Dissecting Paris

GSD,Harvard University

The urban fabric of Paris is a formal depiction of its social cynicism, political perplexity, and cultural romanticism. The growth rings, each confine a walled city, are now frozen layers within the immense metropolis. Paris is an exceptional city; one that has not only maintained its historic core(s), but has also sustained its urban vitality and growth without suspending its modern aims and ambitions. But as the city begins to face the challenges of the new century - especially in respect to breaking out of its consecutive boundaries and uniting with its suburbs - the need to re-think and observe the city in a new perspective becomes necessary.




Harvard University


Iman Ansari, Architect

As Richard Rogers put it, “I know no other big city where the heart is so detached from its arms and legs. The current proposals for the Grand Paris also suggest this new understanding of Paris in investigating the city from its core to peripheries, and vice versa. The better solutions for Paris are also the ones that challenge the city from that angle and perspective.

In our attempt to study the city in its radius, we began mapping over an imaginary line starting from the Ile de la Cité, and extending outward nearly 15 kilometers northeast to the peripheries. One of the intriguing discoveries is the transformation of the urban morphology of the city from the core to the peripheries. This illustrates a diversity of building typologies, beginning with the 17th century urban fabric, continuing with industrial zones and warehouses, social housing, and finally the suburbs. This analysis also reveals the Parisian social and class gradient as one approaches the city from the peripheries to the center, or vice versa. The sectional study of Paris verifies this urban transformation, as well as exposing the city’s vertigo in dealing with urban density and height.

Looking at the new proposals for Grand Paris, it is refreshing to see architects and planners re-imagine the future city connected to its peripheries through new axes that stitch the old layers and unify Paris with its long-lost suburbs. However, most of the proposals illustrate a set of discontinuous visual schemes, rendering the future of the historic core and the new suburbs without explaining an inclusive network connecting the two. But more importantly, the proposals fail to acknowledge the fact that the city has already grown large, and many new towns and urban concentrations are already in place in the peripheries. The issue is the rather accepting this immense reality and acknowledging the potential territory of the city. Perhaps the future of Paris lies in a comprehensive plan – with new infrastructures and means of mobility - that rethinks the growth inward rather than outward.