Parc de la Villette is the “largest deconstructed building in the world”


As a continuation of the deconstructivist series, we will look at one of the movement’s earliest and most influential projects, the La Villette Park in Bernard Tschumi in Paris.

French and Swiss architect Chumi designed the park as a demolished building.

“It wasn’t nature itself, it was an urban moment,” Chumi told Digine. “Because it’s a single building, we call it the largest demolished building in the world, but it’s broken down into many pieces.”

Parc de la Villette is an early deconstructivist project.Photo by François-Xavier Bouchart

Chumi won the International Competition in 1983 and designed the 55-hectare La Villette Park in northern Paris, defeating more than 470 participants, including OMA, Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel.

This project was part of President Francois Mitterrand’s vision for the economic and cultural development of a semi-industrial area adjacent to the northeastern suburbs of the city.

Brief sought a “21st century city park” that could accommodate a complex program of cultural and recreational facilities.

Villette Park Pavilion
There are 35 red pavilions in the park.The photo is JM Montier

Chumi’s proposal for a “social and cultural park”, including 35 architectural follies, deliberately deviates from the classical interpretation of the park as an orderly space for relaxation.

Architects wanted to create a place for unprecedented activity and interaction, rather than designing a traditional park focused on tame nature and creating artificial landscapes. ..

“I wanted to create a place where people were appropriate, could take over, and in a way wouldn’t restrain them,” he said.

“Many of the strategies were to allow people to invent their own way of using the park.”

Arrangements for La Villette Park
Fools are placed on the grid in the park

The folly that is distributed throughout the landscape is characterized by a shape that appears to be dismembered and reassembled, enhancing the sense of imperfections and disorder that gives the park its unique personality.

“Body movements in space were very important in the large areas of the park, such as the movie promenade, and in Folly itself, with rams, stairs, and elevators,” Chumi explained.

The theoretical principles in support of the design, informed by the work of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, were later regarded as one of the pioneering works of the deconstructive movement.

Derrida is known for developing a form of semiotic analysis called “deconstruction” that casts doubt on the dominant discourse in Western culture and philosophy.

This desire to analyze and confuse established practices influenced Chumi’s pursuit of ambiguity and the belief that there was more than one interpretation of form and meaning to be followed.

“I’m not interested in shape,” Chumi once declared. “I attack the system of meaning. I’m for structural and syntactic ideas, but it doesn’t make sense.”

Deconstructivist Architecture Exhibition
This project was featured at MoMA’s Deconstructivist Architecture Exhibition.Photo courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects

The park was one of seven projects in which Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley participated in the Deconstructivist Architecture, a creative exhibition in 1988 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

In the exhibition catalog, the project is described as “an elaborate essay on the deviation of the ideal shape”, “getting power by transforming each distortion of the ideal shape into a new ideal and distorting itself.”

This focus on familiar shapes and reassessment of architectural practices and distortions is repeated throughout Chumi’s work. Prior to the Parc de la Villette project, Chumi’s work was primarily in the form of theoretical drawings and written text such as the Manhattan Transscript (1976-81).

Paris park plan
The park forms part of the rejuvenation of the northern part of Paris

The park was built on the site of a slaughterhouse and a meat wholesale market in Paris as part of a redevelopment in the 19th arrondissement.

Chumi’s plans were centered around existing and proposed buildings, including the huge City of Science and Industry Museum (completed in 1986), several concert venues, and the National Conservatory of Music in Paris.

Park building
It was planned around a series of cultural buildings.The photo is JM Montier

The design is based on a series of dots, lines and surfaces, with reference to the works of early 20th century constructivist artists, such as Wassily Kandinsky’s influential book “Point and Line to Plane” (1926). I am.

In La Villette Park, points are provided by various red follies placed in a 120×120 square meter grid system.

Despite the orderly distribution of folly in the park, different contextual relationships with existing structures, green spaces, and two canals that cross the site bring various intersections and experiences.

Raised sidewalk in Villette Park
A raised sidewalk runs through the park.Photo by Peter Mouse

A system of lines based on the classic axis is transformed into straight lines, curves, or winding promenades that facilitate movement within the park and lead users to points of interest.

The elevated walkway leads to Canal de Luc, which crosses the site from east to west. Other paths intersect and split in different directions, corresponding to points within the site and in the surrounding area.

The surface of the park consists of a series of circles, squares and triangles transformed into green spaces and paved areas used for recreation and event holding. These surfaces are distorted to create shattered terrain connected by twisted and broken paths.

Villette Park Pavilion
Each pavilion has its own shape

Ten theme gardens divide the vast grounds and provide visitors with the opportunity to relax, interact, gather and play. These include mirror gardens, wind gardens, bamboo gardens, youth gardens and dragon gardens.

Folly, placed around the park, is based on a 10-meter cube that is separated into various components and then recombined to create an artistic aggregate.

Each unique structure is built using concrete and red enamel aluminum panels. Repeating shapes and colors creates a sense of coherence, and their even spacing helps visitors orient themselves in large parks.

Like the rest of the park, Folly is designed to exist independently of historical precedents, even its function is arbitrary, and some have been used for a variety of purposes since its completion. I did.

Many of the folly are purely sculptural, but some provide space for facilities such as cafes, ticket offices, observation decks, and 700-seat concert halls.

Red pavilion in Paris park
The pavilion has many uses.Photo by Sophie Chivet

The informal user-defined spaces and buildings of La Villette Park proved to be controversial, and the park was also criticized for its vastness and lack of connection to its historical background.

However, the project has achieved its goal of redefining how parks are designed for the 21st century. Rather than taking people out of the city, it has become part of the urban context that emphasizes and promotes the interaction between people and places.

Finally, this work proved to be influential as a manifestation of Chumi’s theory of “architecture of junction failure”, which provides a new type of urban planning based on unstructured and eccentric programming requirements. rice field.

Deconstructivist series logo

Deconstructivism is one of the most influential architectural movements of the 20th century. Our series introduces the buildings and works of its key supporters Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Chumi and Wolf Prix.

Read the Deconstructivism Series ›

The illustration is by Jack Bedford.


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