Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann

The narrow streets were catch-alls for chamber pots that were emptied into the streets from windows, the sewer system was inadequate, for a city with a million inhabitants, and prompting extremely unhealthy conditions that bred disease and only one out of five households had running water. This statement from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Genevan philosopher depicts a snapshot picture of Old Paris, “Entering through the faubourg Saint Marceau, I saw only small, dirty and stinking streets, ugly black houses, an air of filth, poverty, beggars, carters, sewing women, women hawking tisanes and old hats”. All of these issues would be “history” with the city’s modernization done at an unprecedented pace by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann.

Baron Haussmann was born, in Paris, on March 27th, 1809. He was educated at the College Henry IV, studied law, while simultaneously taking classes at the Conservatoire de Paris, because he was a good musician. He diverted from being a lawyer, turning his focus on architecture, becoming a civil engineer and career administrator. Mr. Haussmann was appointed sous-prefet (state representative) of Nerac, a commune of the Lot-et-Garonne department in southwestern France, in l830. He advanced quickly in the civil service venue; in l853 he was appointed the prefet of the Seine Department, (department in France is similar to a county) and remained in that position until l870.

During this time period, Baron Haussmann was made senator in l857, grand cross at the Legion d’honneur, a premier order of France, in l862, and a member of the Academy of Fine Arts in l867. (wikipedia) He died on January 11, l891 in Paris, leaving a continuous and evolving legacy. The Baron’s name is preserved on the Boulevard Haussmann and in the very core of the “City of Lights. ” Now that I have given a brief, biographical summary of Mr. Haussmann’s life, here is a detailed look at his accomplishments, historical impact on urbanism and constant influence in today’s society.

Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the last monarch to rule France, wanted to be acknowledged as a great communal engineer. He was partial to helping the poor, working class people of Paris and desperately wanted to shape the city in to a progressive, healthy environment. There was also a safety issue, the Emperor needed to address; it was imperative that he reduce the ability of future revolutionaries to defy the government, by benefiting on the medieval maze of streets to easily form barricades. Devising wider streets for logical maneuvers, would allow battalions and artillery to circulate effortlessly.

Napoleon III rightly chose, the best civil engineer in Paris, Baron Haussmann to implement the reconstruction of his capital. The Emperor let Haussmann maintain substantial executive power and extensive finances with this project. Ultimately, over a decade and a half he spent 2,115,000,000 francs, the equivalence of 1. 5 billion in today’s currency. Napoleon also protected Haussmann from the myriad of critics, this was fundamental for his success. Paris would undergo a major transformation and people had two different views of Haussmann; one as a man who would demolish “old” Paris , and the other as a man who would create a “new” Paris.

Haussmanization is what this massive undertaken was dubbed, its actual definition being, “the creative destruction of something for the betterment of society,“ (wiktionary). The criticism the Baron received was that specific, Parisian’s were troubled by the destruction of buildings, including whole neighborhoods. In they’re opinion, there was no “betterment,” the wide streets had a diminutive purpose, except for being anti-riot streets, and all Haussmann did for the poor areas was to build encompassing boulevards from which they could be subjugated.

Another, subject he was disparaged for, was his methods of financing the projects, which included using his connections with realtors. Haussmann would allow them to purchase property along the new boulevards in exchange for an exuberant profit. This issue ignited an intense political controversy and even though the allegation were never proven , it eventually led to the Baron’s dismissal as the prefet, on January 5, l870. Napoleon III had no choice if he was to increase the approval rating of this regime.

Parisians who viewed Haussmann’s modernization of Paris as positive, and new he would be providing a much needed service to the city, far out numbered the opposition. Most of the people perceived the streets as they actually were; unsanitary, with garbage and waste left by a faulty sewer system, crowded, damp, shanties covered in mud, and confusing. The narrow streets, with no sidewalks, discouraged prospective customers from going to shops, and during Paris’s recurrent spates of civil disorder, made it easier to form barricades. Haussmannization would deliver a “new” Paris, a healthy, more organized, safer city.

