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Modern Inroads in Versailles

Architectural innovation is difficult at Versailles, the town designed by André Le Nôtre as a backdrop for the stage-palace of Louis XIV, but some buildings in contemporary styles are gradually being built. Jean-Jacques Larrochelle notes some of the progress in an article (A Versailles, l’architecture contemporaine fait de timides percées, March 29) for Le Monde (my translation and links added):
All contemporary building in the historic city center of Versailles confronts the unthinkable. It is here that, in 1779, under the authority of the Directeur général des bâtiments du roi, the Comte d’Angiviller, was born the ancestor of the building permit. Quite a symbol. In Versailles, modernity has certain residency rights, provided it is not permanent. Since 2008, the château has presented monumental sculptures of which some have fit into the urban setting. Thus there are the large rusted steel parentheses, 22 meters tall and weighing 140 tons, placed by the artist Bernar Venet in 2011, to "give a halo to Versailles," he said, on the château's Place d'armes behind the equestrian statue of the Sun King.

These new sorts of triumphal arches were allowed to exist because their presence was temporary, although the leadership of the château, to the chagrin of a part of the populace, had once thought about their permanent installation. Quite the reverse, the concrete sculpture of sculptural architect Inessa Hansch (pictured), installed permanently in the Jardin des étangs Gobert, furnished by Michel Desvignes near the Gare des Chantiers, rapidly became a point of discord, and not only because of its cost, judged excessive at 120,000 euros.

"We are in the largest 18th-century protected zone in France. The pressure on the Architect of the Buildings of France (in charge of watching over the protection of the patrimony) is very strong," says François de Mazières, mayor of Versailles. "Make no mistake: it's a huge risk." Almost providing a case study, a few rare architectural initiatives are demonstrating that it is not a fatal one, and that the blond Saint-Leu stone, the favored medium in this town, can accommodate some neighbors of a different nature.
This past week, the city government announced that it was contracting the Agence Elisabeth et Christian de Portzamparc (AECP) to create a group of private and public buildings for students, offices, an assisted living home, and day care. No drawings of the buildings has been released, but it seems clear that the project, well away from the château, will be unusual in form. The article shows some of the existing buildings in modern styles that have been created in Versailles, without too much opposition.

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