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Posts Tagged ‘maintenance’

Parc André Citroën in the southwest of Paris was created just twenty years ago, on the site of an old car factory. The only park in the capital with frontage on the river Seine, it is famous for its bold modern design and confident use of water and sculpted plants. Locals picnic en masse on the central lawn at weekends and hundreds of kids cool down in its 120 dancing water jets. Well-maintained small gardens and a popular tethered balloon add to its appeal.

Despite its appeal, much of the park has long needed better maintenance. Three years ago I wrote this post about its dilapidated condition and expressed a hope that, at last, the problems were being addressed. Sadly a return visit this July suggested that my optimism was misplaced.

As I reported at the time for Historic Gardens Review, the park’s central water features remain in a deplorable state. The shallow moat that surrounds the main lawn, which was empty for so long, has now been refilled with water, but contains an astonishing amount of blanket weed and algae.

Citroen 11Citroen 02
Almost all the other water features remain empty and cordoned off, including the 250m long elevated canal to the west, the waterfalls at the river end of the park, and the series of six rills and cascades that join the individual gardens to the main lawn.

Citroen 03 Citroen 05 Citroen 09 Citroen 10The mayor’s office in Paris reported to me that the six rills were actively under repair (to prevent serious leaks) but would not be drawn on any of the other problems. I suspect that, with its mass of elaborate water features, the park may simply be too expensive to conserve in its original state.

Better news seems to be emerging from the much trumpeted €3.9m planned extension to the park. Plans announced early in 2012 included innovative play areas, refreshment stalls, the park’s first toilets, and substantial new plantings of clipped hawthorn and hornbeam, plus a mass of Judas trees. The extension was due to open this summer. The space was still a building site when I visited – fenced off, weeds establishing themselves on the piles of earth, with no obvious work underway and no explanation of the reasons for the delay.

Citroen 12 Citroen 13But one of the main contractors, COTEG, has just wryly reported that the extension is likely to be finished by the end of next month because the park is now part of “a political context that demands deadlines” – with the municipal elections taking place in March 2014, the local mayor presumably wants parc André Citroën as a showcase of urban developments in his arrondissement. C’est un mal pour un bien…

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Parc André Citroën in the 15th arrondissement is one of my favourite Paris parks. Opened in 1992, it was designed by landscape architects Gilles Clément and Alain Provost, with architects Patrick Berger, Jean-Paul Viguier and Jean-François Jodry, members of the two winning teams from a Europe-wide competition to find the best park design for this brownfield site, which was once a car factory.

The teams produced a bold modern design, with a diagonal path famously sweeping across the awkward 14 hectare site. Small thematic gardens bordered the main lawn area. Given the proximity of the Seine (which runs along the western edge of the park), there was water everywhere, from the moat around the edge of the main lawn, and a vast, raised canal and waterfall on the southern side, to a series of cascades in the theme gardens, and 120 water jets between the two enormous greenhouses.

Parc André Citroën

Plan from viguier.com

Not everybody liked it: the American lobby group the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) placed André Citroën in its Hall of Shame, designated as one of the worst parks in the world. Apparently it needs more picnic tables (which is perhaps a rather American complaint) and less fussiness in the layout of the themed gardens. If you visit the PPS website, you’ll see that all the user comments disagree with this rather harsh assessment. André Citroën certainly seems to me the most successful of the three significant new parks installed in Paris during the 1990s, the results of a mixture of urban renewal and political posturing (the other two were the much-hyped Villette in the 19th, now widely regarded as a failure, and the rather pedestrian parc de Bercy in the 12th). Alan Tate’s book Great City Parks has, for me, a much fairer and more positive response to André Citroën.

But even those who do like it recognise that the park was eye-wateringly expensive to install (costs have been estimated at 388m francs, about 59m euros). It also demands unusually high levels of maintenance. And that has, at least until recently, been the park’s undoing. Lack of funds meant that it gradually deteriorated, with most of the fountains not working, and the canal and moat completely empty, with butyl liners exposed and in places ripped, apparently by vandals. Repair work was promised in June 2008, but the summer came and went without any activity. Although still much used by families for picnics and swimsuited games in the water jets, for the past couple of years the park has felt abandoned, almost derelict.

