France surrenders to Neo-Classicism

French architectural firm Atelier Zündel Cristea (AZC), has proposed formal plans to build an inflatable trampoline bridge across the Seine River in Paris. AZC claims, “the bridge in Paris, allows us to locate an architectural reflection within the same realm of contemporary urban enjoyment.” And despite protests that the audacious modern design would be a blemish on classically-styled Paris, AZC’s bridge won an award in a 2012 design competition hosted by the progressive ArchTriumph competition series. The bridge is obviously unsafe and completely gaudy, but to award such bold new style is to evoke the essence of the revolutionary Frenchman.

Paris trampoline bridge – full-time lifeguards needed

To quote the chief argument against the audacious bridge proposal: A writer for BuzzPatrol says, “One wonders where the on-call paramedic will be located, because as anyone who has used a trampoline regularly will know, there is going to be lots of bloody noses, busted elbows, twisted ankles and sore brainpans!” (via

In support of the trampoline bridge, designer AZC says: “The sides of each [of three] section[s] flip up to keep people from falling over… the design is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than building a new bridge.(via

But to the French, there’s a bigger issue than public safety at stake. French citizens who support the classically-styled projection of their culture claim that allowing the construction of such modern-style architecture is offensive to the visage, or “face,” of France. Meanwhile, artists who are progressive and modern in their style continue to encroach upon the refined classicism of Paris. A closer look at the proposed architecture reveals that even some of the new designs are indeed respectful of the classic style’s definitions, parameters, and values.

Oh! The French cultural identity! Viva la France!!

For a perspective crash-course, classicism is defined by worldly ideas originating from antiquity which “primarily express and set standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate”, that is “formal balance, clarity, manliness, and vigor in art”. Yes, manliness. Today, arts and sciences are still considered “Classical,” while modern movements overlap, which still see themselves as “aligned with light, space, sparseness of texture, and formal coherence.” (Wikipedia, Classicism).

Refer to a related case, where the French have gone ham on matters of cultural identity: The French have formed prominent committees to investigate, regulate, define, and refine language and art as representations of their distinguished culture. They’re all about refinement in enrichment. The Académie française (French Academy), which is part of the French government, arose in 1635 during the height of classicism. The French Academy still wields the same authority today as it did upon its inception. Its members are known as “immortals.” As a statement, an ex officio member of the Academy is The French Association for Standardization. Also notably, the French Academy has a Law Commission permanently assigned to the Academy of Sciences.

Contextually, it is important to credit Cardinal Richelieu with all of this, under French King Louis XIV, a.k.a. the Sun King. Louis XIV was the epitome of the absolute ruler, Hobbes’s Leviathan, and a great patron of the art. His most famous achievement was the building of the grand Versailles Palace, and, according to french philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), is responsible for the French Revolution. Big time.

So, by the 1970s the French Academy was tasked with ensuring that terminology within France, such as is found on labeling, in advertising, and in broadcasting, was Academy-approved French terminology. No new slang. But a complete overhaul of French language law in the 1990s brought about the creation of Paris’s General Commission of Terminology and Neologisms as a prominent new major player on the cultural enrichment scene. The Commission is tasked, in every department and profession in France, with the responsibility for keeping current the new day’s words, that is to say, “to establish an inventory of cases where it is desirable to complete the French vocabulary, taking into account the needs expressed.” So it’s the old Academy dueling with the new Commission. It’s a big job to “ensure harmonization and relevance” of your cultural legacy.

There was a big fuss when the modern technological term “cloud computing“ arrived on the Commission’s agenda in October 2009.

Sacré bleu! Revolution is as French as baguettes and Louis Vuitton.  The French take pride in their people’s repertoire for fighting for a cause. The defiant spirit exists in today’s neo-classic artists. Revolution is in keeping with French heritage. Although pride likely doesn’t stem from how many wars France has won, the people pride themselves on acknowledging, defining, understanding, and appreciating the human person and their existence. This notion has been popular since Pascal’s provocative Pensees in the 1600s. Since then, existentialism has been an undeniably pervasive quality of modern French culture. As culture is dynamic, to describe the surge in audaciously modern proposals by architects in Paris today, one might allude to the spirit of the cultural Renaissance, or “rebirth.”

I’m saying, “Hey, Frenchies,” if language is making slow progress, go big through architecture. And they had best get to it! After all, one mustn’t forget how the French were slighted during the London 2012 Olympics, when The International Olympic Committee defended the sparse use of French, even though it was the official language of the Games.  Ouch.  What else is new?

Returning commentary to the realm of architecture, recall there was a fit when the glass pyramid was added to the Louvre museum in Paris. The striking contrast of architectural styles speaks volumes, in itself, about the depth of the controversy surrounding it. Opponents claim it is too modern while proponents explain its classic virtue.

1989 Controversial modern pyramid addition to classical Louvre Museum, Paris

The same arguments were made surrounding the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1887. It is difficult to accurately gauge the existing support for the emergence of such audacious modern-classical architecture in a classically-dominated France, although news media coverage of new defiant art and architecture proposals has increased considerably in recent years.

A recent example of efforts to preserve French influential progressive architecture comes from an American Atlantic Cities article, “France should Honor Le Corbusier like we honor Frank Lloyd Wright” (Oct 11, 2012. Atlantic Cities).

Frank Lloyd Wright vis-à-vis Le Corbusier architecture


Le Corbusier’s work should be in (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) UNESCO’s World Heritage status so its influence on modern art and architecture is preserved.

It’s that little bit of… “Je ne sais quoi?” the French selectively imbibe and exude which we are attracted to. The concern of the citizens in maintaining quality control over their established cultural benchmarks is as admirable a characteristic as the importance today placed on continuing to introduce new French ideas to the gauntlet today. It’s all about enrichment. The people will fight to ensure it. This influence is reflected on to architecture as an outlet of cultural expression in which the people have a vote, and is also the source of controversy surrounding progressive neo-classic artists. I love to see bold designs defining a new era in France while strict classicists squirm at the sight and toil over antiquated perspectives.

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