The canvas of utopia

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  • In a city widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world, it’s not unfair to say that the 13th arrondissement of Paris lacks the charm and historical majesty found across much of the capital of France. The neighborhood was rather recklessly redeveloped in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when architects believed high rise apartment blocks would herald a new urban utopia.

    The redevelopment was highly unpopular and eventually halted before most of the planned 44 tower blocks could be built. Nonetheless, much of the history of the 13th arrondissement has been lost, buried under projects that, since 1950, redeveloped nearly three-quarters of the neighbourhoods surface area.

    Foremost among the redevelopment architects was Michel Holley, who designed eight high-rise residential towers called the Olympiades. Built to accommodate more than 11,000 people, Holley’s idea was to create a ‘city-within-a-city.’ The towers would be connected by walkways, open areas and shops all built on a raised concrete platform. Below the platform a parking garage was constructed to hold the residents cars. Beneath that roads and railways could supposedly flow undisturbed on further underground levels.

    “I dreamed a lot, in those days,” Holley said. “Because these were inventions and creations in advance of their time, and I dreamed a lot, and I realized my dreams, realized my utopias.”

    Today, Holly’s “utopias” reach into the sky like vast towering headstones to the communities and history that was demolished to make way for the future. They’re not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but the mayor of the 13th arrondissement, Jérôme Coumet, has been actively working with artists to transform many of the neighbourhoods large lifeless walls into vast works of art that bring more color and pride to the area.

    Today’s picture shows a stunning mural by Chilean artist, INTI. Entitled Our Utopia Is Their Future, it’s hard to miss the gigantic mural on the Avenue D’Italie. The artist has a number of other works on walls around the neighbourhood, but this one is by far the largest standing at around 47 meters (154ft).

    We’re used to seeing billboards everywhere selling us everything from fizzy drinks being promoted by pop stars, to vasectomies being promoted as “the new cool thing,” so I’m happy to see more and more walls being utilised by artists who are doing something more creative than spattering our cities with yet more marketing.

    Stand here using Google street view.

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