Revitalizing underground Paris: Vast network of vacant tunnels & spaces to be repurposed

There a lot of darkness under the “City of Light”. It can be found in the mostly-vacant 186 miles of tunnels and 32 square miles of subterranean quarries beneath Paris, France. Together, they form an area ten times the size of New York City’s Central Park.

The subterranean network started forming in the 13th century. The quarries mostly mined gypsum, which was used to make Plaster of Paris, and Lutetian limestone (of which the Louvre was constructed). Mining continued until the mid-19th century. Some of the quarries have been used to store beer and grow mushrooms.

A newly-discovered underground gallery is part of the well-known, four-hectare Brewery Quarry that has been left unexploited since the 1860s. It is Paris’s best-preserved quarry, with large spaces up to six metres high.

Opening it to the public has been in the pipeline for 20 years, and the quarry is set to be one of the sites suggested for redevelopment as part of an upcoming design competition launched by the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo. The second edition of her Reinventing Paris will focus on Paris’s underground spaces.

Sou Fujimoto’s “Reinventing Paris ” entry puts a canopy over an ugly bus parking garage.

Paris offers a sense of both timeless charm and continued reinvention, the later of which seems to have become a motto for mayor Hidalgo. After a call for a “philosophical” park redesign on the banks of the Seine, one of Hidalgo’s other ambitious efforts to rethink the city’s landscape, the Reinventing Paris contest, has sparked an international dialogue about repurposing abandoned urban spaces.

The speculative contest asked designers and architects to reimagine 23 underutilized sites spread across the city, such as vacant lots, old mansions and abandoned public baths, and put forth proposals for redevelopment. The city won’t fund the projects, but will sell the land to whichever concepts best support and advance a more sustainable, connected vision for Paris.

Feature photo credit: Adobe Stock

See February 6, 2017 article by Justinien Tribillon in Guardian Cities.

See February 15, 2016 Curbed article by Patrick Sisson.

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