The Landscape of Paris
BMH 04 - 08 - 2010

Walking through the streets of Paris, there's a sense of discovery and an absorption of history. The city creates a link between the natural and cultural landscape that can only be described as beautiful. And yet the luster of Paris is distinctly local, it's a beauty we have not felt in any other city. That's not to say it's more spectacular than any other city, rather it's glamor is unique, a beauty that defines the spirit of place. It's difficult to dissect a genius loci, but each individual aspect of that identity contributes to this feeling of being grounded, in and of this world. Standing in the gravel of Champ de Mars, glaring at the tapper of the Eiffel Tower, one can't help but feel present (Right Image). It's a living, breathing city. One in which you instantly feel alive, one cell of a larger organism. But what makes Paris unique – especially from a design perspective? Is it the tower, the monuments, or the architecture? Perhaps one aspect that differentiates Paris from any other city is it's urban response to a prescribed, natural geography. Paris is situated on the river Seine; an artery for trade as well as a source of substance. The terrain around the river is also relatively flat with only a few hills, allowing the city to expand easily to accommodate its 2.2 million citizens today. While this pattern is not unheard of, the city's design response to resulting problems lead to the unique and complex landscape of Paris today. For instance, the use of iconic landmarks provide a cultural system of wayfinding as there are few recognizable land formations. The city's low elevation and high density also limits access to nature, as a result Paris values the introduction of cultural landscapes – from the Luxembourg Garden to Parc de la Villette to the recent introduction of green-wall technology. The cultural yearning for green-space lead to creative design solutions such as Le Viaduc des Arts, an abandoned train line that was converted into a green-way (Bottom, Left Image). Even the introduction of canals in Paris, allow greater access to water when parks cannot suffice. This narrative is unique to Paris. And yet other cities are equally beautiful in their ability to adapt society to a geographical location. Salzburg, Austria is on the banks of the Salzach River and shares a boarder with the Alps. It's closest peak, Untersberg, reaches 1972 meters, the city's natural Eiffel Tower - there is no need for iconic landmarks. The city also contains two other peaks, Mochnsberg and Kapuzinerberg, referred to as the green lungs of the city. Residences climb the nearby mountains or sit by river enjoying the sun; there are only a few cultural landscapes in Salzburg – there is no need for a large, central park. Even Salzburg population of 150,000 is relatively small to that of Paris, a likely constraint of natural barriers. Despite all these differences, Salzburg is still a vibrant and beautiful city. Perhaps what makes both Paris and Salzburg special is their ability to connect people with each other and with the Earth – cities that knows what it means to be human. Challenged with the problems facing our hometowns; perhaps what we need most are designers that know what it means to be human.

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