With “Réinventer Paris,” a competition open to the public, Mayor Anne Hidalgo wants to revolutionize the French metropolis from the ground up. Now in its second edition, the call for entries is all about revitalizing subterranean wastelands.

Parisian city planning has always reflected the ruling zeitgeist. Back in the 17th century, all Sun King Louis XIV wanted was to escape the grime and chaos of the French capital, so he decided to rule his kingdom from afar and simply had a new royal seat designed and erected in nearby Versailles.

Two centuries later, self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III envisioned a modern, grand, tidy Paris – with endless straight boulevards and impressively ornate residential blocks demanded by the times’ bon goût. The actual population wasn’t asked – they were expected not to protest and quietly make way for imperial progress.

Now, current Mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to reinvent today’s Paris. Her magic formula: crowdsourcing and private co-funding.

As part of the first round of Réinventer Paris, instigated by Hidalgo straight after her election in 2014, the city and its partners already designated 23 prestigious objects for redevelopment, ready to be filled with progressive, visionary ideas.

building with a green rooftop
Paris reinvents itself with an open competition.
Image: Atelier Teisseire

The vision of a friendly city

The second phase of the contest, “Under the cobblestones lies the future!”, is all about exploring and revitalizing the “underground secrets of Paris.” Anyone with a bright idea can take part and get involved. The only stipulation: All teams need to be interdisciplinary and capable of funding their own proposal.

To facilitate the process, anyone with a clever vision and a few collaborators can use an associated meet-up area to swap ideas and inspirations with like-minded souls, whether start-ups, associations, investors, companies, collectives, or artists.

project L’air Nouveau de Paris
Oriental naturalism meets glass and steel.
Image: Planning Korea

In terms of actual selection criteria, submitted projects should reflect Hidalgo’s vision of a “welcoming city that involves all residents,” and, naturally, be innovative and eco-friendly.

“By doing so,” added the mayor, ”we are rejecting a Paris fossilized by nostalgia or, conversely, drowned in a contemporary movement towards standardization. By opening up the scope of possibilities, by articulating urban, ecological, and democratic revolutions, we are going to fashion the city of tomorrow: an open, decompartmentalized, vibrant, and radiant place.”

classy interior of the L’air Nouveau de Paris
The design proposal L’air Nouveau de Paris from the inside.
Image: Planning Korea

Diversity with a social slant

If you’d like a tangible example, look no further than a current, landmark Réinventer Paris endeavor, the Immeuble Morland.

Under the aegis of starchitect David Chipperfield, this relatively functional 1960s office structure in a prime location is set to house a clever blend of luxury hotel, high-end restaurant, youth hostel, urban farm, art lab, intelligent building start-up, food market, bike store, co-working space, and several other projects.

The city’s only condition: The new architectural marvel also needs to include a nursery with space for 66 toddlers and 5,000 square meters of subsidized residential living space.

Office building Immeuble Morland in Paris
The Immeuble Morland is set to change under starchitect David Chipperfield.
Image: bloomimages

Underground inspirations

So, what’s the scope for innovation below ground? Potential urban planners can choose from a bright, bold, and diverse selection of 34 objects ranging from a decommissioned road tunnel underneath the Pont Neuf bridge to an abandoned, beautifully appointed belle époque shopping arcade, the closed Croix Rouge subway stop, and even an art deco substation boasting a huge vault and an impressive, 25-meter-high, light-flooded nave.

Ideas have already started pouring in, suggesting clubs and freely accessible stages for urban artists (“slameurs et beat-makers”) as well as sanctuaries for discriminated minorities. Not to forget a plethora of commercial ventures: Subterranean logistics centers, co-working spaces, and start-up accelerators cover just some of the submitted proposals.

As before, Hidalgo will give preference to projects that include a social housing component.

Anyone worried that all this focus on innovation might relegate French traditions to the sidelines, should welcome a proposal by deli specialist Nouveaux Fromagers who plan to turn an underground vault into a veritable cheese museum and degustation cellar, underscoring Paris’ status as a timeless tastemaker that will stay true to itself in the future.

For futher information on Réinventer Paris click here.