Are Paris’ beautiful Haussmann buildings stopping the city cooling down?

Paris' iconic architectural style - from its limestone facades to its shimmering zinc roofs - may bring in millions of tourists each year but can combine to create a hell-scape for residents during a heatwave.

Are Paris' beautiful Haussmann buildings stopping the city cooling down?
All photos: AFP

As climate change makes extremes such as the record-breaking temperature peaks roasting northern Europe this week more likely, the City of Light is locked in a battle to future-proof itself against heatwaves to come while preserving its heritage. 

It may even be Paris' unique architectural integrity that makes adapting to warmer climates such a challenge: 80 percent of its buildings were built before 1945. 

Some brick-facaded “hotels” – old boarding houses still standing in the historic Marais quarter – date to the 17th Century, and its unmistakeable  Hausmmannian style harks back to the eponymous urban planner in the 19th.

READ ALSO Scientists explain the 'heat sink' effect that makes Paris feel like an oven

This means many of Paris' most authentic buildings weren't built to any discernable heat efficiency standard. 

The mayor's office has a plan for Paris to be carbon neutral by 2050, and its old buildings make that especially challenging.

Old residential buildings account for as much as 15 percent of the capital's greenhouse gas emissions, according to housing group Apur. 

Net-zero by mid-century would need 40,000 residences to be retrofitted and to reduce emissions — every single year until 2050, according to the Paris Climate Agency (APC). 

But they also need to be rendered habitable as temperatures exceeding 40C become less and less of an aberration in the years to come.

Old buildings do have some advantages, said Fabien Gantois, from the Order of Architects of Ile-de-France.  

“They adjoin each other and have reduced exchanges with external hot air,” he told AFP. “And the stone facades have the capacity to keep things cooler.”

Many also have courtyards that helps air to circulate. 

But Parisian buildings contribute to residents' misery in other ways.

Their roofs “are not isolated, not ventilated, normally made of zinc or slate, which are dark materials,” said Gantois.

Roofs painted white or containing vegetation would be far better at mitigating soaring temperatures. 

The courtyards also provide another opportunity for cooling while windows let in a huge amount of heat although it is relatively cheap and easy to fit  them with heat-reflecting material.

Being France, all this work needs paperwork to get done. In Paris specifically architects charged with conserving historic buildings often have their say over upgrades.

“There's no doctrinaire opposition,” insisted Fabrice Fouriaux, from the APC, stressing that the green light depends “on the quality of the projects”.

Nor is it easy to convince owners that the long term benefits of climate-proofing their homes is worth the initial outlay, which can be significant.

The APC has launched a dedicated website for owners and landlords looking to upgrade. 

“What do they have to gain? Energy savings and an improved living environment,” said Fouriaux.

For Gantois, there's an important balance between modernising buildings and maintaining Paris' unique aesthetic.

“The Haussmannian city was conceived with the idea of harmony…. We're not going to replace something seen nowhere else with something seen everywhere else,” he said.

But even the purest of architectural traditionalists recognise that something needs doing about the roofs.

Member comments

  1. The simplest and most efficient answer is to paint the roofs with a reflective elastomeric white paint. It’s being done here in Hawaii. The cooler temperatures are impressive, especially on hot days. We’ve been setting high temperature records on a daily basis. Not only such coatings reflect heat, they also seal roofs and they protect the roofing material from the sun.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Striking workers block Paris airport terminal, flights delayed

Striking airport workers have blocked part Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, with some flights already delayed by at least one hour.

Striking workers block Paris airport terminal, flights delayed
Striking airport workers outside Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris. Photo: Geoffroy van der Hasselt | AFP

Last month, trade unions representing workers at the Aéroports de Paris (ADP) – the city’s Charles-de-Gaulle-Roissy and Orly airports – called for a strike between July 1st and July 5th in an ongoing dispute between French airport workers and bosses over contract renegotiations.

A second wave of protests are expected next week, after a strike notice was filed for July 9th.

Tensions mounted on Friday morning as some 400 protesters staged a raucous demonstration at CDG’s terminal 2E, which mostly deals with flights outside the Schengen zone, as police officers looked on.

At Orly airport, meanwhile, some 250 people demonstrated “outside”, while a small group was inside.

The dispute is over a long-term plan by ADP to bring in new work contracts for employees at the airports, which unions say will lower pay, job losses and a reduction in rights and bonuses for employees.

The strike is being jointly called by the CGT, CFE-CGE, Unsa, CFDT and FO unions, who said in a joint press release that the proposals will “definitively remove more than a month’s salary from all employees and force them to accept geographical mobility that will generate additional commuting time”.

Unions say that staff face dismissal if they do not sign the new contracts.

ADP said on Wednesday that it expected ‘slight delays for some flights but no cancellations’ to services – but it urged travellers to follow its social media operations for real-time updates.

On Thursday, the first day of action, 30 percent of flights were delayed between 15 minutes and half-an-hour.

ADP’s CEO Augustin de Romanet had said on Tuesday that ‘everything would be done to ensure no flight is cancelled’. 

ADP reported a loss of €1.17 billion in 2020. 

Stressing that discussions are continuing over the proposed new contracts, the CEO called for “an effort of solidarity, with a red line: no forced layoffs.”