Tag Archives: Paris architecture

Paris Wanderlust: Mansions of the “Tax Farmers”

Mansions of the “Tax Farmers”

The kings of France, in order to increase their revenue by collecting more taxes, granted lucrative rights to a few select fermiers généraux (“tax farmers”) to collect customs and other fees. These fermiers généraux were allowed to keep a percentage of the financial “harvest” after the king took his share.

The structure below is not a mansion but one of the tollhouses that allowed the fermiers généraux to collect customs for merchandise entering Paris. This privilege allowed them to amass immense wealth.

Barrière d’Enfer

Resentment over the unfairness of these taxes, and the sometimes brutal measures that the fermiers généraux took to collect them, led to the abolition of the system during the French Revolution. The wealthy tax collectors were among the first to face the guillotine.

Many of the surviving mansions from l’ancien régime were built by fermiers généraux. They were normally expansive, free-standing residences situated between a ceremonial courtyard (the cour d’honneur) and a garden.

After the French Revolution abolished the system of tax collection and executed its “farmers,” many hôtels particuliers were converted to museums, schools, hotels, government buildings, or residences for foreign ambassadors.

Hôtels Particuliers of the 17th & 18th Centuries

Hôtel Fieubet

The first mansion at this site was built in 1587. Over the centuries, it was renovated and transformed. After the French Revolution, it was retrofitted as a sugar refinery. It reached its present Italian-Spanish Neo-Baroque style in 1857.

2 Quai des Célestins, 4e

Hôtel de Mayenne

Site of a medieval mansion, Hôtel de Mayenne underwent architectural transformations over the centuries and reached its (approximate) present state in the first half of the 17th century. It now houses a school.

21 Rue Saint-Antoine, 4e

Hôtel de Chenizot

Chimeras descended from medieval bestiaries support the ornate balcony, :

Built 1641; transformed in 1719. 51 Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, île Saint-Louis, 4e

Hôtel d’Estrées

Built 1711-1713. It’s currently t is the residence of the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to France.

79 rue de Grenelle, 7e

Hôtel de Choiseul-Praslin

Baroque-style mansion built in 1732:

111 Rue de Sèvres, 6e

Hôtel de Salm

Mansion built 1782-1787 for a German prince. The Revolutionary government nationalized the building to house the Légion d’honneur. Thomas Jefferson, during his ambassadorship in Paris, admired the building and modeled his Monticello on the design.

64 rue de Lille, 7e

Hôtel d’Ourscamp

Built in 1248 and rebuilt in 1585. Until it was appropriated during the French Revolution, it belonged to a a Cistercian abbey. It now houses the Association for the Safeguarding and Enhancement of Historic Paris.

44-46-48 rue François-Miron, 4e

Rue de l’Estrapade

Former hôtel particulier and coffee roasting factory, built at the end of the 18th century.

9 rue de l’Estrapade, 5e

A look inside a 19th-century hôtel particulier: Musée Jacquemart-André

The hôtel particulier Jacquemart-André is an exception to the “tax farmer” category — Eduard André came from a Protestant family of successful bankers. He married a talented society painter, Nélie Jacquemart, and together they built a mansion (1869-1875) and amassed a large collection of art. They willed both to the state, which opened it to the public as an historic monument and art museum.

The tea room at the Musée Jacquemart-André:

The tea room’s walls are hung with tapestries from the celebrated Gobelins factory, illustrating the life of Achilles.

A trompe l’oeil mural on the ceiling:

I have resisted until now posting pictures of food, but the tarte aux figues below was beyond irresistible.

Lagnappe: a couple of paintings at an Impressionist exhibit at Musée Jacquemart-Andrée:

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895): Jeune fille sur l’herbe (detail)

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), La Change, épisode de chasse au chevreuil

Next: The Haussmannian Revolution

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: Art Deco

Art Deco

I didn’t go to Paris seeking out Art Deco buildings, whose style spanned about 30 years (1910 to 1939). But as I wandered around the 15th arrondissement, they kept popping up — including Art Deco churches, which weren’t on my radar at all.


