In the 1980s, Paris and its surrounding towns developed a taste for the post-modern architecture of Ricardo Bofill and his disciples from the ‘Le Taller de Arquitectura‘ movement. To see how their schemes fit into today’s city, I took a walk around the Place de Catalogne.
Like most architects, Bofill is not somebody who has ever lacked ambition. Asked to redevelop an area behind the Montparnasse train station, Bofill – who was already behind a series of mega developments in the Paris suburbs – proposed les Echelles du Baroque, a huge and rather pretentiously-named apartment block.
Curving around a roundabout, and spiraling backwards into two distinct plazas, the development contains the considerable total of 274 apartments. Nevertheless, forced to respect planning restrictions in Paris it contains only 7 floors (despite being in the shadow of the 59-floor Montparnasse tower, built 10 years earlier).
Walking around the development, the first thing that strikes me is how dated it looks. This is not necessarily a bad thing – after all, art deco or art nouveau architecture is equally date-stamped, but this scheme was supposed to be a timeless one, a reminder of classical forms and structures.
The Le Taller de Arquitectura team is said to include not only architects, engineers and planners, but also musicians, film-makers and philosophers. Although based in Barcelona, the team has built more apartments in France than in any other country (over 2000 in France against 1500 in Spain). Why though were the French so taken with this particular style and ideology?
The answer probably was that it flattered them (Bofill cites both Mansard and Ledoux as his key influences) and it was hoped that it would change public attitudes towards architecture following the uncompromising constructions of the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, Bofill claimed that he wanted his constructions to reconcile the public with modern architecture and to create ‘monuments for the people‘.