France Travel Planner by Tom Brosnahan & Jane Fisher   Architecture in Paris & France
Architecture is a prime reason why France—and especially Paris—is so beautiful. Here's how it happened.

 


 



Paris Girls Secret Society, a new novel by Tom Brosnahan

 

Paris, perhaps the world's most beautiful city, did not happen by chance. The beauty of Paris is purposeful. Here's how it came about:

Medieval Paris

Medieval Paris was a mixture of bourgeois houses and shops, the enclosed mansions of the nobility and clergy, and churches. Because the city's streets were controlled by the king, the crown could dictate the city's plan.

Renaissance Paris

In the 1500s, the Renaissance brought the idea that a city should be not a haphazard collection of buildings, but a great architectural work based on classical models.

The crown, the aristocracy and the church commissioned great buildings throughout the city. King Henri IV (reigned 1589-1610) extended the Classical ideal to the Paris of the common people by commissioning the construction of plazas and ordering the regulation of perspective streets.

Regulated Streets

In 1607, Henri decreed regulations for building frontages on streets, and established a body of inspectors to assure the regulations were obeyed. This gave rise to what is known as the architecture d'accompagnement, whereby the façades of all buildings on a street were to have an architectural harmony.

More of these rigid building regulations followed in 1783-84, 1823 and 1859.

Napoléon III & Baron Haussmann

Emperor Napoléon III appointed Baron Eugène-Georges Haussmann to be the Prefect of the Seine—in effect, the mayor of Paris—in 1853. Until 1870, when Haussmann was removed from that office, he carried out a vast urban renewal and beautification program that has given us most of the Paris of today.

The streets of Paris began to take on a harmony that was improved in later centuries, and in large part has given us the beautiful Paris of today.

Haussmann's effect on Paris was so profound that architects since his time have continued to complete his projects until 1927, and regulations today preserve his heritage.

Apartments & Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

World War Paris

Paris was never captured in World War I. Though German artillery was able to lob shells into the city, damage was minimal.

After WWI, modernism appeared in Paris, due largely to the effects of the war and the emergence of an international community of architecture. You'll see pockets of modernist architecture—Bauhaus, Art Deco, etc.—in Paris, but the advent of World War II retarded this development.

Although the industrial suburbs of Paris were heavily bombed during WWII, historic central Paris was largely undamaged. Rebuilding of the suburbs could be in modernist styles without doing damage to the harmony of the center.

The Parisian tradition of architectural excellence continues today. Have a look at the planned commercial and technical district of La Défense: striking but functional modern archtecture in a grand style worthy of Paris.


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Cityscape with steeple, Paris, France

  Paris cityscape: everything has been
carefully planned for centuries.

Restaurant street, Paris, France

   
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