Musée d'Orsay: Victor Baltard and the Central Markets of Paris

Victor Baltard and the Central Markets of Paris

The Urban Practice of Architecture: Victor Baltard and the Central Markets of Paris

Christopher Mead, University of New Mexico

Christopher Mead
I thank the Musée d’Orsay and especially Alice Thomine-Berrada for inviting me to speak on the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition of Victor Baltard. It is a happy coincidence that this exhibition coincides with my book on the municipal career of Victor Baltard: Making Modern Paris: Victor Baltard’s Central Markets and the Urban Practice of Architecture. Designed by Victor Baltard, the Halles centrales de Paris were built in phases between 1854 and 1874. Until they were demolished in 1971, the markets stood in the heart of Paris as a material demonstration of the city’s transformation and modernization under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Préfet de la Seine from 1853 to 1870. The first public buildings in the city to be constructed entirely from iron, brick, glass, and milled lumber, the markets marked a significant moment in the industrialization and standardization of architecture during the nineteenth century. At the same time, the markets were instruments of urban renewal, which turned a decayed medieval quarter of Paris into a rational, orderly grid of pavilions and streets. Industrial and utilitarian, the Halles centrales presented a radically new conception of architecture, one that apparently broke with tradition and the city’s own historical patterns of development, and answered instead to the city’s new economic realities and functional conditions. As Bertrand Lemoine explained in 1980, Baltard’s pavilions and covered streets were industrial machines that “s’incrivent… dans un système autonome, complet, indépendent de la ville sur laquelle elles s’implantent comme un corps étranger.”
But were the Halles centrales really so foreign to the historic city in which they were built? This is the question I address in my book on Victor Baltard. I argue that the Halles centrales in fact were not alien to Paris, but instead took both their formal and spatial character as public buildings from the historic urban forms and spaces of the city itself. I will summarize this argument in my talk today. First, I will distinguish between functional and typological readings of the markets. Then I will consider how Baltard combined urban planning and architecture in a design that reconciled the traditional form of the city with its radical industrialization in the nineteenth century.

For much of their history, the Halles centrales have been understood and explained in utilitarian terms, as industrial metal sheds whose form resulted directly from their function. As the modernists liked to say, form follows function. The ten original pavilions and connecting covered streets that made up the markets served as a specialized space for marketing and distributing food in a rapidly growing metropolis: at once, they were zoned into separate pavilions for different categories of food, and integrated by their streets into an efficient transportation network. Part of the same system of circulation that circled the city with boulevards and train stations, the Halles centrales concentrated foodstuffs on one site in order to distribute them again across the city. Armand Husson—Saint-Simonian economist, city official, and participant with Baltard in planning the markets—quantified this system in his book, Les Consommations de Paris, with editions of 1856 and 1875.

By 1872, when the population of Paris had risen to nearly 2 million, Husson calculated that Parisians consumed every year more than 1 million kilos of solid foods and nearly 600 millions liters of fluids. To feed this appetite, nearly 5 million kilotons of goods were delivered daily by train to the eight railroad stations of Paris. Husson estimated that each day an average of 4,500 horse drawn wagons and hand carts were used to transport food in the city, delivering it first to the Halles centrales and then distributing it from there to the local markets, shops, and restaurants spread across Paris.

In 1873, Emile Zola borrowed a metaphor already in use by 1854 to describe the Halles centrales as “le ventre de Paris” in his novel of that same name. But this was a mechanized belly of the Industrial Revolution, “une machine moderne… quelque chaudière destine à la disgestion d’un people, gigantesque ventre de métal, boulonné, rivé, fait de bois, de verre et de fonte, d’une élégance et d’une puissance de moteur mécanique.” The machine age had arrived, and with it a strange new kind of architecture. The difference from traditional buildings was clear. Contemporary state monuments like the Nouvel Opéra by Charles Garnier upheld the conventions of French classicism, cladding its structure with classical orders and sculptural decoration, hiding its extensive use of iron between masonry façades.
The utilitarian architecture of the Halles centrales stripped away those conventions, leaving behind only the bare facts of its structure: curtain walls of brick, wood, and glass, held in place by an exposed iron framework of cast and wrought iron that covered some 40,000 square meters of open interior space beneath a continuous, protective roof.