Église St Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1910)

9 rue du Docteur Roux (15e)

Église St-Antoine-de-Padoue (1933)

52 Boulevard Lefebvre (15e)

Hotels and apartment buildings

Ernest Billecocq, 66 Rue Falguière (1914)

Below: A 1914 apartment building whose brickwork resonates with Art Deco. The rounded shape of the building also foreshadows the Art Deco “ocean liner style” (Fr. Style paquebot) of the 1920s, a streamlined form borrowed from the shape of luxury transatlantic liners.

Architect: Ernest Billecocq, 66 Rue Falguière (1914) (15e)

Charles Lefebvre, building on Boulevard de Strasbourg (1914)

Below: 1914 Art Deco-inspired reinforced concrete office building. Lefebvre’s design features ceramic cladding and polychrome mosaics.

Architect: Charles Lefebvre; ceramic cladding by Alphonse Gentil and Eugène Bourdet. 19 Boulevard de Strasbourg (1914) (10e)

Lutèce Hotel (1928)

5 Rue de Langeac (15e)

3 Rue Boussingault (1935)


1 Rue Nicolas Houël (1932)

1 Rue Nicolas Houël (5e)


Le Berry (1930s)

The Art Deco-style little theatre Le Berry was built during the 1930s. The photograph below was taken in the mid-90s, when it was in disrepair and threatened with demolition. Some young Parisians that I had met were circulating a petition to save the building. They were horrified at the prospect of a McDonald’s replacing it — a real possibility at the time.

I’m happy to learn that Le Berry is back in business, with a spiffed-up facade.

61-63 Boulevard de Belleville (11e)

Métro entrance


A few architectural details

Animal bas-reliefs on Rue Pasquier (1929)

Across the street from the Chapel Expiatoire is this whimsical building with panel friezes of finely carved animals: camel, elephant, alligator, shark among coral:

34 Rue Pasquier (1929) (8e)

Rue Brancion


Next: Brick Play

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: Brick Play

Brick Play

One of the most appealing architectural features in Paris is the creative use of polychrome brickwork on facades. The colourful patterns can be complex and eye-catching.

14 Rue du Parc de Montsouris (1920) (14e)

The geometric patterns of the brickwork provide an ideal medium for Art Deco style, as in this 1914 apartment building in the paquebot style:

Architect: Ernest Billecocq, 66 Rue Falguière (1914) (15e)

Such brickwork is nothing new. It appears in various places in Europe during Medieval, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance times. Modern polychrome brickwork made a strong comeback in the second half of the 19th century.

The building below recalls 17th-century Place des Vosges, with its masonry of red brick and contrasting white stone quoins.

Architect: Gabriel Ruprich-Robert (1859-1953), L’Institut Catholique de Paris & Musée Edouard Branly, 21 Rue d’Assas (1894-1897) (6e)

However, the fancy brickwork beneath the windows places the building closer to late 19th century.

Floral City, a quiet island of homes of two to three storeys, has made an art of using brick patterns to create visual interest along the facades.

17 Rue des Volubilis, Cité Florale (1914) (13e)
23 Rue des Orchidées, Cité Florale (1900) (13e)

Brick play from the 21st century:

97 Rue Vaugirard (2001) (6e)

Next: Islands of Urban Tranquility — Cottages & Row Houses

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: Islands of Urban Tranquility — Cottages & Row Houses

Islands of Urban Tranquility — Cottages & Row Houses

Some neighbourhoods and streets in Paris have evaded shouldering multi-storey Haussmannian buildings, opting for lower structures and a village ambience. Two geographical features played a role in the location of many of these Parisian “villages”: the Bièvre River valley and the underground quarries of Lutetian limestone, so important to Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris. Both of these geographical conditions exist in the Maison Blanche district of the 13th arrondissement, which includes La Butte aux Cailles and areas south of that hill: Quartier des Peupliers and Cité Florale.

Many streets of low-rise cottages and row houses, sometimes built for workers, offer quite a contrast to Haussmannian structures. Because their ground floors were not built to accommodate businesses, these quartiers tend to be quiet residential islands, buffered from the urban bustle and fray.

