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28.3.05

Palais-Royal Columns

An article (Buren, le nouveau scandale, March 26) in Le Figaro announces the expensive work that is required for the upkeep of Daniel Buren's public artwork Les Deux Plateaux. That is the title of the installation of columns in the cour d'honneur of the the Palais-Royal in Paris. Cleaning and restoration costs will total 2.6 million €, which adds up to just over twice what it cost to install the piece:

Sure, that was 18 years ago, but inflation does not explain everything, and questions are being asked about the durability of such contemporary architecture, often experimental and fragile, which requires more upkeep than the "temples of millions of years" built by the Egyptian pharaohs 4,000 years ago.

What is so seriously wrong that this has happened? "Under the Palais-Royal main courtyard," [Palais-Royal architect] Alain-Charles Perrault explains, "there was, until the year 1900, a little electric power plant with a smoke stack that poked outside. It was shut down, the ground was covered in concrete, and the place became a parking lot for the Conseil d'Etat, but the foundation remained there and there are still several rooms beneath including one, the Salle Escande, used by the Comédie-Française for rehearsals." When Daniel Buren, after two years of fierce polemic battles, finally completed the project that Jack Lang had commissioned, his architect, Patrick Bouchain, did not dig up this soil but just added another layer of concrete under his flagstones. Plus, no one verified the porosity of this complicated construction, which was a serious error, in that the water, running in little channels covered over with grills, was an integral part of the overall work.

The result: microfissures have appeared, causing water leaks in the Salle Escande. In any case, the water is no longer circulating because the pumps are no longer pumping, and the pumps are no longer working because the electricity is no longer working properly. In short, Alain-Charles Perrault is going to have to take the columns off their bases, to which metal rings are attached, to insert an elastic film under the cover. In other words, he will have to reconstruct the entire main courtyard of the Palais-Royal.
It sounds like a nightmare. I think that, more and more, preservation concerns will and should become a part of the planning for public art commissions.

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