a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit abroad

A ha’peth of tar

La Banque Postale has just opened its new headquarters in a cluster of buildings in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. Having taken many years and a great deal of public money to complete, the building project has been the cause of much controversy and debate. But to me the architecture is splendid.

horse chestnut

At its heart is the early 18th century hotel de Choiseul-Praslin, which has been lavishly renovated after standing empty for many years. Over the last few months I have watched the painstaking work that has gone into bringing this building back to life, every detail carefully restored and cleaned and painted and polished. Other later buildings have also been renovated while, on the adjacent plot, a nondescript modern block has been transformed into a strikingly contemporary, green building that reminds me a little of the Beinecke Rare Books Library at Yale.  The contrast, between old and new, traditional and modern, is something Paris does very well. Although not without their detractors, the headquarters buildings have generally met with admiration.

overview of project

The site today.

the site previously

The site before the building work started. From Google.

Sadly the landscape has managed to escape similar levels of investment and attention. While the Beinecke library at Yale is off-set by an equally beautiful, austere Noguchi garden, these landmark buildings in Paris have a couple of courtyards that made me wince when I saw them earlier today. Located between two of the older buildings, one courtyard has a fine old horse chestnut, preserved during the building works, and a random selection of half-dead shrubs stuffed into silly, narrow borders.

Narrow bordersThe second courtyard, located right on rue de Sèvres between the old and the new buildings, is worse. Someone decided that checkerboard granite paving topped with large Versailles tubs was the best option here. Unadventurous (but undoubtedly French and potentially suitably dignified), the tubs were installed in a rather random configuration and painted to match the pale green window frames of the hotel; each one was equipped with expensive electrical up-lighters. Then a job lot of large shrubs was bunged in. Habit played no part in their choice: large-leaved, small-leaved, tall, squat, rounded, columnar, in they all went. And there they sit, haphazard, straggly and, with their soil already full of weeds, rather sad.

main courtyard

shrubshrub

The project allegedly cost 130m euros. Surely just a tiny little bit more of that could have been spent on the horticulture?

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9 comments on “A ha’peth of tar

  1. Kerry Hand
    May 11, 2011

    Sad about the horticulture. But I do really love that first photo of the building.

    • landscapelover
      May 12, 2011

      I agree – that combination of majestic architecture and venerable tree feels just right. The rest of the landscape could have been planned to be equally appealing. But this old horse chestnut, protected during the construction work, is the only decent thing in it. It’s shameful that on such an important and award-winning project, the planting is a horrible little afterthought.

  2. That is some of the most pathetic landscaping I have seen. The tubs have potential but they would need to have a theme (and be weed free). The renovated hotel is beautiful, but what did they do to that other building? It looks like its covered in louvers from the 60s.

    • landscapelover
      May 12, 2011

      Yes, the tubs would never be dazzling but, sensibly planted and maintained, they could have been a pleasant foil to the architecture.
      The contemporary building has proved controversial, but has also won awards for its green credentials. Its new ‘skin’ is a mixture of plain and patterned glass, and more translucent and attractive than it looks in my photo. The aim was to produce something that allowed for natural ventilation, while complying with some pretty demanding planning and environmental requirements and restrictions. But, as I say, reaction to its new appearance has been mixed.

  3. maggie
    May 13, 2011

    Do I laugh or cry over the landscaping? I like the old and new buildings together, and love the variegated glass strips but, as often is the case, the careful designing stops at the buildings’ footprint.
    Landscape architects with experience in urban design need to be incorporated into projects from the start, or there will be no end to laughable strips and tubs scattered about.
    Thank you for providing photos of contemporary, evolving Paris.

  4. Lula (onbotanicalphotography.blogspot.com)
    May 13, 2011

    Where is all the aesthetic taste gone? The gardening here is so pathetic that it looks they wasted all the money in the re-building, and had a few euros left for green. But, I have to say that I like the way they have intertwined new and ancient buildings. A little more imagination with not huge budget would have defined a better landscaping.

  5. maggie
    May 13, 2011

    and ps Blogger seems to have deleted your last comment on my blog–it was there and then it was gone!

    • landscapelover
      May 15, 2011

      Maggie and Lula,
      Thanks for sharing in my despair over this wretched landscaping!
      Since writing this post I have learnt that there is supposedly also a new “landscaped garden” in the big courtyard between the various buildings – the locals were lobbying for access to it, to make up for all the disruption during the building work. Next time I’m nearby I will try to see how well that has turned out…
      And, Maggie, I hope Blogger is now behaving itself again, after what I understand has been a week of very naughty behaviour towards all its users!

  6. Thomas Rainer
    May 16, 2011

    Europe blends contemporary with historic architecture so well. Perhaps they are so used to living within historic fabric, that they are not so timid about contemporary design. I’ve seen some successful blends of contemporary and historic here in America, but I think our reverance for what little historic building stock we have creates a nostalgia that produces things like ‘New Urbanist’ shopping malls. ‘Ye Olde’ crap.

    I’m glad you put in a plug for the landscape. Looks like it needs the attention.

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This entry was posted on May 11, 2011 by in Gardens, Paris and tagged , .

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