Maison Blanche (13e)

La Butte aux Cailles

The village on a hill that is La Butte aux Cailles began in the 16th century as a vineyard. The Bièvre River (a tributary of the Seine) flowed nearby, encouraging development and attracting industries such as tanners and dyers.

The hill was important to Haussmann, yet he never built his grand edifices there. He mined the limestone under the hill for his massive rebuilding of Paris, and the void left by these subterranean quarries left the hill’s surface unstable. Large, heavy Haussmannian buildings might have caused dangerous subsidence.

The village atmosphere of La Butte aux Cailles has remained consistent over the centuries, and lower structures still line the streets of the hill.

La Butte aux Cailles; Église Sainte-Anne de la Butte-aux-Cailles is in the distance.
A village cat en plein Paris

Cité Florale

The triangular community of Cité Florale is a small island of older homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Surrounded by 20th-century buildings, the Cité Florale values its architectural preservation and maintains its floral reputation.

Cité Florale (13e)

Quartier des Peupliers

The Quartier des Peupliers gives the impression of a cluster of villages that surround the tree-lined roundabout Square de l’Abbé-Georges-Hénocque:

The area includes several small, quiet streets lined with houses of two or three storeys. Constructed between the late 18th to early 19th centuries, the row houses originally accommodated blue-collar or middle-class families.

Rue des Peupliers

A conspicuously-placed stone house at the head of Rue des Peupliers heralds the stone row houses lining that street:

The row houses below, with their stone walls and boxy shapes, present a unified succession.

Rue des Peupliers (13e)

The earthy hue of the stones contrasts with the dark slate grey of the squared mansard roofs. And the curved window trim on the ground floor, as well as the varied shape and colour of the stones, softens the austere form of the houses.

Rue Dieulafoy

The forty-four middle-class row houses of Rue Dieulafoy were built in 1921. Their distinctive Mansard slate roofs and recessed windows unify the row. On the other hand, the varying trim details such as window parapets, pillared gates, and quoins give each house a degree of individuality.

Some of these features borrow from the architectural syntax of grander homes, while the uniformity of the structures and their relatively modest size mitigate any impression of ostentation.

Architect: Henry Trésal, Rue Dieulafoy (13e)
Rue Henri Pape

These identical houses of Rue Henri Pape were built in 1909 by socialist architect Henri Rebersat for the cooperative society La Petite Chaumière. Like the houses of Rue Dieulafoy, those of Rue Henri Pape sport distinctive architectural features: jerkinhead or Dutch gable roofs, popular in Germanic countries, and decorative wooden balconies.

Rue Henri Pape (13e)

The Dutch gable roofs recall the famous row houses of Renaissance Amsterdam. Another characteristic of the 19th– and 20th-century revival of Gothic and Renaissance styles is the use of polychrome brickwork:

The street, by the way, is named after Henri Pape, an innovative piano manufacturer with 137 patents to his credit. Who knew?

Rue du Moulin des Prés
Square des Peupliers

A metal disk on the cobblestones marks the location of the underground Bièvre River:

Does the Quartier des Peupliers rest on Medieval rubble?

As I wandered around the quiet streets of the Quartier des Peupliers, I wondered what lay underneath — limestone quarries, like so much of the 13th arrondissement? Actually, the ground below Quartier des Peupliers was decidedly not quarried, due to the presence of the Bièvre River and its valley in the area that’s now the Quartier des Peupliers.

From the time that this area was annexed in 1860 until about 1933, the terrain saw major changes. The Bièvre River was enclosed by a culvert and covered over, creating a subterranean waterway. Its valley — essentially the Quartier des Peupliers and Cite Floral — was filled in with debris from Haussmannian urban works.

The reddish-brown area on the map above outlines the Bièvre River valley.

Map from “The Bièvre: the river that disappeared in Paris” in Paris Impressions

My question is this: If Haussmann was still clearing away medieval Paris at that time, then might medieval rubble have been used to fill in the Bièvre River valley running through the Quartier des Peupliers? If so, could future excavations reveal anything of archaeological interest?

