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Posts tagged ‘Jean Camille Formigé’


The Square d’Anvers and its Sounds

BUILT ON THE SITE of a former Montmartre abattoir, the Square d’Anvers takes its name from the Belgian port of Antwerp. It was named to mark the French victory against the Dutch at the Siege of Antwerp in December 1832. The square was opened in 1877.


The French architect, Jean-Camille Formigé, chief architect of buildings, promenades and gardens in the city of Paris during the French Third Republic, designed the Square d’Anvers as well as many other things across the city. In addition to the Square d’Anvers, his legacy includes the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz, the dramatic sloping park in front of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, the crematorium of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and the greenhouses in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.


One of the main features of the Square d’Anvers is the elegant kiosque à Musique, or bandstand.

These ‘kiosques’ first became fashionable in France in the eighteenth century although, save for one employed by a Turkish café in the boulevard du Temple so that an orchestra could play shaded from the sun and rain, they didn’t really become popular in Paris until the late nineteenth century.

The word ‘kiosque’ comes from the Arabic-Persian word, ‘kiouch’, a decorative oriental style pavilion originally with no connection to music. At the beginning of the Second Empire, some French garrison towns erected kiosques in public squares so that the regiments could offer free concerts to the public. Kiosques, or bandstands, began to appear in Paris, first in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 1888 and then in other neighbourhood squares. Their popularity declined in the second half of the twentieth century but they are now gaining a new lease of life in some parts of the city.


Originally, the Square d’Anvers had two monuments: a statue of the philosopher, Denis Diderot, by Leon Aimé Joachim Lecointe (1826-1913) and a colonne de la Paix armée, a column surmounted by a statue of Victory.


Square d’Anvers. Statue de Diderot et colonne de la Paix armée. Paris (IXème arr.). Photographie de Charles Lansiaux (1855-1939). Plaque de verre, 22 avril 1920. Département Histoire de l’Architecture et Archéologie de Paris. 

© Charles Lansiaux / DHAAP / Roger-Viollet 

Image courtesy of Paris en Images

The statue of Diderot was acquired by the city of Paris in 1884. It was originally installed in the Square Maurice-Gardette (formerly Square Parmentier) in the 11th arrondissement but in 1886 it was transferred to the southern end of the Square d’Anvers.

Along with about seventy other Parisian statues, the statue of Diderot and the bronze statue on top of the colonne de la Paix armée were melted down in 1942 during the Nazi occupation.


Sounds in the Square d’Anvers:


In the 1970s an underground car park was constructed beneath the Square d’Anvers and the square was refurbished. More recently, further work has been done to incorporate a multi-sport space for teenagers and new play areas for younger children.


At this time of the year the dominant sounds in the square are the sounds of birds singing and children playing but, for me, the most intriguing sounds come not from the birds or the children but from the squeaky gates leading to the avenue Troudaine at the southern end of the square. You can hear these sounds towards the end of my sound piece above: a perfect example of, to use Aimée Boutin’s phrase, the City as Concert.



Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Game, Set and Match!

OVER TWO WEEKS BETWEEN late May and early June around half a million people will make their way to the red clay courts of the Stade Roland Garros at the southern end of the Bois de Boulogne to watch the French Open tennis championships.

The French Open is the premier clay-court tennis championship event in the world and the second of four annual Grand Slam tournaments, the others being the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

This year, the tournament takes place between 22nd May and 11th June during which time the French Tennis Federation (Fédération Française de Tennis) will accrue approximately €200 million in revenue of which around €30 million will be given away as prize money.

The Stade Roland Garros was constructed in 1928 to host France’s first defence of the Davis Cup. It takes its name from the pioneering aviator, engineer and World War I fighter ‘ace’, Roland Georges Garros who, amongst many other things, completed the first solo flight across the Mediterranean Sea.

Stade Roland Garros is a 21-acre (8.5-hectare) complex containing twenty tennis courts, including three large-capacity stadiums: the Court Philippe Chatrier, the principal court seating almost 15,000 spectators, the Court Suzanne Lenglen, seating 10,000 spectators, and Court 1, seating 4,000 spectators.


