The parks and formal gardens of Paris can make your eyes stretch and water:¬†there‚Äôs everything from Le Notre‚Äôs huge landscapes to the post modern excitement¬†of landscaping at La Defense and Parc Andre Citreon.
The latter two are chock-full of design and planting by two exceptional landscape¬†architects - Alain Provost (who designed the Thames Barrier Park in East London)¬†and Gilles Clement. For an introduction to the work of Gilles Clement head to Quai¬†Branly, the site of the Quai Branly Museum, which opened in 2006. This is now¬†home to a vast collection of artefacts from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.¬†It‚Äôs nearest metro stop, Alma-Marceau, is also the right one if you want to visit the¬†Paris sewers and the Eiffel Tower, which sticks up in the background like a gawky¬†stork.
Sitting pretty by the Seine, in the 7th arrondissement, with terraces of Haussmannorder¬†breathing down on the south side, the site attracted a bit of a brouhaha.
Mitterrand had ambitions for an international conference centre. The locals put up¬†a fierce fight and so it was that the site was vacant for the next president to¬†harbour the idea of being immortalised in stone. Chirac wanted a museum to¬†house two collections of trophies from France‚Äôs former subject nations. Take¬†planning outrage and uncomfortable associations of the past and you have one big¬†political hot potato. How do you order a mass of artefacts (450,000 of which 3,500¬†are on show at any one time) garnered by missionaries and explorers and weave¬†this into a Republican ideal of assimilation?
In 1999 there was an open competition to find an architect. The winner, Jean¬†Nouvel, started straight in by taking note of the criticisms of the Mitterrand¬†scheme. His model for the project was a building lower than the surrounding¬†buildings, kept out of sight and screened from view by the new gardens.