Maybe my question arises from my fantasy of participating in an archaeological dig in Paris. I can dream.

Neighbourhoods near Park Montsouris (14e)

Rue des Artistes

An elevated street where young artists lived in the 19th century.

View of Allée Samuel Beckett, a tree-lined walkway in the middle of Avenue René Coty

Short streets west of Parc Montsouris


Rue des Thermopyles & Cité Bauer (14e)

Pleasant cobblestoned lanes with low-rise houses, artistic facades, and a community garden.

A neighbourhood community garden:

Rue Cremieux (12e)

The now-gentrified pastel houses of short Rue Cremieux were built in 1857 to house workers.


South of Tour Triangle (Hauts-de-Seine)

Rue Marcel Yol, in Hauts-de-Seine, south of Tour Triangle
Rue Marcel Yol, in Hauts-de-Seine, south of Tour Triangle

Next: Scenes of Urban Development in Paris

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: Scenes of Urban Development in Paris

Scenes of Urban Development in Paris

ZAC Masséna

Searching for contemporary architecture in Paris, I learned of an area called ZAC Masséna in the 13th arrondissement. “ZAC” stands for Zone d’Aménagement Concerté: an area designated for development by the city, in consultation with the community.

From old grain mill to university

The area of ZAC Masséna had been generally industrial. The Great Mills of Paris, dating from World War I, occupied the northern part of the zone. Were these landmark flour mills salvageable?

The City of Paris thought so, following an international trend to salvage such buildings in order to retain something of a city’s industrial history. The mill’s silos and warehouses were torn down, but the main buildings were converted into administrative and classroom buildings for the new campus of Paris Diderot University.

Batiment HOME (2015)

One of the anchors of ZAC Masséna is Batiment HOME, two mixed-use residential high-rises built in 2015. Such tall structures hadn’t been erected in Paris since the 1970s due to tight regulations on the height of buildings.

Architects: Hamonic+Masson, Batiment HOME (2015) (13e)

More buildings of ZAC Masséna

Some of these are dormitories associated with Diderot University.

Below, two buildings influenced by the mashrabiya screen of Middle Eastern architecture. I’ll have a closer look at this influence in an upcoming post.

Le Nid (The Nest), an office and housing complex built in 2012:

Architect: Rudy Riciotti, Le Nid, Rue Neuve Tolbiac & Avenue de France (2012) (13e)

The high-tech building below is covered with twelve giant digital screens displaying artistic content.

133 Avenue de France (13e)

Social housing with an attitude: Fulton Residence (2017).

The Fulton residential building (2017), Quai d’Austerlitz (13e)

Another double-take building in the 13th arrondissement

Apartment building clad in white, blue, and green tiles:

64 Rue Clisson (1995) (13e)

Next: Paris’ Love Affair with Glass

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: Paris’ Love Affair with Glass

Paris’ Love Affair with Glass

Ever since the glass palaces of the 19th-century expositions, Paris architects have been in love with glass.

Grand Palais (1900)

Actually, Paris’ love affair with glass and light goes back much farther to the French Gothic, especially the Rayonnant style of 13th-century Ste Chapelle.

Beaux-Arts and Art Nouveau buildings return to the love of light . . .

Paul Sedille’s reconstructed Printemps Haussmann (1880s)
Musée d’Orsay, formerly Gare d’Orsay (1900)

In the more recent past, Paris has found a plethora of ways to invite in as much light as possible, from the smaller-scale glass Pyramid in front of the Louvre, to the monumental glass Tour Triangle, a high-rise under construction.

Here they are, some Parisian glass palaces of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Front de Seine – Beaugrenelle (1970s)

The Front de Seine, a collection of commercial and residential high-rises in Grenelle, arose from an urban development project during the 1970s.

Front de Seine, view from Pont Mirabeau (15e)

The buildings give the impression of both uniformity — most are about 30 storeys — and variety.

An aside: La Cheminée du Front-de-Seine

A slender white tower rises above the buildings of Front-de-Seine: La Cheminée du Front-de-Seine. It is indeed a chimney, releasing steam from a mall’s boiler room. Its resemblance to the neuralizer in Men in Black has been noted.

