As part of an international competition, 1982-83, to revitalize the abandoned and undeveloped land from the French national wholesale meat market and slaughterhouse in Paris, France, Bernard Tschumi was chosen from over 470 entries including that of OMA/Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, and Jean Nouvel.
Unlike other entries in the competition, Tschumi did not design the park in a traditional mindset where landscape and nature are the predominant forces behind the design . Rather he envisioned Parc de la Villette as a place of culture where natural and artificial are forced together into a state of constant reconfiguration and discovery.
During the early 1980s, after President Mitterand took office, Paris was undergoing an urban redevelopment as part of city beautification, as well as making Paris a more tourist influenced city. In 1982-3, the Parc de la Villette competition was organized to redevelop the abandoned land from the meat market and slaughterhouses that dated back to 1860.
The brief called for the imagining and design of an urban park for the 21st Century across the 135 acre site that was divided by the Canal de l’Ourcq. With over 470 proposals for what would become the largest park in Paris, the design that was chosen was closest to the idea of the 21st Century, which did not dwell or rely upon history as precedent, but rather looked into the contemporary issues as well as the future.
For Tschumi, Parc de la Villette was not meant to be a picturesque park reminiscent of centuries past; it was more of an open expanse that was meant to be explored and discovered by those that visited the site. Tschumi, wanted the park to be a space for activity and interaction that would evoke a sense of freedom within a superimposed organization that would give the visitors points of reference.
As part of Tschumi’s overall goral to induce exploration, movement, and interaction, he scattered 10 themed gardens throughout the large expansive site that people would stumble upon either quite literally or ambiguously. Each themed garden gives the visitors a chance to relax, meditate, and even play.
Parc de la Villette is designed with three principles of organization which Tschumi classifies as points, lines, and surfaces. The 135 acre site is organized spatially through a grid of 35 points, or what Tschumi calls follies. The series of follies give a dimensional and organizational quality to the park serving as points of reference. The repetitive nature of each folly, even though each one is unique and different, allow for the visitors to retain a sense of place through the large park.
Tschumi’s lines are essentially the main demarcated movement paths across the park. Unlike the follies, the paths do not follow any organizational structure; rather they intersect and lead to various points of interest within the park and the surrounding urban area.
Of the 135 acres, 85 acres are dedicated to the green space, which are categorized as surfaces. The large open green spaces give Parisians space to interact, play, relax, and gather. The open space is typically used for large gatherings and even in the summer it becomes a large open air cinema.
Even though most traditional picturesque parks are unprogrammed and usually mean for user definition and interpretation, there is usually still some semblance of desired activity. However, Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette is conceptualized as one large user-defined space that is completely open for interpretation. Each of the deconstructivist follies are centers for informal program.
Although each folly is unique and formally different, there is no designated program just a space that can harbor activity. It’s only until recently that some of the follies have been converted into restaurants, offices, and information centers for the park.
Parc de la Villette is often criticized as being too large being designed without consideration for the scale of a human, and argued to be exist within a vacuum as it does not take the history of the site or the surrounding context into consideration. However with such a large site and the scale seemingly to be out of touch with the human, it becomes an analytical and conceptual approach to the way a human feels within a larger urban setting. The park is almost a perverse reiteration of urban life where the human is caught in the relentlessly overwhelming milieu that removes humanistic sensibility to accommodate for larger numbers of people.
Only when a visitor stumbles along a folly or a garden is the scale reduced and the visitor is able to reorient themselves within the larger context. As with the Tschumi’s Manhattan Transcripts (1976-1981), Parc de la Villette seems to be a critical manifestation of urban life and activity where space, event, and movement all converge into a larger system.