Parc de la Villette

Deconstructionist architect Bernard Tschumi won the competition to redesign an outdated abattoir on the outskirts of Northern Paris. The result of this design was to be known as Parc de la Villette, a 55-hectare space, Paris’s largest public park and part of former President Mitterrand’s grands projets.

Tschumi’s intervention was anything but conventional, he used a palette of lines and varied surfaces to depict a new use for park design, creating so-called ‘functional folies,’ nodes in the landscape scattered as a series of deconstructed points. The folies are deliberately irrational, an artistic statement that portrays Tschumi’s underlying philosophies in his designs. Large, red and cube-like, the structures serve no real purpose, created to challenge the user, and to push the notion of individual response to an extreme.

It was necessary for Tschumi to be clear of his intentions, he stated that Parc de la Villete ‘means nothing‘ in the sense that there was no suggested or inherent meaning behind his design, nor was there any recognisable symbolism. Instead, he offered users ‘a multiplicity of impressions’ intending that each person using the park would find their own way of using it and individual interpretations could be made.

The park now hosts many cultural and scientific venues including, the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Europe’s largest science museum, three major concert venues and the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris. Unsurprisingly the park gets around 10 Million visitors a year. This September I was one of them, and seeing the park first hand gave me another impression compared to what I had previously read.

It is true that the park has a kind of disjointed feel between the new building on the site, and recent surveys suggest that visitors who use the park’s many venues rarely stay to enjoy the outside space, basically demonstrating a lack of integration or common theme. Also many point out that the park lacks many of the traditional features of a park and therefore find the experience unfamiliar. Although I would agree that the parks additions are somewhat disjointed, I think that the unconventionality of the park is only something that works to benefit the users. For me it had a great sense of intrigue, which drew me to explore the park more than what I may otherwise have done. The fact that it deliberately portrays the themes of a deconstructionist philosophy makes Villette now an exploration of an architects thought and belief, a rare feat in today’s built environment.

Parc de la Villette is a deconstructionist proclamation, a return to ground zero for design. A precedent for a philosophy in physical format and a bold move that is, in places, undermined. However this does not seem to alter its popularity, and each visitor really finds an unconventional way to use this unconventional design.

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