Seaside Pienza Institute tours Paris, Val D’Europe
About 70 architects, planners, developers, and other new urbanists toured Paris, France, for four days in late September with the Seaside Pienza Institute. The three founders of the Institute, architects Ray Gindroz and Leon Krier and developer Robert Davis, were all part of the program, which focused on intensive study of retail.
The group toured passages, Paris’s precursors to shopping malls. These are covered, mid-block shopping streets from the early 19th Century, about 30 of which survive and still support retail. Shopping streets were also covered, as were many of Paris’s most beautiful public spaces, like the Palais Royale and the Place de Voges.
A day was spent in The Marais, a section of the city with cranky, narrow, ancient streets. Unlike other parts of Paris, this section was not cut through by Baron Haussmann’s boulevards. In 1927, Le Corbusier proposed leveling the Marais and replacing it with uniform, modern apartment high-rise blocks divided by freeways. Fortunately, city officials repeatedly rebuffed the famous architect, whose planning ideas were implemented in US cities like Chicago in the form of massive public housing projects. Most of these projects are being torn down through the HOPE VI program, usually replaced with some form of New Urbanism.
New Urbanism, European-style
The group was able to see a big new urbanist project — Val D’Europe, a new town under construction near the EuroDisney theme park east of Paris. It was designed by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York, the co-designer of Celebration. The Disney Company began development of the transit-oriented community this decade.
Like Paris’s, Val D’Europe’s residential component takes the form of multifamily buildings. A commuter rail line runs from the town center to downtown Paris, a trip of about 40 minutes. A pre-existing 1.2 million-square-foot shopping mall was retrofitted to fit into the new town center. Instead of anchor stores terminating the lines of indoor shops, Val D’Europe has public spaces. The most beautiful example is Place Toscane, an oval-shaped plaza designed by classical architect Pier Carlo Bontempi (see photo). Krier designed a prominent building in the town center. The 280-acre project won a Charter Award in 2006. It is growing by 300 residential units a year, and will eventually be home to about 20,000 people.
The institute, which is run by the Seaside Institute, grew out of Davis’s and Gindroz’s love of Pienza, the first intentionally built town of the Italian Renaissance. About 40 people met there in 2002. Each year, the institute has gone to a different city to discuss and learn about urbanism. The first three meetings were financed by Davis, but this year the tuition paid all costs except for publications, which Davis continues to finance. There are no lectures, only discussions, explains Phyllis Bleiweis, executive director of the Seaside Institute. The participants appreciate the freedom to talk over creative ideas, Bleiweis says. “We all go to conferences, but we do a lot of listening and the discussions are not always at the same intellectual level that we achieve on the Pienza tours.” See www.seasidepienzainstitute.org