In most parks this porcupine would be the brightest thing around but at Parc de la Villette it blends right in. The brightly painted wooden porcupine and dragon are accompanying a traveling exhibition staged by Visit Mexico. The giant multicoloured tube slide, snaking through the trees is permanent, as are the two storey high red, steel ‘follies’ scattered through the park. There’s one of those just across the canal from the porcupine.
La Villette is a park on a vast scale, 55 hectares in total of which 33 hectares is classed as green space, making it the largest park within the city limits. It’s a flat site with a lot of sky, great when there’s blue sky with drifting clouds, like yesterday, but less welcoming under solid grey or even hot, unbroken blue.
The redevelopment of the site of the city’s nineteenth century cattle markets and abattoirs, to form a cultural centre for eastern Paris, was initiated in 1979. The futuristic museum of science and technology, constructed in the shell of a huge 1960s sales hall, was opened in 1986 and the final stage of the development was completed this year, with the opening of the Philharmonie concert hall – the silver building just visible above the trees beyond the fountain.
When, in 1982, an international architectural competition was launched for a master plan for the site it was made clear that the judges would be looking for something mould-breaking and didn’t want proposals for a city square or a suburban wood. The resulting park is certainly different but already it looks strangely dated – yesterday’s vision of the park of tomorrow.