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Leading figure of French architecture, Dominique Perrault is world known for the design of the French National Library, distinguished with the Silver medal for town planning in 1992 and the Mies van der Rohe Prize in 1996. In 2010, he was also awarded the gold medal by the French Academy of Architecture for all his work. But this time around, the French architect and urban planner hits the news for something else.
Dominique Perrault and councilor of state Philippe Bélaval aim to revive Paris’ Île de la Cité, a monument-island whose population has been decreasing for decades. One of two islands in the Parisian Seine, the Île de la Cité is largely known to tourists as little more than the location of such popular destinations as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sainte Chapelle — a fate that belies the island’s 2000-year history as the center of Paris. However, over the course of the 19th century, as residential buildings and activities were replaced by major public institutions, the island gradually turned into an administrative hub. Today, the partial relocation of Paris’s court of justice, police headquarters, and oldest hospital Hôtel-Dieu, into other areas of the city, leaves room for a repurposing of the buildings. The entire project is currently exhibited at the Conciergerie Museum in Paris.
Now there are plans underway to restore the whole island to its former importance: under Philippe Bélaval, the French Centre for National Monuments has selected Dominique Perrault Architecture to design a 25-year masterplan, titled Mission Île de la Cité, to bring back the island’s relevance as something more than a dissonant collection of tourist destinations. Mission Île de la Cité – le cœur du cœur, Perrault and Bélaval’s project suggests a new future. With this new study, the island would enter a historical era. Imagined together or individually, 35 proposed interventions are designed to reveal its monuments, diversify its uses, highlight its institutions and reclaim its public spaces.
An exhibition, currently on display at the Conciergerie Museum in Paris, illustrates the vision, its content, and form. The set design resorts to the vocabulary of contemporary art installations – modernity, simplicity, luminosity and efficiency – to transform the gothic hall of the museum without touching it.
Such is the spirit of Île de la Cité, to metamorphose the island without denaturing its cultural heritage. Visitors will be immersed, through maps, projections. and videos, in what might be the island by 2040.