Trouble in Paris-dise?

21 Mar 2011

Concerns over disruption to Parisian skyline by new Russian Orthodox Church

Home of classic movies, fine art, ornate architecture and old romantics, the city of Paris is to become home to a new contemporary structure in the form of a Russian Orthodox cathedral and cultural centre, with officials suggesting that construction work may commence as early as next year.

As last week drew to a close, a group of French and Russian architects were selected as winners of a competition to design the significant structure on the banks of the Seine. Manuel Yanovski’s Society of Architects and Developers (SADE) and Arch Group have devised a softly undulating religious centre in 3,400 sq m of landscaped public gardens, incorporating sustainable features such as photovoltaic panels into the distinctly Russian concept design.

Besides the religious heart of the project lies an array of cultural public facilities, including a library, classrooms, reception hall and public green space furnished with multiple terraces. The €30m project also looks to facilitate permanent residents with lodgings provided for church representatives.

The balance between ornate Russian design and the gentle elegance of Parisian architecture has be achieved by the French-Russian team, however one can note similarities between the undeniably distinctive silhouette and another recent example of contemporary French architecture.

A pure white, cantilevered canopy punctuated with uniform holes brings to mind Shigeru Ban Architects’ inventive interpretation of a Chinese hat at the effortlessly graceful Pompidou-Metz, whereas the bulbous cupolas that top the structure – of which there are five – amend the tone and feel of the design with a distinctly Russian flavour.

The tallest of these five turgid bulbs reaches an impressive height of 88ft, which some have suggested will have a marked impact on the city’s highly recognisable skyline. Currently dominated by Gustave Eiffel’s latticework tower, the picturesque ripples of the Parisian skyline would be momentarily interrupted by the erection of an onion-shaped spear (or five), causing concern among architects, critics and residents of the French capital.

Additionally, multiple French and British news sources are reporting growing tensions between French and Russian governmental forces, as the site upon which the religious construction would stand is a stones’ throw from the Palais de l’Alma – a French diplomatic complex containing the numerous private apartments belonging to President Sarkozy’s top presidential aides. Accounts suggest that there may be concerns from French counterespionage due to the proximity of the two sites.

Largely defined by its low-rise, neo-classical urban quarters, Paris is an elaborate labyrinth of narrow lanes and wider tree-lined boulevards. Its classic frontage is slowly beginning to welcome a more contemporary avenue of architectural design, with landmark projects such as the Pompidou Centre by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, and I.M. Pei & Partners Architects’ crystalline Pyramide du Louvre, paving the way for a new wave of ambitious modern design, such as Foster + Partners’ Hermitage Plaza and Robert A.M. Stern’s Tour Carpe Diem.

Also looking to widen the boundaries set by classical Parisian architecture is Jean Nouvel’s sustainable regeneration of the former Renault factory on Île Seguin which looks to transform the dislocated island into a flourish of urban fauna for Parisians and tourists alike. Areas of this thriving parkland are to be encased in a glass envelope and supplemented with cultural, social and retail amenities.

Look out for an upcoming WAN Poll of the concept designs from the ten finalists in this competition.

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