Across the leafy Avenue Gordon Bennett, directly opposite the Stade Roland Garros, is another space almost comparable in size, the 18-acre (7.2-hectare) Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, which, 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 was created in 1761 under Louis XV and is arranged around a parterre in the traditional French style. The main greenhouses, designed and constructed between 1895-1898 by the architect Jean-Camille Formigé, were constructed around this central area.

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


The Grande Serre, the largest tropical greenhouse in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

While most long-term next door neighbours cohabit relatively peacefully, conflict can sometimes break out.

After living harmoniously next to each other for almost ninety years, the Stade Roland Garros through its proprietor, the Fédération Française de Tennis, has been locked in conflict over several years with the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil over a plan to extend the Stade Roland Garros into the historic garden.

I have already featured this conflict in this blog (here and here) but I can summarise the situation as follows:

The Stade Roland Garros is falling behind its Open championship competitors, Melbourne Park in Australia, Flushing Meadows in the United States and Wimbledon in the United Kingdom, in terms of the space and facilities required to stage a Grand Slam tournament. In order to compete and to satisfy the International Tennis Federation, the governing body of world tennis, and to satiate the inexhaustible appetites of the corporate sponsors and the media, the Stade Roland Garros has to improve its offer or risk losing its prestigious Grand Slam status.


Stade Roland Garros, Court 1, across the Avenue Gordon Bennett from the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil 

In 2009 a significant expansion of the Stade Roland Garros was proposed, which included the addition of lights and a retractable roof over the Court Philippe Chatrier. The proposal also called for a new, fourth stadium with a retractable roof and 14,600 seating capacity, along with two smaller courts with seating for 1,500 and 750 to be built at the nearby Georges Hébert municipal recreation area, east of Roland Garros at Porte d’Auteuil. Factions within the Paris City Council scuppered this proposal.

This was followed a scheme to move the French Open to a completely new, fifty-five-court venue outside the Paris city limits but the Fédération Française de Tennis scuppered that.

In May 2013, the Fédération Française de Tennis announced a proposal to completely rebuild the Court Philippe Chatrier on its existing foundations with the addition of a new roof and lights, together with the demolition of Court 1. To replace the demolished court the proposal called for a 5,000-seat, semi-sunken stadium to be built in the southeast corner of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.

Here are two photographs I took from a Fédération Française de Tennis publicity banner showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effect of their proposed invasion of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.





Maybe it’s just me, but the caption in the picture above: Près des serres historiques, un merveilleux geste architectural contribuant au renouveau du jardin botanique de ville de Paris (Near the historic greenhouses, a wonderful architectural gesture contributing to the revival of the botanical garden of the City of Paris), seems to stretch publicity propaganda to the absolute limit – or maybe we have just become so brainwashed that we simply accept ‘alternative facts’ as the norm these days.

The sad thing is that these ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures are no longer just publicity propoganda – they are now a reality.


Nine greenhouses were demolished to create this building site

Local residents, municipal authorities, garden and wildlife enthusiasts and others have vigorously opposed the plan to extend the Stade Roland Garros into the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil. They even came up with a credible alternative scheme, which seemed to gain traction for a time, and they have fought several expensive court cases to try to thwart the ambitions of the Fédération Française de Tennis. But it was the the announcement of the bid by the City of Paris to host the Olympic Games in 2024 that probably sealed the fate of the garden. Integral to the Paris Olympic bid is the new, expanded, Stade Roland Garros.

Earlier this month, on the 2nd February, the Tribunal administratif de Paris rejected an appeal against the construction permits previously authorised by the Mayor of Paris and, as a result, the final the green light was given for both the reconstruction of the Court Philippe Chatrier and la construction d’un court de tennis sur une parcelle dans le Jardin des serres d’Auteuil, dans le Bois de Boulogne’. You can read the court’s judgement here.


More publicity from the Fédération Française de Tennis

In one of my previous posts I referred to the development in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil and how the soundscape would inevitably change as a result. Well, this is today’s soundscape in this once idyllic garden.

Digging for Profit:


Of course, developments like this are nothing new, Paris is littered with places revered today built on the ruins of places revered by previous generations. So why should we care about the destruction of some old greenhouses containing a few potted plants when the alternative is a spanking new tennis stadium helping to secure a prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournament in the city and the possibility of hosting the Olympic Games?

