Scaffolding or modern art? Jury out on new Paris fountains

Expensive decorative scaffolding, or a welcome addition to the French capital's most famous avenue? New designer fountains on the Champs-Elysees have reopened a debate in Paris about how to add modern twists to the city's beloved classic architecture.

Scaffolding or modern art? Jury out on new Paris fountains
Photo: AFP

Located at a roundabout around halfway between Tuileries Garden and the Arc

de Triomphe, the fountains were inaugurated by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo on March 21st, and have divided opinion in the City of Light.

“When you're close up, it's original, but when you go down the Champs-Elysees and you look at them all together, you might think that it's a bunch of scaffolding that's been put up and needs to come down at some point,” one long-time resident grumbled to AFP as she walked past.

The six shiny fountains, which rotate to mimic the swirling traffic at the busy intersection, resemble oversized pencils jutting into the air.

Each fountain is comprised of a four-storey-high, bronze-alloy pole that supports three descending arms made of pieces of Swarovski cut crystal studded with LED lights that sparkle at night.

Other Parisians are pleased with the result.

“It's better than before,” said Ibrahim Ngaiye, a bicycle courier for the food delivery service Glovo, who was waiting for his next order.

“Before, there were just trees, trash cans and smaller fountains. The roundabout's better like this.”

The structures, designed by brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec to replace a set of stone fountains that had fallen into disrepair, pack nearly three tonnes of crystal.

The 6.3-million-euro project is the first major initiative of the Paris Foundation, which was established in 2015 to raise money for public projects with a “strong emphasis” on contemporary art.

The project was fully funded by private donations and helped along by a significant discount on the crystal.

Introducing modern art to the streets of Paris has often been controversial, and many residents object to what they see as eyesores — or frivolous projects financed with public money.

At the end of 2017, a public campaign was launched to prevent the installation of a privately funded sculpture of giant tulips by artist Jeff Koons which was “gifted” to the city after the 2015 Paris terror attacks.

Just over a year after its inauguration, many residents of the poverty-wracked Porte de Clignancourt area on the northern edge of the city are still unhappy with a giant red heart installed on a pole that cost 650,000 euros in public money.

And some locals still cringe at the memory of a giant sculpture appearing to show a man having sex with an animal that was destined for the gardens in front of the Louvre, and another that resembled a sex toy erected in the middle of the Place Vendome, opposite the Ritz hotel.

Perhaps the most controversial of all was the publicly financed glass-and-metal pyramid installed in front of the Louvre palace in 1989 in central Paris.

Designed by the Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, it was denounced by some at the time for ruining the sight of the former royal palace, but has since become a popular attraction in its own right.

Nadia, who runs a newsstand near the new fountains, said she found them particularly attractive after the sun goes down.

“At night, they sparkle,” she told AFP. “With the jets of water coming out of the bottom, it looks like a rocket that's taking off.”

READ ALSO: Paris' Arc de Triomphe will be all wrapped up with special artwork

Member comments

  1. I remember a similar broohaha over the iconic Louvre pyramid, and I thought that that turned out rather well.
    Very French in statement and a bold juxtaposition with the classic style; I look forward to seeing the new installations in their refurbished surroundings.

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Revealed: The fastest way to get across Paris

Car, moped, public transport, or electric bicycle - which means of transport is the quickest way to get across Paris?

Revealed: The fastest way to get across Paris

One intrepid reporter for French daily Le Parisien decided to find out. 

The challenge was simple. Which mode of transport would get the journalist from the heart of Fontenay-sous-Bois in the eastern suburbs to the newspaper’s office on Boulevard de Grenelle, west Paris, fastest?

Over four separate journeys, each one in the middle of rush hour, the electric bicycle was quickest and easiest. More expensive than conventional bikes, electric bikes do come with a government subsidy.

The journey was described as ‘pleasant and touristy’ on a dry but chilly morning going via dedicated cycle lanes that meant the dogged journalist avoided having to weave in and out of traffic.

It took, in total, 47 minutes from start to finish at an average speed of 19km/h, on a trip described as “comfortable” but with a caveat for bad weather. The cost was a few centimes for charging up the bike.

In comparison, a car journey between the same points took 1 hour 27 minutes – a journey not helped by a broken-down vehicle. Even accounting for that, according to the reporter’s traffic app, the journey should – going via part of the capital’s southern ringroad – have taken about 1 hr 12.

Average speed in the car was 15km/h, and it cost about €2.85 in diesel – plus parking.

A “chaotic and stressful” moped trip took 1 hour 3 minutes, and cost €1.30 in unleaded petrol.

Public transport – the RER and Metro combined via RER A to Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile then Metro line 6 to the station Bir-Hakeim – took 50 minutes door to door, including a 10-minute walk and cost €2.80. The journey was described as “tiring”.

READ ALSO 6 ways to get around Paris without the Metro