The top of the chimney has become home to a family of peregrine falcons. A webcam was installed to watch over the birds, and delighted Parisians witnessed the hatching of the chicks and the first flight of the fledgling predators.

Tour Montparnasse (1973)

During my 2019 stay in Paris, I lived in the shadow of Tour Montparnasse. Sometimes the tower photobombed my pictures. Standing anywhere on Rue de Rennes, it’s unavoidable. For all my proximity to the skyscraper, I only have one night shot of it.

The appearance of the 1973 black skyscraper of Montparnasse stirred widespread scorn by many Parisians, who promptly passed stringent ordinances limiting the height of buildings within the city. For a long time, this skyscraper was a one-off in Paris.

I’m indifferent about the tower . . . except when I’m enjoying the views from its panoramic observation terrace.

Les Échelles du Baroque (1985)

It’s no coincidence that the residential Échelles du Baroque (1985) is located near Tour Montparnasse. That skyscraper, completed in 1973, was intended to inaugurate a center of business on the Left Bank. And the Échelles du Baroque was an effort to expand housing for people working in the complex.

Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill, Place de Catalogne (1985) (14e)

Bofill nods to classicism in the building’s glass columns with capitals (bow windows within the apartments):

Pyramide du Louvre (1989)

For all the controversy that I. M. Pei’s Pyramide du Louvre has stirred, it’s one of the most iconic structures in Paris. Its clean geometrical lines and glass-and-metal construction recall the Grand Palais.

And the shape of the Pyramide du Louvre distantly echoes that of the Eiffel Tower.

The Tour Triangle, under construction, will connect with its precedents of Grand Palais and Tour Eiffel. Below is an aerial view of the projected tower:

More about Tour Triangle below.

Although the renovation of the Gallery of Evolution is modern (1990s), the 19th-century spirit of its cast iron and glass interior shines through. The Gallery’s huge atrium and luminous glass ceiling are akin to Belle Époque glass palaces.

La Grande Galerie de l’Évolution (renovated 1991-1994), 36 Rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (5e)

Built in 1889, the structure was damaged during World War II and had to be closed in 1966 due to safety concerns. Almost thirty years later, the renovated temple to evolution once again opened its doors to the public and to swarms of schoolchildren.

113 Rue Nationale (1996)

The intriguing building below was built in 1996. One of its tenants is the Institut des Systèmes Complexes.

113 Rue Nationale

Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (1995)

The four colossal “open books” designed for the National Library of France is conceptually attractive.

Architect: Dominique Perrault

Perrault’s “book pages” gaze inward, defining a vast rectangular space.

I visited the Bibliothèque Nationale on a Saturday and noticed several groups of teens rehearsing dance routines before the reflective glass of the buildings. The trio below was focused and creative.

Here’s a library serving its community.

Piscine Josephine Baker (2006)

Taking a dip in the Joséphine Baker Swimming Pool is the closest that most people will come to swimming in the Seine. The glass-and-steel public pool is effectively a boat — or rather a barge — moored to the shore at the foot of the Bibliothèque Nationale. In warmer weather, the glass enclosure comes off.

Quai François Mauria (13e)

Siège de la Banque Postale (2006)

Below is the updated exterior of the main branch of the Paris post office, completed in 2006. I admire the light effect of the whitish glass. Maybe it would even improve the experience of waiting in line.

Rue de Sèvres (6e)

The City of Fashion and Design (2010)

La Cité de la Mode et du Design is one of the most radical architectural adventures in Paris. Streetside, the building’s famous “green serpent” appears as a two-dimensional wavy green ribbon.

Architects: Jakob + MacFarlane, La Cité de la Mode et du Design, 34 Quai d’Austerlitz (13e)

An inspiring place to pop wheelies.

Viewed from the Seine at night, the Cité glows in 3-D, like a phosphorescent snake from a sci-fi manga comic book. It’s hard to take your eyes off it.

People seem to like the building . But seeing it for the first time, they can’t believe it’s in Paris — which has, however, come a long way since Haussmann.

