Paris: the City of Enlightenment

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Paris was the heart of Enlightenment. In the Age of Enlightenment from the early 18th century to 1789, various forces such as population growth, the growing tension between social classes, the authority municipality and the Enlightenment movement, interrelated together and shaped the urban form of Paris. At the same time, the rationalism and intellectual interchange set the ground for the formation of modern urbanism.

In the 17th century, the population of Paris was about 510,000, rose shapely from about 220,000 in the previous century. The rapid population growth and its subsequent needs demanded not only an expansion of the size of the city, but also an organization. Narrow and unordered streets, inadequate public amenities, insufficient water supply, hygiene problems, all suggested the city’s need for a better urban planning.

The population growth created a greater demand for urban space. Several gardens were open to the public, including Tuileries, Luxembourg Palaces and Jardin des plantes. Avenues and boulevard were widen and extended to better accommodate street life and access. Public buildings were designed to open to the street, different from the precedent majority of private mansions having entrances isolated from the streets. Ecole militaire and Saint Genevieve(Pantheon) were both prominent examples. Public squares such as , run de Turenne and Place Vendome were constructed to serve as huge urban rooms for public.

Place Louis XV is probably the most significant urban project at that time. The square was an important element of urban space in Paris. It provided social communal space and connected the main streets. For a city like Paris with such tight urban fabric crowded with monumental buildings, a spatial square could draw attention to the central sculptural monument. With the intention to manifest the king’s authority, the king requested the academy to hold a competition in 1748 for a suitable site to raise the king’s equestrian statue. It was a huge competition with a wide range of submissions from architects and even by public officials, military officers and horse guards. King was dissatisfied with the result of the first competition and held another competition with only nineteen selected architects. The site was chosen by the king at the end of the gardens of the Tuileries. In the end, Ange-Jacques Gabriel was commissioned to combine the advantage of different ideas of all submitted proposal. It was controversial that Gabriel got the commission primarily due to his connection with the king. With the huge number of submission showing the enthusiasm of the intellectuals in physically shaping the urban form, the king’s injustice decision and indifference to copyright showed the influence of the patronage’s power over the enlightenment ideals. Despite all these, Place Louis XV showed an intention of the municipality on urban planning, to consider context of Louvre and articulate the spatial interplay between the two. It also showed a notion of the significance of one great piece of architecture on the scale of the whole city, an example of urban acupuncture.

The municipality primarily influenced the urban form with its patronage for private mansions, hotels, theatres and with its regulation on the utility of the city. A hierarchy of roads was set up, defined each with specific width different categories of roads including royal roads, highways, royal ways, and crossroads. Due to the concern for health issue, building codes were established in 1783 to restrict the maximum height so as to allow good ventilation and illumination. In 1758, the officials designated Monfaucon out outside Paris as the principal dump, and closed all other garbage heaps in Paris in1781. Street Lanterns which ensure safety in the city, were installed throughout the city, with the number of about 2700 in 1697 to almost 8000 in 1766. All these showed the municipality’s effort on a unified urban planning dealing with...
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