This Paris Life

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Colossal Les Halles canopy finally unveiled – to widespread critique

The long awaited completion of the billion-euro project revamping the Forum des Halles, central Paris’ underground shopping hub, has been marred by detractors criticizing its aesthetic and construction faults.

The current Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, was joined by former Mayor Bertrand Delanoë in the unveiling of the renovated Forum des Halles shopping complex on April 5th.

Began six years ago under then-Mayor Delanoë, the extensive renovation has ended up costing one billion euros, despite the initial estimate of 800 million euros.

The renovation works included the shopping center, gardens and busy Châtelet-Les-Halles underground station, which sees over 750,000 commuters per day. The construction of La Canopée, the huge glass canopy covering the shopping center, alone cost a whopping 236 million euros.

Designed by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti, the distinctive undulating roof is made up of 18,000 individual glass scales and shaped like a giant crystal leaf. It has elicited conflicting opinions from officials, the press and Parisians.

At the inauguration, Mayor Hidalgo gushed over “the canopy can be seen from space.” Some press took offence at the building’s color, with Le Monde describing it as a “dishwater yellow reminiscent of dessert plates used in roadside diners and hospitals” and The Guardian dubbing the building “a custard-colored flop.”

Just a few days after the grand opening, shoppers reported that the costly roof was leaking rainwater onto the center’s renovated floors. On a sunny afternoon the next day, neighbors complained of being “blinded” by the structure’s reflective exterior. Nearby residents claim they have to keep their shutters closed to avoid being blinded and overheated by the dazzling reflection of the sun on the canopy’s 18,000 glass panels.

Below the controversial canopy, 6,000 square meters of new shops have been built, and 70% of already existing space has undergone significant renovation.

Located in the very heart of Paris, the Les Halles area owes its name to the large iron pavilions that once covered what was a bustling and popular fresh food market — most famously depicted in Emile Zola’s 19th century novel “The Belly of Paris.” In 1971 the markets were dismantled and relocated to Rungis, in the capital’s southern suburbs. The Forum des Halles shopping center opened in 1979, the adjoining gardens in 1986.

The refurbished shopping center is expected to attract 40 million visitors per year by 2018. The 37 million shoppers it currently attracts makes it the second busiest shopping center in Europe, after the 4 Temps mall in La Défense which welcomes over 46 million visitors each year. The public gardens will be completed in 2018.

Photo credit: Le Figaro

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