I suppose some ‘suit’ somewhere has done the calculation: the cost-benefit analysis of keeping or losing a Grand Slam tournament, appeasing corporate sponsors, gaining or losing an Olympic bid, the prestige to the city, the country and of course, to the politicians. It will also be blindingly obvious to our ‘suit’ that there is no long-term monetary cost at all to disfiguring the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil. After all, a single ticket to the French Open costs between €55 and €2,200 depending on which day and which package you choose (and will no doubt increase substantially when the new facilities are opened) whereas entry to the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil is currently free. And as a bonus, we will close the entire garden to the general public for the duration of the French Open tournament and reserve it exclusively for our paying customers. What’s not to like?

And when it comes down to it, that’s the problem. Costs are easily measured whereas value is intangible and elusive.

How do you compare the value of an 18th century garden, its original 19th century architectural features and its horticultural collection, not to mention the pleasure it gives to those who visit it, to the money making machine that is the Stade Roland Garros and the French Open tennis championships? Does one have greater value than the other? Should the lust for prestige and profit defeat the preservation of heritage?

And to argue, as some do, that only a part of the garden is affected so it doesn’t matter all that much, is akin to arguing that someone is just ‘a little bit pregnant’!

Whatever we might think about this garden and the development taking place there, it seems that the Fédération Française de Tennis, assisted by the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and the courts have served an unplayable ace and the umpire has finally called ‘Game, Set and Match’!



Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Latest News

IN MARCH THIS YEAR I published a blog piece about the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, the botanical garden set within a large greenhouse complex at the southern edge of the Bois de Boulogne.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

In that piece I recounted how these gardens, first established in 1761 under Louis XV, are under threat because of plans by the Fédération Française de Tennis to extend the neighbouring Roland Garros international tennis complex into the south east corner of the gardens. This extension, if it goes ahead, will include the demolition of the nineteenth-century Jean-Camille Formigé greenhouses to make way for a new, semi-sunken, tennis court with seating capacity for 5,000 spectators.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

At the time of writing my last piece about the gardens the Paris City Council had just unanimously adopted a resolution that a further study into an alternative plan proposed by local residents associations and supporters of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil should be conducted by an independent organisation so that the Paris City Council could debate and then vote on it.

But now, things have moved on again.

Last Wednesday, despite the unanimous resolution of the Paris City Council, the French Prime Minister, Manual Valls, issued a statement instructing Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, to sign the Permis de Construire, the building permit required before work on the Roland Garros extension can proceed. So far, Ségolène Royal has not done so.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

On Sunday afternoon, as Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic were locking horns on the Philippe Chatrier court in the Men’s Final of the French Open Tennis Championship at Roland Garros, friends and supporters of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil were making their voices heard at the entrance to the gardens on the avenue de la porte d’Auteuil.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

I went along to offer my support and I was able to speak to Madame Lise Bloch-Morhange, Speaker of the Comité de Soutien des Serres d’Auteuil, the lead opposition group to the proposed extension. This is what she told me:

Lise Bloch-Morhange:

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

The recently opened Fondation Louis Vuitton, the privately financed modern art gallery designed by Frank Gehry, has, with government acquiescence, encroached on to what was supposed to be an environmentally protected part of the northern Bois de Boulogne. The government claims to have conceded to the choice of site because of the prestige the gallery brings to the city.

In the southern Bois de Boulogne the Fédération Française de Tennis claims that retaining the prestigious French Open Tennis Championship at Roland Garros depends upon extending their facilities and that the only credible plan is to extend into the Jardin des Serres. In addition, France intends to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games and it is claimed that, as part of that bid, an extended Roland Garros is essential.

Undoubtedly, a Frank Gehry designed modern art gallery, the French Open Tennis Championships and the Olympic Games are smothered in prestige, probably adding millions if not billions to the economy. But one is surely entitled to ask, at what cost?

Imagine a desecrated Jardin des Serres with a semi-sunken tennis court with seating capacity for 5,000 spectators standing empty and completely unused for fifty weeks of the year. The cost of that would not be measured in millions or billions of Euro’s but in a more intangible and equally important currency, what the French call patrimoine, our heritage, the value of which lies in our hearts not in our pockets.


