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March 20, 2015


The Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Vanishing Sounds?

by soundlandscapes

LOCATED AT THE southern edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement, the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil is a botanical garden set within a large greenhouse complex. This garden, along with the Parc de Bagatelle, the Parc floral de Paris, and the Arboretum de l’École du Breuil, make up the Jardin botanique de la Ville de Paris, a collection of four gardens maintained by the city each with their own history and architectural and botanical heritage.


The Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

The Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil was created in 1761 under Louis XV. The garden is arranged around a parterre in the traditional French style. Today’s five main greenhouses, designed and constructed between 1895-1898 by the architect Jean-Camille Formigé were constructed around this central area.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Among the botanical collection are many varieties of plants including azaleas, orchids, begonias, cactus, ferns and some carnivorous plants as well as trees of course. There is also a palm house and an aviary with tropical birds.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

The Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil may be a relatively peaceful and tranquil oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy city but the impact of urbanisation has left its mark. The building of the Boulevard Periphérique, the Paris ring road, in 1968 and the subsequent development of Porte d’Auteuil reduced the size of the garden by about one-third. The environmental impact of the traffic on the northern side of the garden where the Boulevard Périphérique and the A13 autoroute pass close by is hard to ignore. On the day I went, a grey mist hung in the air from the traffic emissions and the vehicular noise pollution not only pervaded the air but penetrated deep inside the greenhouses.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

The Grande Serre

A little respite from the worst of the noise pollution can be found inside the grande serre, the largest of the greenhouses. In here, the unwanted man-made sounds can still be heard but they are overtaken to some extent by the sounds of nature – the sounds of tropical birds.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Sounds inside the grande serre:

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Standing under the high domed roof of this huge glass building surrounded by the sounds of tropical birdsong and with over-size fish swimming in the pool at my feet, it was hard to imagine that the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil is again under threat, this time from a neighbour who slumbers peacefully for most of the year but for two weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June each year bursts in raucous life.

The neighbour in question is the Stade Roland Garros, an international tennis complex, home to the Fédération Française de Tennis and to the French Open Tennis Championships. Along with the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, the French Open is one of the four prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournaments that take place each year.

Some time ago, it became clear that the Stade Roland Garros risked losing its place as a Grand Slam venue unless it expanded to better cater for the needs of the tournament’s corporate sponsors. Not wishing to go the same way as the now defunct French Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Fédération Française de Tennis hatched a plan.

Rejecting an option to build a completely new venue outside Paris at Marne-la-Vallee, Gonesse or Versailles, they decided instead to come up with a planned extension to the existing site taking it from the existing 8.5 hectares to 13 hectares.


As you can see from this Google Earth image, the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil and the Stade Roland Garros live cheek by jowl. And yes, you’ve guessed it, the plan calls for an extension to the east into the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.

The plan is for the centre court, the Philippe Chatrier court, to be given a retractable roof, while another, semi-sunken, court with seating capacity for 5,000 spectators will be built in the south-east part of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil. This will replace the current No.1 Court, which will be demolished to make room for a vast green esplanade spreading over a hectare – the new Place des Mousquetaires. The western side will see the Fonds des Princes having a new lay-out featuring a competition area with seven courts, one of which will have a capacity of 2,200 seats.

To accommodate the new court in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil the plan is to demolish the existing greenhouses and build new ones around the new tennis court in the same Formigé style.

Local residents associations and supporters of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil of course are opposed to the plan and they’ve come up with an alternative. Instead of the eastward expansion proposed by the Fédération Française de Tennis, they have proposed an expansion across the A13 motorway. Their plan calls for the motorway to be covered and the new 5,000 seat court to be built on top of it so that the motorway passes underneath.

The proposal to redevelop the Stade Roland Garros of course is not new, it was originally announced back in 2011. What is new though is that the Paris City Council, having originally supported the Fédération Française de Tennis proposal, has now put a spanner in the works.

On Wednesday, 18th March, they unanimously adopted a resolution that a further study into the alternative plan should be conducted by an independent organisation, not by the Fédération Française de Tennis, so that the Paris City Council can debate and then vote on it.

So maybe all is not yet quite lost for the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil as we know it today. A notice on the door of one of the greenhouses shows that the fight goes on.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

What the future holds for the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil remains to be seen but, although I care about these gardens and think they should be preserved, I’m particularly interested in how the soundscape might change if either proposal goes ahead.