Novancia Business School (2011)

The Novancia Business School with its bright red and yellow glass panels offers a contemporary style that wildly contrasts with the neighbourhood’s architecture yet also oddly resonates with it. The stylized mansard roof and dormer windows echo those of nearby Haussmannian buildings.

Tour Montparnasse peeks over the shoulder of the Novancia Business School, 3 Rue Armand Moisant (15e)

The eco-friendly shutters can be open or closed, to regulate the building’s light and temperature.

Les Halles (2016)

Paris’ ancient marketplace has undergone two major transformations since Victor Baltard created large iron and glass pavilions in 1863.

In 1971, Baltard’s personable food market was bulldozed to make way for a shopping mall. Parisians have forever after lamented the destruction of the pavilions, especially in light of the 1970s structures that replaced them. The new “Forum les Halles” has been described as “Paris’s biggest and least pleasant shopping mall.” Former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë called Les Halles “a soulless, architecturally bombastic concrete jungle.”

I visited this incarnation of the market with a friend during the mid-1990s, and I wasn’t impressed. She took me to a nearby flea market, where she combed through old postcards trying to find an image of Baltard’s beloved old pavilions. She wanted to show me Paris’ great loss.

Although the rather uninviting market of the 1970s has been replaced, I see echoes of it in adjacent buildings:

In 2016, the shopping mall, metro station complex, and surrounding gardens were completely redesigned.

The wavy gold canopy is memorable, though the interior made me feel a bit claustrophobic. Not my cup of espresso. I’d like Baltard’s pavilions back, please.

L’Institut de l’Audition (2019)

The new Hearing Institute, in which the Pasteur Institute is a central actor, recently moved into its architecturally innovative home. Its reflective honeycomb-shaped panels mirror the buildings across Rue de Charenton.

Architect: VIB, 63 Rue de Charenton (12e)

Headquarters of Le Monde (under construction 2019)

Below: the new headquarters of the French media group Le Monde, under construction in fall 2019. Designed by the Norwegian group Snøhetta.

78 Avenue Pierre Mendès-France, near Gare Austerlitz (13e)

La Tour Triangle (to be completed 2024)

La Tour Triangle is a spectacular high-rise to be built on the site of Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, just inside the city limits. The building will include a hotel, conference center, cultural space, and restaurant. The surrounding Expo complex, currently under renovation, will host part of the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Below is a projected aerial view of the completed complex of buildings associated with La Tour Triangle:

L Tour Triangle, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron

A protracted legal battle delayed construction of the tower. When I visited the Expo site in October 2019, construction on the Tour Triangle hadn’t yet begun.

When completed, it will be the tallest building to be erected within the city limits since Tour Montparnasse. No wonder there was such controversy. Parisians, averse to allowing tall buildings in their city after the insult of Tour Montparnasse, were divided on Tour Triangle.

The structure below is not the Tour Triangle, but instead an architectural canopy marking the entrance to one of the new pavilions of the complex. Appearing like a colossal wind chime, it echoes the shape and concept of the Tour Triangle.

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something dystopian about the panopticon digital screen surrounding public benches within the complex:

Here’s a closer look. I like the sinuous shape of the seating. Not so sure about the inescapable LED images endlessly circulating. I imagine Coke ads. But the screen is probably intended for communicating events of the 2024 Summer Olympics, and maybe advertising a nice Chablis. I suppose that would be ok.

One of the older structures of this Paris Expo site is the Dôme de Paris (built in 1959), whose roof is composed of aluminum panels.

An avant-miscellany

Chinese watercolour and little red trucks

This has to be one of the coolest buildings in Paris.

90 Rue de Gergovie (date of construction unknown) (14e)

The split building

I just had to include this one. The 1985 apartment building below splits down the middle into symmetrical halves.

106 rue Falguière, 19 rue Vigée Lebrun (1985) (15e)

Peering into the inner courtyard . . .

A still closer view reveals a trompe l’oeil fresco, perhaps a painted image of a traveler soaking his feet in a real tub? There must be a story here. I can see it in the man’s eyes.

Next: The Mashrabiya Connection

Camille Martin