Champs-Elysees–Arc de Triomphe axis. The name is derived from the La Defense de Paris monument which was built in 1870 as a commemorative building to mark the 1870 War. It was planned to be built on a flat plain land across the Seine River from the Bois de Boulogne.
A great national design competition involving some 400 entrants was launched in 1982 under the initiative of Mitterrand to design the Grande Arche de La Defense. Danish architect Johan Otto von Spreckelsen 1929–1987 and Danish engineer Erik Reitzel designed the winning entry to be a 20th-century version of the Arc de Triomphe: a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories. The construction of the monument began in 1985 and Mitterrand personally saw that the largest crane in Europe was brought in to build it. Spreckelsen resigned on July 1986 and ratified the transfer of all his architectural responsibilities to his associate, French architect Paul Andreu. Reitzel continued his work until the monument was completed in 1989. The Arche is almost a perfect cube width: 108 metres 354 ft, height: 110 metres 360 ft, depth: 112 metres 367 ft); it has been suggested that the structure looks like a four-dimensional hypercube a tesseract projected onto the three-dimensional world. It has a prestressed concrete frame covered with glass and Carrara marble from Italy and was built by the French civil engineering company Bouygues. La Grande Arche was inaugurated on 14 July 1989, with grand military parades that marked the bicentennial of the French Revolution and completed the line of monuments that forms the Axe historique running through Paris.
3.1. Commissioned Louvre Pyramid
Monumental in scope and public in purpose, the best-known of the Grands Projets is the I. M. Pei redesign and expansion plan of the Musee du Louvre, adding an entrance within the Louvre Pyramid, commissioned by Mitterrand in 1984. Mitterrand insisted on personally inspecting the materials that were used during the construction of the Louvre pyramid, from its glass panels to its steel girders, something which struck the architect as unusual at his degree of interest.
3.2. Commissioned Arab World Institute
The Arab World Institute is located on Rue des Fosses Saint Bernard and constructed from 1981 to 1987 with a floor space of 181.850 square feet 16.894 m 2. Jean Nouvel, together with Architecture-Studio, won the 1981 design competition. The building acts as a buffer zone between the Jussieu Campus, in large rationalist blocks, and the Seine. The building houses a museum, library, auditorium, restaurant, and offices. Above the glass-clad storefront, a metallic screen unfolds with moving geometric motifs. The motifs are actually 240 motor-controlled apertures, which open and close every hour. They act as brise soleil to control the light entering the building. The mechanism creates interior spaces with filtered light - an effect often used in Islamic architecture with its climate-oriented strategies. This building catapulted Nouvel to fame and is one of the cultural reference points of Paris, receiving the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Located on the left bank of the Seine River, in the heart of historic Paris, Arab World Institute, a bold expression of "architecture of glass and metal", where other buildings such as the Paris Mosque, other institutions, buildings and places that mark milestones in the exchanges between the Arab world and France, is described as "modern architectural symbol of dialogue between Western culture and the Arab world."
3.3. Commissioned Opera Bastille
Construction began on the Opera Bastille at the Place de la Bastille, in the 12th arrondissement in 1984 with the demolition of the Gare de la Bastille, which had closed in 1969. The building was designed by a Uruguayan-Canadian Carlos Ott who had won a competition. The building was inaugurated on 13 July 1989, on the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, with a gala concert conducted by Georges Prêtre and featuring singers such as Teresa Berganza and Placido Domingo. However, it did not see its first opera performance until 17 March 1990, with Berlioz Les Troyens, directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi. It is the largest opera house in Paris with 30 floors 10 floors in the basement, with each floor of 22.000 square metres 240.000 sq ft area, with corridors to the extent of 45 kilometres 28 mi in the building. It has backstage areas, workshops, and other essential infrastructure facilities. Its decors are fixed on carriers that run on tracks. These are moved to the stages in a few minutes using elevators which facilitates concurrent rotating performances to be held. The main hall contains 2700 seats. It cost 2.8 billion FF to build. The railway station and the bridge that existed here have become part of the "Promenade Plantee", an elevated parkway that extends over many kilometres to the city limits on the east.
3.4. Commissioned Ministere des Finances et de lEconomie
The Ministere des Finances et de lEconomie building is located at 1 Boulevard de Bercy. It extends down to the Seine and was the result of a 1982 competition. A national competition was held with entrants providing building designs for 225.000 square metres 2.420.000 sq ft of office space which would constitute a "grand gesture". Height restrictions of the time precluded the construction of a tower on the narrow site that was T-shaped and split in two by the Rue de Bercy Paul Chemetov and Borja Huidobro were the winning designers. Built in 1988, Building A and Building B bridge over the Rue de Bercy. At 70 metres 230 ft in length, six levels each span over Quai de la Rapee. The building is nicknamed the "steamboat" because of its extreme length. A viaduct became a principal building facade with a moat separating the buildings from the boulevard. The Ministere des Finances building received mixed reviews, including a comparison to Fascist and Stalinist architecture, or a motorway tollgate.
3.5. Commissioned Bibliotheque nationale de France
Opened in 1996, the Bibliotheque nationale de France was the last and most costly of the Grands Projets built in Paris. It consists of four 25-story L-shaped towers representing open books, "arranged at the corners of a giant platform around a sunken garden". After the move of the major collections from the Rue de Richelieu, the National Library of France was inaugurated on 15 December 1996 and today contains more than ten million volumes. Construction of the library ran into huge cost overruns and technical difficulties related to its high-rise design, so much so that it was then referred to as the "TGB" or "Tres Grande Bibliotheque" i.e. "Very Large Library," a sarcastic allusion to Frances successful high-speed rail system, the TGV.
3.6. Commissioned Tjibaou Cultural Centre
The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, in Noumea, New Caledonia, Melanesia is the only one of the Grands Projets built outside of Metropolitan France. It was built on the site of the Festival Melanesia 2000, which had occurred 25 years earlier. It was designed by the Italian architect, Renzo Piano.
3.7. Commissioned Centre International de Conferences
The Centre International de Conferences was to be the last of the Grands Projets. Designed by Francis Soler, 1990 winner of the Grand Prix national de larchitecture, the centre was not built due to cost overruns of the Bibliotheque nationale. The Musee du quai Branly commissioned by president Jacques Chirac was built instead on the site.
4. Reaction and criticism
While an initial negative reaction to the Grands Projets viewed it as a continuation of the traditional east/west shift in Paris power, a shift in viewpoint occurred after some time. This resulted after many of the projects were constructed on the working-class eastern side of Paris, and the projects brought a re-emphasis to the Seine.
Considered expensive and controversial, Frommers said "The majority were considered controversial or even offensive when completed". Mitterrands projects have been criticised as being empire-building, as well as compromising the "fabric" of Paris. Public taxes had to be raised to finance the project, amounting to a massive €4.6 billion derived from taxes. The library was strongly criticised by the French press and has suffered since from "operational problems" and maintenance issues.