The view from the street gives little away. I’d cycled past many times and walked along the other side of the wide avenue. I’d seen the mix of ancient and modern buildings visible over the blank wall and thought ‘hospital’. There’s a church in the complex, a number of ancient doors in a high wall and glimpses of stark twentieth century functionalism. A common mix in Paris where most of the large hospitals have grown on the roots and grounds of ancient monastic foundations.
Yesterday I happened to be walking past with time to spare. I paused to read the welcoming signs on the wall, ventured inside and was amazed by what I found. After three centuries the hospital of Saint Vincent de Paul has vacated the three hectare site on Avenue Denfert Rochereau, leaving behind a patchwork of buildings large and small in stone, brick, concrete, timber and steel. The city has plans for the development of a new residential quarter here but in the meantime there’s a social experiment in progress. Writing about Paris I tend to overuse the word ‘extraordinary’ – what is ordinary here? – but in this case that word is surely appropriate.
Click on any photo to view the gallery.
The website of Les Grands Voisins describes the aims, organisation and activities of the project in eloquent detail, with English translation. It’s worth a look: here. What the website doesn’t explain is how the city council are going to accommodate all this creativity, social action and general rootedness when the official redevelopment of the site starts in 2017. That’s going to take some working out.
This post is linked to the weekly Discover Challenge The Things We Leave Behind