Parc de la Villette, Paris
Bernard Tschumi designer
J. Daniel Pugh LARC263
September 30, 2004
The Site Description
Much like “Seinfeld,” the television show about nothing, the intentional design of Parc de
la Villette was not to be a park in the traditional sense. The architecture of La Villette
aims at meaning nothing and breaks with traditional architecture by encouraging conflict
over synthesis, fragmentation over unity, madness and play over careful management.
The history of the site is included by two strong elements. First, it was the former site of
a slaughterhouse that employed more than 3,000
people. Second, two canals run through the site.
The Ourcq canal supplied water to the city of
Paris and the St. Denis canal was used to transport
cargo and freight. The Parc de la Villette includes
one of the large slaughterhouse buildings and both
canals. Because of their inclusion, the human
dynamics of these elements were not lost in the
final design of the Parc.
Figure one: Slaughterhouse c.1920
Parc de la Villette’s design is the opposite of the 19th century “park in the city” that
Frederick Law Olmstead championed. Because the residents of a modern 21st century
city are different from their 19th century counterparts, their parks should also be different.
The idea of a city park as a naturalistic representation in the heart of the city does not
necessarily satisfy the various needs of current city dwellers. Parisian city parks no
longer serve as communal areas. Instead, they are used mostly by children and the
elderly, and function as the meeting place the town square once provided. Paris is no
longer organized around a traditional center but spreads out into the suburbs, causing the
central focus to be diffused.
Parc de la Villette is located on the edge of Paris on 125 acres in the middle of a semi-
industrial, working class district that borders on the suburbs. It is situated in the northeast
corner of the city, between two subway stations. The park is over one kilometer long and
seven hundred meters wide, and encompasses a large Museum of Science and Industry, a
City of Music, a Grande Halle and a hall for rock and roll concerts. Parc de la Villette’s
challenges are twofold. The first is to decentralize the city and create a second area of
focus and activity, and the second is to supply additional culture to the citizenry of Paris.
The Parc represents a new model for the 21st century city park in which program, form
and ideology come together. Within the park three simultaneous operations are going on.
The first is a series of events that encourage dreams and fantasies not normally found in
traditional city parks. The second is a series of places where these fantasies can be
played out. And the third is the suggestio n of movement in space by the lines and curves
that are built into the landscape.
Parc de la Villette is thought of by its designer, Bernard Tuschumi, as a work in progress,
an architectonic design that will never be finished. Because it is a living, breathing
reflection of the people who use it, continuous change is fundamental, and parts of it can
be taken down, changed and built again. The three systems that comprise the Parc
consist of a system of surfaces, a system of lines, and a system of points.
The surfaces of the park host activities that include
game playing, exercising, entertainment, markets and
more, and appropriate surfaces are used for each
activity. Remaining surfaces are constructed of
compacted earth and gravel and are more free and
varied in form.
The lines of the parc are supplied by a grid of
whimsical Folies or “follies,” the orthogonal system
that guides pedestrian movement and the Path of
Thematic Gardens, the path that intersects the
coordinate axes and provides unusual and unexpected
encounters with nature. The north-south axis joins
the two subway stations and the east-west axis joins
Paris to the suburbs.
Figure two: three systems
The points are a grid system of Folies placed at 120 meter
intervals that serve as a common denominator to the entire park.
They are 10x10x10 meter cubes that can be changed to
accommodate specific needs. The strict repetition of the Folies
creates a recognizable symbol for the park. Each Folie
functions as a marker and a unique space, an area for
experimentation that is linked to a group or event. The Folies
replace static, traditional park monuments and will be future
reference points for emerging social and artistic change in an
evolving society. The resulting grid presents an infinite field of
intensities and extensions in and out of the Parc because there is
no center of hierarchy.
Figure three: Foiles
The Parc de la Villette’s conceptual framework allows for multiple combinations and
substitutions within the built space. Something can easily be replaced or revised without
damaging the spirit and identify of the Parc. The organizing structure of the
interchangeability of objects, people and events allows for future artistic expression
without the constraining hierarchies of traditional urban parks.
The city of Paris is composed of objects and spaces, continuity and discontinuity, and the
Parc de le Villette provides a focal point for all types of expression and activity. It has
the regularity of the grid and the flux of French arcades. Casual, directed movement
through the parc can lead one to unexpected smaller spaces. The parc’s design is based
on the disjunctions and dissociations of life in modern Paris, not on the idealistic notion
of bringing natur e to the masses.
The character of the Parc de le Villette is like nothing done before, and it illustrates the
concept that the interaction of thoughts and ideas are what make the design and function
of a space successful, not the objects in the space.
Figure four: Plan view
Barzilay, Marianne, Catherine Hayward, and Lucette Lombard-Valentino. L’Invention du parc.
Paris: Graphite Editions , 1984
Tschumi, Bernard. Cinégram folie, le Parc de la Villette / Bernard Tschumi. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton Architectural Press, 1987.
Kipnis, Jeffrey and Thomas Leeser, eds. Chora L works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman.
New York: Monacelli Press, 1997.
Orlandini, Alain. Le parc de la Villette de Bernard Tschumi. Paris: Somogy, 2001.
Figure one: Barzilay, Marianne, Catherine Hayward, and Lucette Lombard-Valentino.
L’Invention du parc. Paris: Graphite Editions, (1984) 10.
Figure two: Tschumi, Bernard. Cinégram folie, le Parc de la Villette / Bernard Tschumi.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, (1987) 3.
Figure three: ---. Cinégram folie, le Parc de la Villette / Bernard Tschumi. (1987) 19.
Figure four: Orlandini, Alain. Le parc de la Villette de Bernard Tschumi. Paris: Somogy,
Watermark: Kipnis, Jeffrey and Thomas Leeser, eds. Chora L works: Jacques Derrida and Peter
Eisenman. New York: Monacelli Press, (1997) 118-119.