If the decision goes one way and the A13 autoroute is covered we might at least get some amelioration of the vehicular noise pollution that pervades this space throughout the year and that will certainly change the soundscape for the better.

If the decision goes the other way and a semi-sunken tennis court surrounded by 5,000 seats is built in the south-east corner of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, not only will the landscape change but so will the soundscape. For two weeks of the year the sounds of cheering crowds, the endless grunts of tennis players, the clink of champagne glasses and the sound of cash filling the coffers of the Fédération Française de Tennis will no doubt dominate, but for the other fifty weeks of the year the reshaped landscape will inevitably create a reshaped soundscape.

The existing greenhouses, including the grande serre, will be demolished, to be replaced by copies positioned around the new tennis court, which means that the existing sounds inside today’s grande serre will disappear forever. So it could well be that the sounds I recorded on my visit to the garden the other day will find themselves added to my ever-growing list of the vanishing sounds of Paris.

Whatever the decision, and no doubt a decision will be reached eventually, I shall be there to record the effect of that decision on the soundscape.

But, just in case Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil does disappear, here are some more sights of it as it is today.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

Jardin des Serres d’Auteil

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    Mar 22 2015

    Oh, how I hope this beautiful and unique place will not be hacked up for sports and cars! I’ll try to keep posted on how the city council votes. In the meantime, you’ve captured a beautiful soundscape — and you’ve shown me yet another hidden corner of Paris I never knew existed. Thank you.

    • Mar 23 2015

      Thanks Heather.

      I went along to the manifestation on Saturday afternoon, the one that was advertised on the greenhouse door. I wanted to lend my support. It was held in the Avenue Gordon Bennett, the street that divides the Jardin des Serres from the Stade Roland Garros. They chose to meet in a part of the street outside a gate into the garden which is directly opposite N°1 Court, the tennis court they plan to demolish and rebuild in the Jardin des Serres. A very appropriate location I thought. I guess about 300 people turned up. There were speeches, lots of them, and although the speakers and the audience were very passionate and enthusiastic the press coverage was scant and so I couldn’t help feeling that they were talking to themselves.

      My head tells me that the Fédération Française de Tennis plan might well go ahead, especially since it’s likely that Paris will bid for the 2024 Olympic Games which could be a factor, but my heart hopes that it won’t. Far too often we seem to rape our heritage in pursuit of corporate interests and I just think that’s wrong!

      • hmunro
        Apr 2 2015

        I’m sad to hear that only 300 people showed up — but at least 300 people *did* speak up on behalf of the city’s history and heritage. Thank you for the follow-up report, Des. It will be interesting to see what happens (and I will keep my fingers crossed for the Jardin de Serres).

  2. Bethsabee BenSoussan
    Jun 4 2015

    Thank you really so much for supporting us and sharing these photos and information, I am very sad to have to tell you that your intuition was right. Yesterday afternoon, against his minister of environment, and against the majority of the municipal council, the first minister and the mayor of Paris have decided to force their way in front of all the associations and to allow the French Federation to start the destruction!!
    There is a demonstration on Sunday, the 6th of June
    if luckily, you are in Paris then, could you come along, please, in spite the contempt a lot of Parisians feel toward their own patrimony, I really hope that there will be more of us this time, it’s our last chance…
    I am terribly sorry for my awful English, please forgive me. Thank you again!

    • Jun 4 2015

      Thank you so much for your comment Bethsabee. And please don’t apologise for your English, it’s much better than my French!

      Je vous remercie de me laisser savoir tout sur les derniers développements. Je suis choqué par les nouvelles. Oui, bien sûr, je serai à votre manifestation le dimanche. Je vais vous aider de quelque façon que je peux. Regardez pour moi, je serai l’homme avec le microphone et casque. Je vais vous y voir!

  3. Jun 21 2016

    I just found this wonderful looking garden and want to visit it. Will it still be there in October of 2016. If so how much does it cost to visit.

    • Jun 21 2016

      The good news is that the garden and the greenhouses are free of charge.

      I’m not quite sure what the latest legal situation is but I think the garden will still be there in October this year. If you contact me again in September I will be happy to let you know what the up to date position is.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Latest News | Soundlandscapes' Blog
  2. The Parc de Bagatelle and its Sounds | Soundlandscapes' Blog
  3. Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Game, Set and Match! | Soundlandscapes' Blog

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