Travelers from all over the world have the privilege of seeing Haussmann architecture firsthand when they visit the city of Paris. The 19th-century city planner, Georges-Eugene Haussmann, created the look of the modern city of Paris.
While Haussmann’s work is quintessential to the city, it was not an organic process. Instead, the large-scale destruction of just under 20,000 buildings needed to take place before his designs could prevail.
A Brief History of Haussmann Architecture
In the early and mid-19th century, Paris was a dark, congested, and disease-stricken city. 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 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. He tore down 19,730 buildings, replacing them with 34,000 new ones. Haussmann was not one to pick favorites; he even destroyed the home where his parents raised him.
The 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, completing his plan in 1927.
Defining Haussmann Architecture Characteristics
Haussmann’s overall design created a unified look for public and private buildings. The architect, Charles Garnier, designed the buildings in a Renaissance Revival style that he called Napoleon III. It was an eclectic design that used decorative elements from other styles to create a unique look.
The Haussmannian architecture style is best seen in his apartment buildings. Each Parisian building has a distinctive look that many people covet today for their authentic and charming style.
Exterior Characteristics of Haussmann Buildings
- The Haussmann-style buildings have a stone facade, with a 45-degree pitched roof and wrought iron balconies.
- The buildings do exceed six floors.
- The ground floor of each Haussmann building 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 climbing exhausting stairs. This floor had the highest ceilings, a continuous balcony, and the most decorative window molding.
- The third and fourth floors 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 city’s medieval charm and displaced many of its poorest residents. Few people gave Haussmann credit for his achievements during his lifetime.
Even in recent years, Haussmann had a complicated legacy. Up until the 1980s, people didn’t value Haussmannian building structures. Instead, modern city planners demolished his buildings to make way for modern glass and concrete structures.
Today, more people appreciate the Haussmann building style that defines Parisian architecture and his single-minded pursuit to improve the city of Paris.