My thanks to Lise Bloch-Morhange for taking time out of her very busy afternoon to stop and record these comments.


The Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Vanishing Sounds?

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


The Pont de Bir-Hakeim and its Sounds

MORE RESEARCH FOR my Paris Bridges project took me recently to one of the iconic bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.


Linking the 15th and 16th arrondissements and crossing the artificial island, the Île aux Cygnes in the middle of la Seine, the Pont de Bir-Hakeim crosses the river just downstream from the Tour Eiffel.


Pont de Bir-Hakeim looking downstream

The Pont de Bir-Hakeim we see today is the second bridge to cross la Seine at this point. The first was a metal footbridge, the Passerelle de Passy, which was built for the 1878 Universal Exposition. When Paris hosted the Universal Exposition in 1900 it was decided to draw up plans to replace the existing footbridge with something more substantial.

In 1902, the Métropolitan railway and the Seine Navigation department organised a competition for a two-tier bridge, with a road bridge on the lower level comprising two lateral roadways separated by a central walkway and, on the upper level, a Métropolitan railway viaduct supported by metal columns resting on the central space.

A proposal by the French engineer, Louis Biette, was accepted and the firm, Daydé & Pillé, were charged with constructing the new bridge. Construction work began in 1903 and was completed in 1905. The new bridge, the bridge we see today, was called the Viaduc de Passy, reflecting the name of both the original footbridge and the commune of Passy which is located at the Right Bank end of the bridge.


The monumental stone arch across the tip of the Île aux Cygnes

The Pont de Bir-Hakeim comprises two unequal metal structures, each comprising three cantilever spans separated by a monumental stone structure on the upstream tip of the Île aux Cygnes. The larger of the two structures connects to the Right Bank and its arches measure 30 metres, 54 metres and 30 metres and for the smaller structure connecting to the Left bank, the arches measure 24 metres, 42 metres and 24 metres. The two structures are anchored by an abutment at each end and by a common abutment on the Île aux Cygnes.


The larger of the two sections of the bridge looking upstream


The smaller of the two sections of the bridge looking upstream

The lower level of the bridge comprises two roadways each 6 metres wide, two pavements each 2 metres wide and a central walkway 8.7 metres wide, which also doubles up as two cycle lanes. The total length of the bridge is 237 metres.

The upper deck carrying Métro Line 6 comprises a metal deck supported by cast-iron pillars 6 metres apart. The upper deck is 7.3 metres wide.

A Paris municipal architect, Jean Camille Formigé, was responsible for the decoration of the bridge. He engaged three sculptors, Gustave Michel, Jules-Felix Coutan, and Jean Antoine Injalbert to create sculptures to adorn the bridge.


‘Les forgerons-riveteurs’ by Gustave Michel

The bridge retained the name ‘Viaduc de Passy’ until 1948 when it was renamed to commemorate the Battle of Bir Hakeim, fought by Free French forces against the German Afrika Korps in 1942.


My Paris Bridges project is not only about exploring the history of each of the thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, it’s also about exploring the characteristic sounds of each bridge.

Since one of the characteristic features of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim is the viaduct carrying Métro Line 6 on the upper level of the bridge, the sounds of Métro trains crossing the viaduct are clearly one of the characteristic sounds of the bridge and so I went to investigate.

My exploration began at the Métro station Passy at the Right Bank end of the bridge from where I caught a Métro train and made the short journey across the bridge to the next station, Bir-Hakeim.

From Passy to Bir-Hakeim:

Another characteristic feature of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim is the spectacular view of the Tour Eiffel from the bridge and especially from a Métro train crossing the viaduct. Even on the dullest of days the view is quite special.


Tour Eiffel from a Métro train crossing the viaduct

And when standing on the bridge the view is equally impressive.


Tour Eiffel from on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Having crossed the viaduct I alighted at Bir-Hakeim station from where I could get an excellent view of the Métro line crossing the viaduct.


Métro Line 6 crossing the viaduct on Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Next, I wanted to explore the sounds on the lower level of the bridge. I walked across the bridge on the central walkway underneath the viaduct from the Right Bank to the Left Bank listening carefully to the sounds around me. I then walked back in the opposite direction this time not only pausing to listen but also to record.

