The highroad is paradoxical. While it irrigates and opens up the world, it also divides and pollutes it. Roads and cars formerly brought adventure, freedom and development; now they are hated. However, the highroad is there, firmly present, still young and robust. It harms and divides our cities – but might not this paradox be apt in generating a new richness and a new urban complexity? It may be legitimate and perhaps fruitful to show a new interest in our obsolete mythologies, to these places of modernity in which our societies have so believed and invested. All at once, embedded in a peculiarly French history; an infrastructure superimposed on an over-powerful and limiting administration; a landmark becoming illustrious in such a short time and for everyone, inhabitants as well as tourists, as it defines an “in” and an “out” to the world’s most visited city.
For more than 15 years, TVK has led research on the Parisian ring road and its infrastructures. Initiated within TOMATO Architects, a thirteen-student group whose thesis focused on La Ville du Périphérique (The City of the Ring Road), research has continued through No Limit, a study realised for La Ville de Paris and the Région Île-de-France. Two books, now out of print, form a testimony of this research.
Between the metropolitan Paris of 1900 and that of today, the coming of the boulevard périphérique – the ring road – and freeways not so long after the demolition of the last of the ramparts, represents the metropolitan area's most significant transformation. Initially a foreign body within the city, the ring road now stands as the most eloquent expression of Paris’s deep structure: by endowing the perimeter with a material existence, the ring road reaffirmed the circle as the eternal definition of Paris. It follows the administrative boundary between a city-centre and its suburbs, but paradoxically the territorial perception it generates seems to cancel out this situation: experienced from a car the périph’ appears not as an agent of separation, but rather as an entity given substance and coherence by the way it is apprehended.
On each side the cityscape seems oriented towards the ring road, which thus emerges as virtually the sole binding force for a part of the metropolis visibly evolving in its own specific way. The upshot is a distinctive interstitial “Périphérique City” which is neither Paris nor its suburbs. It is not the outcome of any project, yet it has sprung up around an infrastructure that was part of an overall project on the Paris boundary. It functions as an overlaying of sometimes contradictory rationales and strategies, and the relationships it generates are often conflictual: its juxtaposition of the local scale (permanency) and the global scale (movement and relocation) can trigger painful frictions for the city and its residents. Périphérique City does not speak with a single voice.
Tomato Architectes (Flore Baudelot, Yannick Beltrando, Toma Damisch, Marie Degos, Martin Etienne, Nicolas Fonty, Rainer Härtlein, Joachim Lepastier, Carine Merlino, Julie Michaud, Alexandre Thériot, Pierre Alain Trévelo and Antoine Viger-Kohler).
Carried out for the City of Paris and the Île-de-France Region, the prospective study of the integration of the boulevard périphérique – Paris’s ring road – has enabled an overview of the question and contributed to a shift in the frame of reference: the outer ring is no longer seen as a demarcation line, but rather as a key element in the panorama of urban situations that characterise the centre of the metropolis. The ring road is now 40 years old and still a relatively unknown quantity. Sixteen territories make up “Périphérique City” in as many intermunicipal sequences, each of which has an identity marked not only by obvious malfunctions, but also by real possibilities: the various nuisances and hazards should not be allowed to obscure the range of resources. Metropolitan thoroughfares like this one are vectors for urban continuity and represent a variety of present and potential flows and interconnections.
The method adopted for the study was both thematic and territorial. In the first phase, four major themes were addressed: the different images attaching to the ring road; mobility and transport; the relationship between the périph’ and the metropolitan area; and planning programmes, density and the environment. At the same time earlier studies and projects were inventoried and put into perspective, and a “local quality of life” checklist was drawn up with a view to clarifying perceptions of the ring road and its environs. In the second phase six sites were chosen as targets for transformation strategies. These urban scenarios are part of an exploratory approach, with suggestions for innovative solutions opening up new avenues for change and broadening the scope of discussion with the consultation partners.
Pierre Alain Trévelo, Antoine Viger-Kohler (partners), Sophie Bayce, Chiara Molinar (project managers), Caroline Desile, Gianluca Gaudenzi, Hee Won Jung, Martin Styring, Felix Tönnis