Underground Mystery

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.

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One Response to “Underground Mystery” »»

  1. Comment by François Roland | 10/07/12 at 12:17 pm

    Very interesting post. I’m a Parisian since ever and I was always infuriated by things like that. I mean by this freedom which has been let to dull architects to fulfil their stupid dreams of imaginary worlds not derived from any deep understanding of what makes humans happy in a living city, but from their ODs of science fiction movies when they were still kids. Look at those movies in the 60s and 70s, you always see humans dressed with stupid Courrèges body suits and walking along subterranean halls and galleries making you wonder if the sky still exist somewhere. A lot of these horrendous places have been built in the suburbs of Paris as “Les flanades” in Sarcelle, where you can directly get down from your apartment to the shopping mall without even a step outdoor! Brrrrr! Talk about a cold unappealing world.

    Sometimes I dream of being able to punish these thoughtless architects for so much of moronic arrogance making them invent worlds flattering their pure unrealistic fantasy while proving to be totally inhuman. And do you know what comes to me first as the most appropriate of punishments for them? Putting them under the obligation of living themselves for 10 years in one of their cold and lifeless concrete blocks! :)

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