Sounds of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim on the bridge:

I discovered two characteristic sounds on the bridge – the sounds of the Métro passing overhead and of course, the sounds of the passing traffic.

I found the sounds of the traffic to be different here to that found on some of the other Parisian bridges. Traffic lights at both ends of the bridge regulate the flow and so the traffic passes in waves rather than in a constant stream and the bridge is also long enough to avoid endless queues of traffic backing up across the bridge, at least for most of the time. In addition, the very smooth road surface together with the large expanse of open space either side of the bridge along its length seems to help dampen the more aggressive sounds of the traffic.


Pont de Bir-Hakeim – On the bridge underneath the viaduct

The sounds of the Métro passing overhead were interesting. As the Métro line approaches the stations at either end of the bridge, Passy on one side and Bir-Hakeim on the other, the sounds of the trains passing over the viaduct are much clearer than they are around the centre of the bridge. The reason for this could be that there are buildings close to both ends of the bridge that reflect and thus amplify the sounds whereas the expanse of open space on either side of the bridge in the centre helps to dissipate the sounds.


Pont de Bir-Hakeim looking across towards Passy from the upstream tip of the Île aux Cygnes

As well as recording the sounds of the traffic and the Métro crossing the bridge, both of which are clearly characteristic sounds of the bridge, I was eager to see if I could find any sounds that might be unique to the bridge.

On the hunt for any such sounds I walked back and forth across the bridge several times and even went under the bridge but, after much very careful listening, none of the sounds I heard seemed to strike me as being unique to this bridge. After all, this is not the only Parisian bridge to carry a roadway with traffic and a viaduct for the Métro. As part of my Paris Bridges project I published a piece on this blog some time ago about the Pont de Bercy, which although made of stone, is functionally similar to the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

While the sounds of the traffic and the sounds of the Métro are characteristic sounds of both these bridges I wanted to see if there was any sound on or around the Pont de Bir-Hakeim that would distinguish it from its upstream cousin.

My experience of hunting for sounds in the urban environment has taught me that patience is a virtue and that if you search hard enough and wait long enough something almost always turns up.

Seeking somewhere to sit down after all the walking I’d done, I ventured down the steps beside the bridge to the Allée des Cygnes, the pathway that runs along the length of the Île aux Cygnes. A bench hove into view and I sat down and pondered where I might go next to search out the sounds I was seeking.

I sat there for almost twenty minutes before I decided that it was time to get up and leave. And then, quite suddenly, I found that I didn’t have to go and search for more sounds after all — instead, the sounds were coming to me!


Emerging from under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim from the upstream side was a Bateaux Mouches, the largest of the tourist boats to ply la Seine. Tourist boats ply la Seine all the time and the sound of them passing under the bridges is quite normal and hardly unique – or is it?

Well, the sounds of the Bateaux Mouches passing under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim are, believe it or not, unique to this bridge. But why should that be?

The answer is that the route for most of the tourist boats, irrespective of where they start their journey, stretches from the upstream Pont de Sully to the downstream Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Both these bridges are used as turning points for the tourist boats. At the Pont de Sully, the boats travel quite a long way beyond the bridge before turning round whereas at the Pont de Bir-Hakeim they all, save for the Bateaux Mouches, turn round on the upstream side of the bridge without passing under it. The Bateaux Mouches on the other hand does pass under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, but only just, before turning round and passing through it again in the opposite direction.

It is the sounds of this nautical ballet as the Bateaux Mouches turns round almost within its own length just beyond the bridge that I contend are the unique sounds of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

This ballet is played out here in sound and in pictures:

Sounds of the Bateaux Mouches turning just beyond the bridge:








Some might argue that the sounds of the Bateaux Mouches turning at the Pont de Bir-Hakeim are not unique to this bridge because the sounds of it turning upstream at the Pont de Sully might be the same, or at least similar. I would counter that by saying that at the Pont de Sully the Bateaux Mouches turns so far beyond the bridge that its sounds cannot be heard or, given a favourable wind, can barely be heard from that bridge. I know that because I’ve been to find out.

In any event, if you listen to the sound piece carefully you will hear towards the end of the piece the sounds of the Bateaux Mouches completing its turn accompanied by the sounds of a Métro train passing over the viaduct on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim. That confluence of sounds doesn’t happen anywhere else in Paris!

