Monday, June 29, 2009

A Paris Idyll, Parc André Citröen

Parc André Citröen - Overview courtesy:

Cascading plantings of fragrant herbs echo the architectural form of the water element pictured below.
Photos: Alice Joyce except where noted.

Suggesting sanctuary, an array of small-scale buildings line up along a walkway. A bold rectangular opening entices me to enter, where I find an interior that capitalizes on a play of light and shadow created by a slat roof, while the floor wears a carpet of Scotch moss.

Water elements lend particular distinction to a number of compartmentalized environments.
Entering one such space, you see water flowing gently over an inclined wall, while directly across the way, its counterpart achieves drama with a decidedly vigorous deluge over a stepped surface.

photo: it_outsider

On a recent journey, I set off on a pilgrimage to 

Parc André Citröen, an inspiring representation of a
contemporary landscape design by Alain Provost and
Gilles Clement. The park rose up in the southwest corner of Paris in the Javel neighborhood, a site appropriated as part of the city's urban renewal efforts, after the closure of the Citröen car factory.

Away from the well-trod tourist paths, the park has won  praise (and criticism, alike) for the forward-looking aspects of its design: A complex geometric layout full of surprising juxtapositions and horticultural interest.

Elements of cool postmodern style appear as architectural devices, defining the character of discrete spaces. At the same time, sequestered areas are given over to lush planting schemes and shaded allées, fostering a sense of intimacy.


The parkland extends over 30 acres, and futuristic bent aside, its plan encourages visitors to linger amid open areas of lawn, a bamboo grove, and a rock garden.

Large-scale water features call to mind 
the aesthetic fountains and pools of 
classical landscapes, while inducing 
young and old to relax and refresh.

Arranged on an axis perpendicular to the Seine, the totality of the park is oriented to echo the order of historic Parisian parks farther upriver.

The overall design concept puts into play a sense of contrast, advancing from obviously man-made configurations to areas meant to reveal the spirit of untouched, natural places.

At the heart of the park is a sprawling grassy expanse set off by a wall of clipped hedges and promenade evocative of formal French gardens. Opposite this central greensward, a sloping plaza of gleaming stone looks out onto two vast glasshouses flanking a fountain programmed with leaping water jets.

Moving on, a series of small theme gardens emerges, revealing a richness of shrubs, specimen trees and perennials. Unusual plant material is noteworthy in creating atmospheric garden spaces, such as the Jardin Blanc & Jardin Noir. A tunnel passage signals the transition to another color-themed space, accented with blue salvias, fragrant mints, California lilacs, a wisteria-draped arbor, and a pergola cloaked in my favorite variegated porcelainberry vine melded with clematis.

At another juncture, towering mirrored-glass buildings are partnered with a long reflecting canal. The crisp outlines of the adjacent hedges restate the angular facades.

A sunken outdoor room of ample proportions exhibits careful planning. The five walls reveal a subtle pattern of divided stone segments with scores of diamond-shaped water spouts, arranged at a mid-point as embellishment. On the ground, vegetation takes the place of stone cutouts, and grass creates a zigzag effect where it abuts the hard surface.

Controversy about the park and its design continues, so look for more to follow on BayAreaTendrils.
When in Paris... the park is located in the 15th arrondisement: Metro stop Balard or Javel.


  1. This park truly is idyllic. I especially love the play of light and shadow in the moss-floored room. The photographs are a treat to see, as always. Would love to visit Paris some day.

  2. Wow, that's a pretty modern space. I like it! Reminds me in some ways of the Getty Museum gardens in LA. Thanks for featuring it, never heard of this one! Formal in a different way than Versailles or other large-scale gardens.

  3. Hello Kate, The moss-floored room is beguiling. Yet there is so much more to experience, I could go on and on to give appropriate coverage.

    Karen, I love the Getty Museum gardens, which also have their share of detractors, along with plenty of admirers.

    I was impressed with the scope of the landscape plan of Parc Citroen; a brilliant public project that reenergized the area in a superb way.

  4. I love the water on the inclined wall - sublime and dramatic at the same time :)

  5. Hey Garden Ms S, that water feature is one of my all time favorite elements. As I mentioned, across the way is a gentle cascade. The juxtaposition is truly brilliant. But then, many elements of the design are highly original. Cheers, Alice

  6. A really lovely garden, and one used by people from the nearby Bercy Village neighborhood a lot. The latter is an extremely well thought-out urban redevelopment which mixes housing different income groups, employment, shopping and recreation on old industrial land. When I was there last spring researching my book The Walkable City, I was impressed by the pleasure people were taking in the garden and the way it is integrated into a really marvelous addition to a great city. The mistakes of the Parisian banlieu and La Defense have been very successfully avoided here.

    Nice you can walk across the Seine on a close-by footbridge, too.



  7. Mary, Thank you for adding your impressions. There is much to say about the merits of this park and the decision to create it in this area of Paris. I've considered writing another post some time, dealing with critiques that
    have been written about the park, in contrast to people lauding its design.