Dotted around the chic streets of Paris’s Right Bank are a series of hidden rabbit warrens. These forgotten shopping centers, mostly built in the 1960s and ’70s, provide a fascinating frozen-in-time snapshot of another, not so distant, era.
They are found around the feet of large apartment buildings, the kind with enviable addresses in wealthy areas, wrap-around balconies and large spaces. They are the kinds of apartment units that sell for a small fortune. And yet at their heart are urban experiments gone wrong.
Clearly the Galerie Marchande was an integral part of the initial building design, and perhaps even a key selling point for early purchasers of the apartments. These galeries were – and still are – highly stylised spaces, with public art and carefully thought-out lines and colors. Unchanged, though, since the day they were built, they have become anachronistic and completely disfuctional. Non(sense)-spaces in a crowded city.
There is something vaguely comical about some of the scenes. They are empty stage sets waiting for a return of the ghost performers from another time. Cordoned off, sometimes behind glass walls, there are escalators – thick with dust – that no longer move, and communal zones where people no longer meet or rest.
Designed to attract both residents and passers by, they lack human activity today. But it they are still there. There are the survivors – key cutters, fast-food outlets, repair shops – spaced out in isolation. There are zones that have changed function; shop units that have become office spaces, profiteers that have ensured the death of the galleries at the weekends – normally the busiest period of such facilities.