If you have visited the city of Paris, you have seen Haussmann architecture firsthand. The 19th-century city planner, Georges-Eugene Haussmann defined the style that created the look of the modern city of Paris.
While his work is quintessential to the look of the city, it was not an organic process.
Instead, the large-scale destruction of just under 20,000 other buildings needed to take place before his designs could prevail.
A Brief History of Haussmann Architecture
Paris, in the early and mid-19th century, was a dark, congested, disease-stricken city. According to Architectural Digest, the city suffered from cholera, rampant crime, and a sewer system that could not meet the needs of its inhabitants.
The emperor of France, Napoleon III, appointed Haussmann to bring order to this chaos. Haussmann had extensive plans to improve the city. He created three main thoroughfares to ease traffic into the city, unified the look of the buildings, and built a new sewer system and aqueduct to bring in fresh water.
To carry out his plans, Haussmann commenced the construction and destruction of old buildings that did not fit his purpose in 1853. This equaled the tearing down of 19,730 buildings and replacing them with 34,000 new ones. Not one to pick favorites, the BBC notes that Haussmann even destroyed the home where his parents raised him.
This non-stop construction lasted until 1870 when the government fired him due to political opposition and overspending. His successor carried out Haussmann’s vision of the city. They completed Haussmann’s plan in 1927.
Defining Haussmann Architecture Characteristics
Haussmann’s overall design created a unified look for both public and private buildings. The architect, Charles Garnier, designed the buildings in a Renaissance Revival style that he called Napoleon III. This is an eclectic style that uses decorative elements from other styles which together create a unique look.
The Haussmannian architecture style is best seen in his apartment buildings. These have a distinctive Parisian look that many people, according to Christie’s representative in Paris, Michael Zingraf, covet today for their authentic and charming style.
Haussmann regulated the exterior elements of this Parisian architecture so that the exterior of these buildings conformed to this unique look.
Exterior Haussmann Building Elements of Design
- The apartment buildings have a stone facade, with a 45-degree pitched roof and wrought iron balconies.
- The buildings do exceed 6 floors.
- The ground floor accommodates shops. The first floor, called the “mezzanine”, is used for storage and housing.
- The second floor was reserved for the most wealthy clientele to save them from having to climb exhausting stairs. This floor had the highest ceilings, a continuous balcony, and the most decorative window molding.
- The third and fourth floor had a more conventional style with lower ceilings and standard molding. After the Haussmann period and looser building restrictions, some people added small balconies to these floors.
- The fifth floor had lower ceilings also but a continuous balcony to preserve the visual balance with the second-floor balcony. Today, many people desire to live on this floor.
- The sixth floor, or attic, was reserved as the maid’s quarters. Today, these have become a coveted space as they feature many desirable architectural features such as exposed ceiling beams and a rooftop view of the city.
In his own times, Haussmann was a controversial figure. Many people criticized his efforts and nicknamed him “the demolisher”. They claimed that he had destroyed the medieval charm of the city and displaced many of the city’s poorest residents. Few people gave Haussmann credit for his achievements during his lifetime.
Even in recent years, his legacy was still complicated. Up until the 1980s, Haussmannian building structures were not valued. Instead, modern city planners allowed the buildings to be demolished to make way for modern glass and concrete structures. Today, there are more people who value the Haussmann building style and his single-minded pursuit to improve the city of Paris.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What is the Haussmann interior style?
The Haussmann exterior building style was uniform in nature. The interiors were left up to the individuals who lived there. Yet, they often all possess certain defining features. These include herringbone wood floors, gorgeous wooden millwork, plaster molding on the walls and ceilings, built0in bookcases, large windows, entrances, and fireplaces.
Was Haussmann an architect?
No, he was a city planner rather than an architect. Nonetheless, he defined the Paris architecture style that we all know and love today.
What other element did Haussmann include in his urban planning for Paris?
Beyond his buildings, large avenues, and the creation of better infrastructure, Haussmann’s planning incorporated many other elements. These included new public parks, street lighting, statues, trees, flowers, and street furniture like decorative bandstands and railings.
What did Haussmann do after the government fired him from his position?
After they relieved him of his position, Haussmann left Paris and went to Italy for six months. He returned and resumed a military management role that lasted just one week. After this, survived on a small pension, lived in a rented home, and visited each of his three daughters on a regular basis.
How much did the Haussmann building plan cost?
Haussmann presented a bill for the work that he had completed that equaled 2.5 billion francs. This is equal to about 75 billion US dollars.
Whatever anyone’s ideas of the Haussmann style, it is undisputed that he was one of the most effective urban planners and a true visionary. His planning and vision transformed the city of Paris into the beautiful, light-filled city that many of us know and love today.