Sneak Peek at the Brand New Les Halles

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A third incarnation of Les Halles is now ready to be unveiled – with a design somewhat implausibly known as the canopée des halles, and supposedly apeing a tropical rainforest. Ahead of the opening (scheduled for April 6), I was given a sneak preview.

leshalles2Conceived by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Antiziutti, the green structure is certainly impressive, as is the goal of the project: to make Les Halles the centre of Paris once again. Whereas the previous construction – the work of several architects and a hodgepodge of conflicting visions – was more akin to a bunker, this time the aim is to open the forum to the light and make it a place of passage.

leshalles3A colossal project – delivered late and over-budget – it has of course already attracted much criticism. One writer recently described it as a “bony whale,” the mouth wide open and ready to swallow a shoal of krill (hordes of shoppers who will shortly be diving into its depths). In the same article, the metallic structure is also compared to a “horizontal Eiffel Tower.” One can only hope it follows a similar trajectory in public opinion: rejected at first, adopted and loved later.

Whatever the merits of the design may be, and how relevant a mega shopping complex is in a world moving online or back towards the small-scale, the engineering is worth celebrating. The roof is at once open and closed, providing an air escape to avoid transforming the centre into a gigantic wind tunnel but with panels positioned at an angle that ensures rain doesn’t slip through. In fact, not only does it stop the rain, but it also captures it, channeling it towards new fountains being put in place in the surrounding gardens.

leshalles4All architects seek the perennial, hoping that their construction – particularly one as central and historic as Les Halles – will become a new visual symbol. Will the canopée last longer than the previous design (barely 40 years)? Looking at photos of that design (such as the one below), I’m surprised to note that I can hardly recognise it. Demolished only a couple of years ago, it has already been erased from my consciousness, perhaps a sign that it was never saved there in the first place.

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