In parts of the southeastern section of Paris, small white plaster buildings give way to dozens of imposing apartment blocks jostled together. Monotonously repeating structures stretch along city blocks, mixed with buildings coated in lighter filigrees of steel, enormous murals, and arches hundreds of feet in the air.
I think of the cold brown glass buildings of the national library, along the Seine, as the gateway to these neighborhoods of the 13th. At the center of the four library buildings, architects placed a small forest in a deep pit far below, ensuring nature would not leap out of its enclosure.
What lured me to the 13th is a Le Corbusier structure, designed as a Salvation Army residence for low-income men and women, at the behest of a Princess and heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune. It still serves that purpose and was recently restored. I didn’t plan well enough in advance, but if you email you can make an appointment to tour the inside.
Another building I wanted to check out is right at the very edge of the outer 13th, at the périphérique. It’s destined to be demolished soon, but for now the city commissioned an artist to work with neighbors to transform it into something other than a decaying, ugly apartment block. The artist, Mademoiselle Maurice, created something that sparkles with color and excitement, using black paint and origami.
Long walks on the streets of these neighborhoods also means inhaling spicy, delicious smells wafting from Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, and seeing produce stores selling huge mangoes,and durians in specially made straw carry-bags.
Le Corbusier’s Cité de Refuge
I was curious about when several of these buildings were built, and found this beautiful site created by Etienne Côme, a researcher at (get ready)…the French institute of sciences and technology for transport, development and networks. His data visualization allows you to zero in on a structure to find out approximately when it was built, or to view all buildings in Paris built during a specific span of years.
Cité de Refuge, 12 Rue Cantagrel
Origami-covered building, Cité Paul Bourget
Other buildings: Avenue Léon Bollée, Rue Xaintrailles, Avenue de Choisy