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UNESCO heritage status for Paris rooftops

Will Paris’ rooftops be given UNESCO heritage status?

For the last few years, there have been calls for Paris’ iconic zinc rooftops to be given UNESCO heritage status, protecting their long-term future. Although several important political figures wholeheartedly back the proposal, the mayor is not one of them. 

Some 500 roofers work in the capital, maintaining and replacing the zinc slates that cover 80% of Paris’ buildings. Their profession is one in decline, with few youngsters taking it up and revegetation of the roofs becoming a popular concept: gardens and allotments instead of grey slabs.

Talk of protecting the zinc roofs first began in 2015 but took a step forward in June, as the mayor of the 9th arrondissement, one of its main backers, explained. “The first important step was achieved in June, when the knowledge and expertise of the Paris zinc-roofer became part of the national body of cultural heritage,” said Delphine Bürkli.

But for the campaign to really kick into the next gear, Anne Hidalgo would need to be convinced. The mayor of Paris is a well-known proponent of revegetating Paris’ rooftops by adding gardens, allotments and other natural fixtures. In 2015, she said she feared that “such a classification [of zinc roofs] would hurt efforts to renovate ecologically.”

Whilst Hidalgo remains “attentive to the campaign”, she reportedly also has reserves about whether the roofs could really match all the criteria needed to gain UNESCO heritage status. So far the only site in Paris to have done so is the Berges de Seine, the pedestrianized banks of the river between the Pont de Sully and the Pont d’Iena (sine 1991).

Zinc is cheap but needs to be replaced every 50 years, making some call it a ‘permanent construction site’. “The profession remains traditional, even if we work with more equipment to ensure workplace safety standards,” said Meriadac Aulanier, a representative of the GCCP, the workforce’s union.

Their work dates back to 1817 and is a source of significant pride. Practically all Haussmannian buildings are covered by them. As they are so light, the interiors of the last floors require fewer frames, meaning more living space. Hence, the chambre de bonnes studios which are also unique to Paris.


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