Evening city-scape view of Square Jean XXIII featuring Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Art and culture

The history of Paris in six architects

February 28, 2022

From the Louvre to the Philharmonie de Paris, Paris is home to some of the world’s most evocative buildings. Here we discover six architects behind some of the City of Light’s landmarks and explore how they shaped its history.
View of Le Louvre Museum in Paris by night

Pierre Lescot

One of the French Renaissance’s most renowned architects, Pierre Lescot (1515–1578) designed the Louvre, home of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’. Few people are aware that it was a royal residence for Francis I before becoming a museum. Francis I commissioned Lescot in 1546 to rebuild it on the site of a 12th century fortress. The works continued into the reigns of King Henry II and Charles IX, however it wasn’t until after the French Revolution that a permanent museum was established, in 1793. The instantly recognisable glass pyramid was then added in the late 1980s by Chinese-American architect I M Pei.

Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc

Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879), along with French architect Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus, is best known for his work on Notre-Dame de Paris, whose original structure dates back to the 12th century and embodies the French Gothic style. During the 1789 French Revolution, the cathedral was looted by mobs who decapitated more than a dozen statues. Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, Notre-Dame of Paris, raised awareness about its decrepit state and, thanks in part to the novel, Viollet-le-Duc and Lassus created the cathedral’s Gothic sacristy and rebuilt the spire and flying buttresses, completing its restoration in 1864.

6 Parvis Notre-Dame, Place Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris

Portrait of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet le Duc, architect of Paris
View of the Auditorium from La Seine Musicale in Paris

Jean de Gastines

Born in Morocco, French architect Jean de Gastines worked with Frank Gehry before setting up Jean de Gastines Architects in 1985. Gastines has worked on winery buildings in South Africa and French spas, but is best known for collaborating with Pritzker Prize-winner Shigeru Ban on La Seine Musicale, a performing arts centre on an island in the River Seine that serves as a gateway to western Paris. The glass-and-timber venue resembles a ship and features a sail of solar panels, as well as a park on its roof, and the auditorium feels welcoming, with wooden panels and paper tubes to optimise acoustics.

La Seine Musicale, Île Seguin, 92100 Paris

Charles Garnier

Charles Garnier (1825–1898) studied at École des Beaux-Arts before working as a draughtsman in Viollet-le-Duc’s studio. After winning the Prix de Rome for architecture in 1848 and studying in Italy, Garnier returned to Paris and in 1861 won a competition to design the Palais Garnier opera house, which he completed in 1875. Fromental Halévy’s work La Juive was the first opera to be performed here in 1875. Look up to admire the beautiful ceiling, featuring Marc Chagall’s paintings of opera scenes.

Place de l’Opéra, 75009 Paris

The Palais Garnier
External view of Philharmonie in Paris
© William Beaucardet

Jean Nouvel

The 2008 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel has worked on a number of international projects, from the Doha Tower and Arab World Institute to Philharmonie de Paris, which opened in January 2015. This unique concert hall features sweeping waves of concrete and steel, a sloping metal roof visitors can climb onto, and cladding covered with hundreds of thousands of aluminium birds. The acoustic panels in the 2,400-seat symphony hall are also reminiscent of birds in flight. While the project was controversial from the start, it played a vital role in revitalising the Porte de Pantin area in the north east of Paris.

221 avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris

Georges-Eugène Haussmann

What would Paris be like without Haussmann’s extraordinary designs? So many ‘Haussmannian’ buildings are part of our daily landscape. The esteemed architect’s transformation of the city took place when Emperor Napoleon III gave him the task of beautifying, enlarging and cleaning up Paris in 1853. Haussmann created wide avenues, sweeping boulevards, established rules for the style of new buildings, and expanded the city from 12 to 20 districts. He created a square for each district, designed dozens of parks and gardens, and constructed new churches, bridges, theatres and railway stations – many of which are still enjoyed today.

View on Paris from Galerie Lafayette terrace

The City of Light’s finest architectural landmarks and museums can be found just a short distance from Le Meurice and Hôtel Plaza Athénée.

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