I was disappointed by this dragon.  It’s a dramatic structure, and must look good when it is illuminated from within at night.  The stainless steel ribs and spikes gleam in the weak, winter sunshine.  The glass body segments reflect surrounding buildings and the branches of trees.  Each section is impressive but I didn’t feel that it added up to a whole.




The dragon emerges from the wall of an unremarkable building and dives straight down into the paving.




It emerges some distance away in an arching loop, dives back into the paving




and emerges again for a lazy slither before disappearing under the paving for good.

As a sculpture the dragon seems to lack a sense of rhythm.  The first arch suggests muscular movement but the next section barely struggles above the ground.  As a landscape installation it fails to define or shape the space around it.  A horizontal curve could have beautifully enclosed a seat or a tree.

But it seems I was missing the point.  I now know that this is a water dragon, animated (in season) by high pressure jets of water inside the glass tubes.  The building it emerges from is the Austerlitz waterworks of the city’s non-potable water supply.  The sculpture, by Franco-Chinese sculptor Chen Zen, is called La Danse de la Fontaine Émergente and it’s the water that completes it.  I must go back for another look in the spring.

Paris is unusual in having two parallel water supply networks, the usual drinking water supply and a second non-potable supply used for watering parks and gardens, for topping up ornamental ponds and lakes and for washing the streets.  It’s in part an historical accident, as a first attempt at supplying the city with drinking water through canals was superseded by a cleaner piped, supply leaving the first system available for other uses.  It also makes a lot of sense as the city can use water drawn from the canals to keep parks and trees green and growing in summer, without wasting filtered, treated drinking water.

Green grass and healthy trees look better than brown but they also have an important role to play in cooling the city in summer.  The same is true of washing the streets.  At first glance it may seem an unnecessary indulgence but the water cools the streets and helps to reduce the urban ‘heat island’ effect.  Excess water that runs down the roadside rainwater drains, finds its way back into the non-potable system to go round again.