May 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

1734 Michel-Étienne Turgot, chief of the municipality of Paris as provost of merchants, decided to promote the reputation of Paris for Parisian, provincial or foreign elites by implementing a new plan of the city. He asked Louis Bretez, member of the Academy of Painting and Sculpture and professor of perspective, to draw up the plan of Paris and its suburbs. Turgot was a physiocrat, coming from the Greek, meaning “government of nature” (see M. Foucault’s Security, Territory, Population), thus his plan emphasized not only the city itself, but the agricultural richness around it. Turgot’s idea and those of François Quesnay were the precursors of classical economics. Their influence is reflected in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

The outburst of plaza design connected with the erection of the monument for Louis XV in Paris can be studied in the wonderfully illustrated book written by Pierre Patte (1723-1814), architect of the Duke of Zweibruecken, and published in Paris 1765, under the title: “Monuments érigés en France à la gloire de Louis XV“. I just found a copy of it on Bookfinder for almost $3000. It was translated into English by one Melissa Calaresu and published as The Vision of the City in Eighteenth-century France.  As you can see, dense areas of Paris were ‘reclaimed’ here for the purpose of clearing area around statues of Louis XV—so that the citizens of Paris could stand in awe of each of the newly placed memorials. Though all concentrated around the center of the city, each of these pieces, remains relatively isolated from one another. In terms of an experience of the city, to move from one monument to the next one would have to dive back into the city of ‘organic’ growth. However, you can also begin to see suggestions of grand axes.


Finally Haussman makes the axes real, above is Haussmann’s paris 1853-1870. We now have the city as a linked and single entity. Here traffic was determined by the view of new monuments. But the boulevards are so wide, the sidewalks so spacious it gives birth to a different kind of viewing—flânerie. I think my favorite description of flânerie, perhaps besides Bauelaire’s own (but it is an unfair comparison) is in Marshall Berman’s Everything is Solid Melts Into Air. In his description we really see how the Haussmann era apartments were really thick façades hiding medieval urban interiors that all empty out into these new wide and leafy streets. The menu peuple, filtered out of the cracks between the facades and finally saw the middle class—who now had honorific entrances to the city—as if they owned the place.


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