And finally, and nothing at all to do with the sounds of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, I was captivated by the lamps suspended from the viaduct on this iconic Parisian bridge.



* Louis Biette also built the Viaduc d’Austerlitz, a metal viaduct that crosses the Seine in a single span.

* Daydé & Pillé also built other bridges in Paris including the Pont de Mirabeau (1896), the Pont Saint-Michel (1890) and the Viaduc du quai de la Rapée (1905). They also built the Grand Palais for the 1900 Universelle Exposition.



Viaduc d’Austerlitz

FOR OVER ONE HUNDRED years, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz has swept majestically over la Seine. Its sole purpose is to carry the trains of Métro Line 5 over the river from the Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz and back again.

The task facing Fulgence Bienvenüe, the architect of the Paris Métro network, was how to get Line 5 across the la Seine without interfering with the river traffic. The answer came from the engineer, Louis Biette, who proposed a single-span bridge with the deck suspended from two elegant metal arches so that no pillars or supports descended into the river.

The single-span stretches for 140 metres, which even today makes it the second longest bridge in Paris. The 8.5 metre wide deck is suspended 11 metres above the river. Two stone abutments support the ends of the metal arches, one on each bank of the river, with each measuring 22 metres x 18 metres.  Each abutment also extends some 10 metres below the river.

The viaduct itself was built between 1903 and 1904 by the Société de Construction de Levallois-Perret which, under a different name, was the same company that built the Eiffel Tower.

Building the viaduct itself was relatively straightforward. Large wooden scaffolding was erected with wooden pillars sunk deep into the river bed to enable the prefabricated metal sections to be put into place. Building the approaches to the viaduct, or at least one of them, was much more complex though.

While the approach from the Gare d’Austerlitz on the Left Bank posed no particular problems, it was a completely different story on the other side. It was decided that it was impracticable to demolish the necessary buildings on the Right Bank to facilitate a straight entry to the viaduct so instead the design called for a sharp 90° turn within a restricted space. But not only that, the line was required to make a sharp climb from under the Place Mazas to the level of the viaduct. The problem was given to the firm Daydé and Pillé who built the Grand Palais in 1900 but were really specialists in metal construction and particularly bridges.

Their solution involved the application of mathematics and the construction of a helicoidal extension to the viaduct. A helicoid I am told is a curve shaped like Archimedes’ screw, but extending infinitely in all directions. This particular helicoid has a radius of 75 metres and a slope of 4% which not only provides a neat solution to the problem but it also makes the ageing MF 67 Métro trains groan with exasperation.

MF 67 trains climbing the slope and negotiating the curve:

Jean Camille Formigé was responsible for the decorations on the pillars, the arches and the abutments of the viaduct which consist of dolphins, shells, seaweed and animal faces as well as the cast iron designs featuring the coat of arms of Paris attached to anchors.

Formigé though was not responsible for this more recent decoration on the abutment on the Left Bank side.

Adam from Invisible Paris usually knows about things like this so I asked him if he could tell me anything about this lady and why she was there. He told me that she, “ is a creation by artists Leo & Pipo (a selection of other creations can be found here, but it seems that both the photos and the places in which they are positioned are pretty random. I think only they know therefore who she is and why they put her there!

Thanks to the foresight of Fulgence Bienvenüe and Louis Biette together with the ingenuity of Daydé and Pillé, Métro Line 5 was successfully navigated across la Seine from Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz via the Viaduc d’Austerlitz.

I find the Viaduc d’Austerlitz not only visually attractive but sonically priceless. Every time I go there I am acutely aware that the screeching of each MF 67 train is a sound that is fast disappearing. The old trains are gradually being replaced by the swanky new, more efficient, cleaner and quieter MF 2000 trains. That’s clearly the right thing to do … but I can’t help feeling sorry that we will lose one of the sounds that defines Paris in the process.

It seems appropriate therefore to leave you with the sounds of the short ride from Quai de la Rapée station, under Place Mazas, up the slope and round the helicoidal curve, across the Viaduc d’Austerlitz over la Seine to Gare d’Austerlitz station. It’s a journey of one minute and thirty seconds but it spans over one hundred years of history.

Quai de la Rapée to Gare d’Austerlitz: