A demolition derby, Paris-style

When I moved to a different apartment in Paris on Friday, it wasn’t the beautiful bas-reliefs on the ceiling, the three bathrooms, or the lovely stained-glass windows that caught my attention. It was the gaping hole across the street.

It’s common to see construction in Paris, a city that seems to be perpetually reinventing—and repairing—itself. But I’d never seen anything on this scale before.

“It’s a rainy night … and as I watch the enormous demolition project across the street, I can’t help but be reminded of your wonderful ‘Walks Through Lost Paris,'” I wrote to my author friend Leonard Pitt. I wasn’t surprised to get an eager request for more specifics.

I didn’t have to work too hard to identify the old buildings.

The Hôpital Laennec was founded in 1634 to replace the Hospice des Incurables. Over the years, the complex grew to occupy an entire city block along the intersection of rue de Sèvre and rue Vaneau, in what is now Paris’ 7th arrondissement. But the buildings have been sitting empty since 2000, when the hospital’s services were moved to the Hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou.

Here’s how the site looked before the demolition:

The site in 2007. Photo © Comité Laennec-Turgot DR. Source: Maisonapart.com

In 2002, Altarea Cogedim bought the site and obtained development rights. Dubbed “Paris 7 Rive Gauche,” the ambitious project was conceived to preserve some of the old buildings while creating several new luxury apartment complexes.

If the architects’ renderings and promotional photos are any indication, the project is envisioned as a sort of self-contained community.

The façade, as seen from rue de Sèvre and the Allée Laennec. Rendering © Altarea Cogedim. Source: Maisonapart.com.

I’m sure the new condos will be lovely, but I couldn’t help feeling a pang of sadness as I perused the 18 or so demolition permits. The red graffiti’d “zut” (“damn”) pretty much summed up my thoughts.

But—perhaps like the other curious onlookers—I also know it’s useless to resist change.

So here are a few parting shots to record what I saw on a particular Saturday in Paris. I hope to be back in 2013 to give you a full follow-up report.

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