Le Parc de la Villette is by far the biggest park and green space in Paris. Originally the site of Paris’ old abattoirs (slaughterhouses), it was developed into a park in 1983 by deconstructionist architect Bernard Tschumi. The project was a huge one, the aim being to introduce a number of new cultural institutions to the east side of Paris, which has historically always been more industrial. The project defined itself as ‘a theoretical and conceptual reflection of the place of nature in a post-industrial city,’ and the result is a pioneering architectural statement and a host of rich, multidisciplinary cultural spaces. La Villette is spread across 55 hectares, over which a great number of music venues, showcase spaces, and cafés have been and continue to be built – the latest addition being the spectacular Philarmonie de Paris. The other most significant building is La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, the huge science and industry museum, which is France’s eighth most visited cultural site. Another noteworthy characteristic of the park is La Géode, a geodesic dome which serves as a 3D IMAX cinema, along with le Zénith, one of Paris’ most famous music venues. Water is also a distinctive feature: the Canal de l’Ourcq bisects the park’s space, allowing barges and small boats to contribute to the urban landscape. A large part of the park is dedicated to the art of circus and hosts some of the world’s most spectacular shows, as well as a large contemporary dance repertoire. In case we haven’t made it clear enough, this incredibly rich and diverse park in a forgotten corner of Paris is home to some of the city’s greatest cultural events.
La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie
This incredible building, which is in a way reflective of the Centre Georges Pompidou, was inaugurated in 1986 and is still today one of France’s most visited cultural institutions. If you’ve already seen or heard of the Pompidou, the similarity in design and architecture will strike you. The reason why it attracts so many visitors is because the inside of it is like walking into a galactic spaceship. It’s definitely an incredible experience to bring your children here, and part of this massive building will soon be transformed into a shopping mall and a huge IMAX cinema. The incredible diversity of the exhibitions is what makes the Cité des Sciences so worthwhile: indeed, the massive space is divided into multiple different themes including ‘The Great Story Of The Universe’, ‘Math’, ‘Man And His Genes’, ‘Sound’, and ‘The Planetarium’, which is an immersive, breathtaking replica of the universe and all of its planets. A few meters away from the complex is La Géode, the giant ‘mirror ball’, a unique movie and events venue that hosts a 1,000-square-meter IMAX screen and that has been declared a French monument. Next to this, you’ll find L’Argonaute, a real 1950s submarine, which has been transformed into a museum in order to offer visitors a glimpse into the everyday life and challenges of an immersed crew.
La Grande Halle de La Villette
This building is one of the highlights of the park and is located on the opposite side, towards the Porte de Pantin entrance and right next to La Cité de la Musique. This architectural wonder is where an approximate 5,000 cattle were stocked when the place was an abattoir. Today, it houses a far more jolly bunch of activities including art installations, international fairs, and big music festivals. It is a delightful space with which to play, and a lot of significant artists have used it to showcase their work including contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who presented her famous Dots Obsession here in 2008. Since 2014, La Grande Halle has also welcomed ‘The International Tattoo Fair’ which has been a spectacular success, with an attendance of 28,000 in 2014 and 32,000 in 2015. Another mentionable annual event held in La Grande Halle is the Pitchfork Music Festival, at the end of October. Also in October is ComicCon, the internationally renowned pop culture festival originating from San Diego, California – in 2015 it took over the Grande Halle for the first time with a handful of the moment’s hottest TV actors. The rest of the year, it’s used as a place of cultural exchange and has been classified a French heritage building. Last but not least, one of La Villette’s most sensational annual events is ‘Jazz à la Villette’, a one-of-a-kind musical gathering that brings together some of the jazz world’s biggest names every September.
La Philarmonie de Paris and La Cité de la Musique
The Paris Philharmonic, or as we call it, La Philharmonie de Paris, is an incredible piece of architecture and represents the latest addition to the urban landscape. The building was inaugurated in January 2015 and was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, to whom Paris also owes Le Musée du Quai Branly and L’Institut du Monde Arabe. The concept behind the building, which is made from minerals, was for it to be visible and to glow for miles around. At sunrise and sunset, the setting and rising sun’s light is reflected in the mirrored facade of the building, giving it a magnificent pinkish glow that can be seen all the way from the periphery of the city. The Philharmonie makes up one part of La Cité de la Musique, which also includes a musical library and a museum devoted to music that has hosted exhibitions in tribute to Serge Gainsbourg and David Bowie. The Philaharmonie/Cité de la Musique lives in close proximity to other high-profile music venues like Le Trabendo, Le Zénith, and Paris’ main Music Conservatory, making La Villette the biggest concentration of music venues in Paris. Since its grand opening, La Philarmonie has hosted a huge variety of performers and orchestras on its stage, combining a classical repertoire with a more diversified and contemporary one, a pattern on which La Villette prides itself.