Dear Mr Gérard Longuet, Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs, Representatives of the States Majors of the Three Armies, Mr President of the Cité de l'architecture et du Patrimoine, Dear François de Mazières,Ladies and Gentlemen,
From the Hospice des Invalides, which Louis XIV wanted in 1673 for the wounded in the wars, to Thiers' plans for the forts surrounding Paris between 1840 and 1845, the links between the military square of Paris and the history of architecture are numerous and significant. The military fact has always had a building role, from Vauban to General Dode de la Brunerie in the 19th century. Today, the strategic grouping of Staffs on the Balard site is a unique opportunity to write a beautiful page of Parisian urbanism.
A new military city will be created by 2015. This «great project» is a strong act that is part of the dynamic of Greater Paris, since the President of the Republic launched it right here at the Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine.
For the military, the challenge is not to deploy in a new territory on the outskirts, but on the contrary to regain a site little known intramural. A site inscribed at the heart of the mobility of the capital, a site located between the ring road and the boulevard des maréchaux, a site recently served by the tram, at the gates of the heliport of Paris. With its 15 hectares, this site constitutes a real urban territory in the city, a real «city in the city».
But the time of Vauban is now over. It is no longer time to build majestic fortresses with strong moons and half moons, but contemporary enclosures in connection with the nearby city. «Building the city on the city» is one of the essential approaches in the Greater Paris project.
To shape this new “urban room”, nine teams of architects were mobilized to reinvest a place, by definition, inaccessible to civilians. To address this issue, a specific procedure has been put in place. It is not an architectural competition like the ones that gave birth, in the 1990s, to the Bibliothèque nationale de France or the Arche de la Défense, for example, but a public-private partnership, a “PPP”. experimental, which goes beyond the realization of the only monument, to lead to the design of a complex complex including 8 hectares of contemporary creation.
The objective, in fact, is to develop a new program while ensuring a continuum with the city of Air, a remarkable element of heritage of the 1930s, but also the articulation with a listed building, signed Auguste Perret, located at the corner of Boulevard Victor.
It is in front of one of the most beautiful Parisian buildings, the housing building designed by Pattou, illustration of «the ship-architecture», that the new project was envisioned from an urban laboratory perspective that meets current sustainable development requirements.
On this «sensitive site» - the territory of the army obliges - the challenge was also to combine the civilian and military domains, in an operation clearly distinguishing the ministerial institution, from the accompanying tertiary buildings.
After two years of work, the project of Nicolas Michelin, associated with Jean Michel Wilmotte and the 2/3/4 team, was selected. The French-style Pentagon, as the program has often been called, will take the form of a hexagon. Hexagonal coquetry will say some, cultural exception will say others! This is how the team of Nicolas Michelin, known for its experiments in the field of urban planning, especially in Metz and Bordeaux, responded to the multiple constraints posed by this ambitious project.
But, if by definition there can only be one winner, I do not want to forget the intellectual investment of other teams in redefining this part of the city. The scenography «in squadron», signed by the young architect Raphaël Gabrion, winner of the new albums, shows the quality of the immense work provided by the teams but also the strategic options taken by the architects, including Dominique Perrault and Norman Foster in the final phase.
By presenting the 15 models that marked the three stages of the consultation over two years, the fruit of the reflection of all the teams engaged by the three business groups, the Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine has decided to bring the whole process to a close. This is a first! And, by choosing to present the exhibition “the Ministry of Defense is taking up residence in Balard” in the Casting Gallery, within the museum itself - in the very place where more than 210,000 visitors were able to discover the ten strategies for Greater Paris - The City puts the future of Western Paris into perspective. I know that the Cité will soon be presenting the Seguin Island laboratory in Boulogne-Billancourt, according to the scenario envisaged by Jean Nouvel. In a certain way, this institution, which plays a key role in the pedagogy of the landscape and in the transmission of a “humanism with an urban face”, is at the heart of the city’s contemporary changes and the legitimate debates that accompany them.
After the Parc Citroën, designed by Jean-Paul Viguier and Gilles Clément, the Balard site will mark a new stage in the urban transformation of the 15th arrondissement. And I do not forget that the Triangle tower, designed by the Swiss architects Herzog and Meuron, a few meters from the site of Balard, Portes de Versailles, will also change the face of the capital.
As a «ruse of history», the Hexagon and the Triangle come to take over the spirit of Haussmann geometry, with the spirit of finesse that characterizes the contemporary practice of architecture, which today makes understanding with reality its very principle of existence.
I wish this exhibition all the success and attention of the public. It shows how Greater Paris is at work today and how the cultural and landscape dimension is part of this ambition for the metropolis of the 21st century. In a certain way, the architectural project of the Ministry of Defense in the Balard district reflects the demands that could be placed on the metropolis of the 21st century: a metropolis close to the expectations of its inhabitants, a metropolis with revitalized neighborhoods, a metropolis that respects environmental standards but also a cybercity connected to the global network, a “window” to understand a global world with ever more unstable balances.