Le Paquebot: a new kind of urban interface
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
When Italian architect Renzo Piano thought about the town of Neuilly, he saw a fine Haussmann-style layout sliced in two by a motorway.
How could this be made less brutal?
By putting the motorway underground: a hugely expensive project that could only be offset by urban densification.There was nothing fundamentally wrong with this idea of intensification; after all, the town was born from the energy caused by the close proximity of buildings, infrastructures, and people… So as not to betray the character of the old city, the architect would not allow the towers of La Défense to cross the Seine and march on Paris. Instead, the lower city joins the business district, with buildings on the île-du- Pont that caress the water rather than scraping the sky. A floating caress… Raised above the ground, these buildings preserve the gardens that can be seen from the riverside, while new open-air gardens have been designed on top of them; access to these is via stairways and very open lifts, which form symbolic connections between the earth above and the earth below. The building is accessible via a pedestrian bridge: a moving pavement sheltered from the wind and rain. It’s a generous building, open to public use, giving back to the city more than it takes from it. The project has made it possible to move the Avenue Charles de-Gaulle underground: a fine example of urban densification and of the gentle reconciliation of the Left and Right Banks of the Seine, doing an island a favour and the city an even bigger one.