The hideous ’70s era upper structure of the Forum des Halles is being pulled down, soon to be replaced by a futuristic “canopy” the size of a football field. From the computer drawings it looks pretty cool – I just hope it’s not really that color yellow or it’s going to look, well, weird. Weird seems to have been the watchword for architectural undertakings at Les Halles since they tore down the old central market with its graceful 19th century pavilions in 1971.
When I was a wistful teenager, my family moved to Paris because my dad was on sabbatical. It was 1978, the Forum just opened, and I found it terrifying. Shopping centers were pretty new back then, but this one looked like it had been sucked into the ground by a giant, cement-eating monster. There was a gaping hole where the building should have been, and if you looked down it was as if the building had been turned inside out. Incredibly, there were stores down there, with people milling around in them. I stayed away, afraid of being pulled in by some fiendish gravitational force.
While the RER station is still open, the rest of the shopping center and gardens is masked by a high metal wall, with the occasional grill that lets you see what’s going on inside. All hell has broken loose, it seems, and the entire shopping center has disappeared—except for the hole, which continues to buzz with customers despite the apocalyptic activity going on above. Like a wound that will never heal, it appears that the only solution is to cover it up in a way that allows air to circulate so it won’t fester. The cover, which is being called La Canopée, is an immense, undulating sheet of glass and metal that “floats” over the hole and a new esplanade, as well as an assortment of light-filled public facilities such as a music conservatory, a library, and a Hip-Hop center (don’t ask me, that’s what it says on the official site).