Parc André Citroën

Photo of empty moat from March 2010 by marta_cuinust on Panoramio

I have seen occasional reports of new plans to repair the water features and to extend the park; and discussions about creating a 3 km-long green promenade along an old railway line to link André Citroën with the nearby parc Georges Brassens. But, as so often in France, it is difficult to find much information on what was actually happening either in the press or on line. So yesterday I visited the park to see for myself.

Barriers around flower bedEntering the park from the metro at Balard, through the White Garden, first impressions were troubling.

Some of the flowers beds were surrounded by metal barriers, and both the little playgrounds were sealed off. All the play equipment was taped up with signs that bizarrely proclaimed “Attention: Peinture Fraîche” [careful: wet paint], although it was clear that nothing had been painted and that the tape had been in place for some while.

Playground

In the main part of the park, however, routine maintenance work was clearly taking place: trees and shrubs had been recently clipped, a workman was busy blowing leaves off the paths, while another was lifting and cleaning out drainage grills. The water jets were fully functional, dancing in the bright Autumn sunlight.

Water jetssignAnd it appeared to be good news for the rest of the water features. Signs proclaimed that the engineering firm Segex / A. D. Pompes was carrying out the first phase of a programme of repairs. Slightly worryingly, the signs said that the work should have been completed by August, yet there were still barriers and temporary fencing everywhere, and I saw no evidence of work being done.

BarricadesBut the moat around the main lawn was without doubt now full of water again, and some areas of grass were also being reseeded.

Repaired moatIn the themed gardens, progress was more mixed. Generally the little gardens seemed to be well maintained and looked attractive. Routine maintenance was certainly happening: beds were being dug over and winter plantings made (here, some recently-planted pansies in the blue garden).

Pansies, just planted

Blue garden closed off

silver garden

But some of the gardens were closed to the public, their entrances blocked with barriers for no obvious reason.

All the water cascades were resolutely empty and fenced off, with weeds starting to colonise the spaces. Let’s hope that the repair of these will be phase two of the renovation.

The delightful, preposterously expensive, glasshouses linked to each garden were also “momentanément fermées” [temporarily closed] to the public for an unspecified technical reason, but the plants within seemed well cared for.

Closed glasshouse

One horrid addition since my last visit, on the boundary between the main lawn and the themed gardens, was a vast rectangular structure, which serves as a ticket booth and exhibition space for the tethered balloon that has long provided rides from the park.

It was startlingly white, standing out alarmingly from a distance, even with all the lurid orange fencing and green barriers currently stretching across the lawn.

Ballon Air de ParisBut, even though there remains much to be done, there is clearly now major renovation work underway at this splendid late twentieth century park.

I’m looking forward to revisiting in the Spring and seeing how far it has progressed.

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I have just written an article for Gardens and People on the extraordinary 1990 proposals by Bernard Lassus to reinvent the Jardin des Tuileries. They were an entry in a state-run competition and, sadly, a less adventurous plan by Louis Benech and Pascal Cribier was chosen for implementation. My article is part of a series on Gardens That Were Never Built.

So, last Sunday I spent an hour walking through the Tuileries, taking photographs for the article. It struck me how poorly they are currently being maintained. Many of the ancient horse chestnuts and plane trees are unpruned and sprawling.
Unclipped treesbox bedThe box bed near the Jeu de Paume was unclipped and full of bindweed and large thistles.

Oddly planted with a mass of variegated perennials and grasses, the two exedras are similarly infested with weeds and look sad and neglected. Some of the trees planted as part of the Benech / Cribier plan are struggling to survive. Much of the gardeners’ attention seems to go on the narrow little flower beds, with their high maintenance mix of annuals and tender perennials, all planted at a rather domestic scale.flower bed The Tuileries is of course still a magnificent processional space. But it would be sad if it is allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that another major overhaul is needed so soon after the 1990 concours that produced the remarkable Lassus proposals.

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