“I am on the 6th floor of a Haussmannian building and I am looking for a narrow table for my balcony”. “The 18th arrondissement of Paris is one of the oldest districts of the capital”. Have you ever said any of these phrases? If so, I offer you a little history lesson. Because Paris fascinates me and I appreciate every nook and cranny. But a duo strongly marked its history, architectural at least, Napoleon III and Haussmann. So, let’s discuss Parisian architecture with Baron Haussmann, the great works of Napoleon III and the emblematic architectural style of the city.
In this article I would therefore discuss:
- History of the transformation of Paris
- The origin of the 20 arrondissements
- The characteristics of the Haussmannian building
- Haussmannian building and Paris today
Transformation of Paris under the Second Empire
Appointed Prefect of the Seine, in charge of town planning by Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann receives the mission of cleaning up, embellishing and unifying the city of Paris. We are then in 1852.
At the time, the French capital was a veritable labyrinth in which the inhabitants found it very difficult to move around.
Baron Haussmann therefore invents a modern Paris, a new aesthetic for the city. And, in twenty years, he metamorphosed the French capital with huge openings, regular architecture and parks. It is indeed to Georges-Eugène Haussmann that we owe the main rectilinear axes of the city but also an architectural style which has given rise to school in France and in Europe.
Under the second empire Napoleon III wanted to import in his capital the cleanliness he had observed in the streets of London. In 1845, three quarters of the population of Paris lived in insalubrity. The major works of Baron Haussmann are then accompanied by a general reflection on public space. He rethinks both the urban landscape but also the general conception of the city with ventilation, air and light that enter.
Paris is changing, Paris is expanding and discovering its 20 arrondissements
Haussmann establishes an architectural typology. It transforms the Monceau park, the Buttes-Chaumont park, the Montsouris park. But also the Place de l’Étoile, where the Arc de triomphe sits, was redone. 12 mansions were built there which surround the square. The Place de l’Opéra, the parks of the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes rise from the earth. The Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon train stations make it easier to get to the heart of Paris. The Sébastopol and Rivoli boulevards, among others, allow you to cross the city from north to south and from east to west.
Before Haussmann, the capital had only its 12 first central districts and was delimited by the wall of the farmers general. But, considering his playing field too narrow, Georges-Eugène Haussmann obtained in 1860 the annexation of 11 entire communes (including Auteuil, Passy, Montmartre, La Villette and Bercy) and 13 portions of towns (Ternes, Saint-Ouen, Pantin …). The wall is knocked down. And this is how Paris finds itself, with its 20 current arrondissements.
The Haussmannian building: the signature of the Baron who still embodies Paris
The Haussmannian apartment is defined by ordered facades as well as by the plan of the apartments where private and reception areas are clearly separated. The facade most characterizes the Haussmann style. The approximately 40,000 buildings built at the time respect, in the same street, a similar height to form a single architectural whole. The height should be proportional to the width of the street and not exceed 6 floors. The typical Haussmann style facade is built in freestone. Before the elevator, the aesthetic gradation of buildings was parallel to the social gradation. If this is still visible today, the situation has changed with the arrival of the elevator, the high floors taking on more value, especially those which offer lovely views over the rooftops of the capital.
The plan of a Haussmannian apartment is based on a beautiful entrance (we used to say “anteroom”) and a corridor which distributes the different rooms. It meets precise specifications, the foundations of this particular style. Its first feature is the large spaces of the main rooms, with large windows opening, on the second floor, onto a balcony. When the apartment is large, it is divided into three modules: reception, service and privacy. The Haussmannian apartment is identified by high ceilings, large windows, a marble fireplace and ceiling moldings. Finally, we can note the presence of a Hungarian point parquet floor, recognizable by its diagonal and chevron boards.
Haussmannian building and Paris today
A century and a half later, the Haussmannian building retains all of its prestige, which it derives in particular from its large volumes and the versatility of its structure, which allows it to install offices or housing. Haussmann buildings today represent around 60% of the capital’s buildings.
The 6-storey limit established at the time made it possible to avoid the construction of large towers, at least in the center of the city. And this museum city is still harmonious and free from unsightly and bulky construction, surely thanks to the rigor and elegance of Haussmannian constructions. No offense to the housing crisis in the capital! Personally, I prefer to fight for long months to find accommodation to be able to live in such a beautiful city.