Baron Haussmann’s first task was to create a detailed map of Paris, this would be the basis of his work. He then installed wood towers throughout the city, taller than surrounding buildings to serve as triangulation points in the surveying process. This was an advanced engineering process, theory is still use today. Triangulation is finding coordinates and the distance of a point by calculating the length of different sides of a triangle. Devising the towers, for this purpose, was ingenious. The transformation was now underway, using 1500 architects and over 60,000 workers.

Paris was deemed the “largest construction site in the world,” and would hold that title for two decades (France monthly). Three quarters of the Ile de la Cite, was destroyed to construct a central area for the Palais de Justice, police headquarters and barracks. Ile de la Cite is one of two islands in the Seine River, the other is Ile Saint-Louis, is the center of Paris and where the city was founded (wikipedia). Approximately 15,000 homes were pulled down and the only buildings untouched were; Notre Dame, the Saint-Chapelle, Conciergie and the Palais de Justice.

Haussmann’s beautification of Paris, includes the star-shaped Place de l”Etoile, which is a large urban junction with a meeting point of twelve straight avenues, around the Arc de Triomphe, several new parks, gardens and the planting of over 100,000 trees. The Baron admired the large and central London parks, such as the Hyde and Regent Parks, and decided to created two comparable ones, most notably the Bois de Boulogne, and the Bois de Vincennes. The Baron built or rebuilt several market, the most famous redesigned market was the Les Halles, the first major building project to use iron-frame construction.

This material allowed for improved control of the city’s food supplies and lessening of health hazards (SafariX). Another famous redesign was the Palais Garnier, commonly known as Opera de Paris, and named after its architect, Charles Garnier, who was chosen by the Baron to supervise the project. Mr. Garnier was instructed to build a 2nd theatre for the famous Parisian Opera and Ballet Companies. Legend says that Napoleon III’s wife asked Garnier if it would be built in Greek or Roman style and he replied, “It is in the Napoleon III style, Madame! “.

Haussmann imposed a regulation that required all new buildings to have a standardized height and design, this gave modern Paris characteristic landscape. Haussmann’s plan continued with organizing the city by numbering districts and houses. Parisian’s lives were made easier with the numeration. Wide, straight, new boulevards with commanding facades, converging at major junctions, marked by monuments, public buildings and points of significance such as city gates or railway stations, were made to facilitated traffic movement, eliminate cramped streets, and provide proficient access for army troops from the provinces to come into the city, if needed.

Baron Haussmann’s implemented a railway network, with six new railroads stations, operating outside the city, improving transportation and directly contributing to a flourishing economic environment. The railways contributed to the development of coal mining and the steel industry in France, bringing they’re economy into a contemporary age of large scale free enterprise. The design of the streets combined with the new public transportation allowed Parisians an easy access to the city and its shops, museums, theatre etc., encouraged people to flaunt their new wealth.

Probably the most imperative part of the “modernization” of Paris was the purification and decontamination of their ancient sewer system. A complete renovation was imperative to instill healthy conditions in the city. Haussmann named engineer Eugene Belgrad, Director of Water and Sewers of Paris, who attacked the problem by creating “sort of a city under the city,” The system harnessed underwater springs, some over 100 kilometers from Paris, then brought fresh, clean water by aqueducts to flush out the waste (France Monthly).

The sewer system, although underground, didn’t go unobserved, Haussmann ensured that it became a showpiece, even providing transportation for their viewing, the system, to this day, is considered a tourist attractioin. Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III’s architectural strategy for the modernization of Paris is largely responsible for the city’s present appearance and for the groundwork of current and almost certainly, future designs. The Baron’s vision of a city came into fruition, making Paris one of the most magnificently beautiful cities, a formidable economic power, with much healthier living conditions.

Haussmann still continues to inspire architectural design. One example is the City Beautiful Movement, a progressive reform movement in North American architect, in the1800’s and 1900’s, its primary objective was to revamp poverty-stricken urban environments. “Haussmannian Revolution,” a term used because, for the first time in history, under an emporer, a single man systematically modernized a city on such a mammoth scope.

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