Dissolving the familiar differences between street and building, outside and inside, public and private, the markets combined pavilions and streets into a single, transparent and rational system. No longer were buildings finite, closed objects, enclosed by opaque masonry walls and isolated from each other by streets and squares. At the markets, architecture abandoned its classical conception as a unified, bounded, and self-contained whole. It now became an additive and open-ended system of repeating, interchangeable units that, from the structure to the spaces, could be extended indefinitely until the program’s functional demands had been satisfied.

This utilitarian thesis was dominant until the Halles centrales were demolished in 1971. From their origins, the function of the markets had been complicated by their location in the heart of Paris. The historic quartier des Halles had housed a marketplace since the twelfth century. But what began as the Marché des Champeaux in a field outside the city was absorbed into the growing metropolis, with the result that a peripheral site became a central location. In a city that was growing rapidly larger, more populous, and more crowded in the nineteenth century, this centrality complicated the purpose of the Halles: food transported into Paris every day from outside the city first had to be brought all the way into the congested center before being taken back out again to every corner of the city. The Halles were already doomed to obsolescence by the late nineteenth century, when refrigeration began to eliminate the need to distribute food to the city on a daily basis. By the 1950s, the quartier des Halles had been targeted by city planners, who wanted to eradicate what had become an area of drug trafficking and prostitution.

Only nostalgia delayed until 1969 the decision to replace the Halles centrales with a new marketing center at Rungis, a transportation hub located at the edge of the city where delivery trucks had easy access from the périphérique. For a few brief years, from 1969 until 1971, the empty Halles centrales became a multi-functional space for performances, exhibitions, and cultural events. Their demolition in 1971 left behind a void, stretching for blocks and filled, incompletely and inconclusively, with the urban clutter of a subway station, a shopping mall, and a park.

The demolition of the Halles centrales provoked a fierce debate between functionalists and preservationists, a debate that can be compared in its importance to the one provoked in the United States by the demolition in 1963 of Pennsylvania Station in New York City. The functionalists argued that the pavilions deserved to be torn down because they had long ago outlived their practical purpose. The preservationists responded that the pavilions were much more than utilitarian structures with a single function: instead, they were perfectly flexible spaces that could be adapted to multiple uses. Sadly, this debate came too late to save the markets, although it did prepare the way for the change in official attitudes that explains why the Gare d’Orsay became the Musée d’Orsay in 1986, instead of being torn down as another useless relic of the Industrial Revolution. More immediately, the debate prompted a critical reexamination of the historical significance of the Halles centrales. This critical reexamination came in three stages.

First, in 1977, Françoise Boudon and a team of scholars investigated the Halles centrales as part of a “système d’architecture urbaine” that shaped the development of the quartier des Halles from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries. According to Boudon, the Halles centrales radically transformed the quarter even as “la topographie ancienne contrarie à tout moment le systématisme du nouvel urbanisme.” Next, in 1980, Bertrand Lemoine complemented Boudon’s urban history with an architectural history that documented the sequence of proposals for a new Halles centrales, from the eighteenth century through Baltard’s definitive project of 1854. For Lemoine, the markets could be understood formally both as individual pavilions separated by streets, and as a single urban space that turned streets into interiors and opened up each pavilion as a public square. Then, in 1994, David Van Zanten studied the three final phases of planning the markets, between 1845 and 1854, in order to trace how the progressively more regular schemes for the Halles quarter were generated by a process of speculation, compromise, and negotiation. He concluded that Baltard and Haussmann had together formulated “a new concept of commercial urbanism” based in the economic logic of property lines, lots plans, and real estate development.

Boudon, Lemoine, and Van Zanten shifted our historical understanding of the Halles Centrales, away from their utility to a new focus upon their urban form: in their studies, the function of the markets to sell food matters less than the urban conditions that shaped the markets as forms in the city. Their studies justified the critical shift from functional to typological definitions of the city found in contemporary studies like Aldo Rossi’s L'architettura della città published in 1966.

Citing the earlier research of Marcel Poète and Pierre Lavedan, Rossi defined the city as a work of art whose buildings are complex urban artifacts produced, not by the changing functional needs of the city, but rather by the persistence of its typical forms over time, particularly its streets, housing blocks, and monuments. In 1976, Anthony Vidler clarified this typological understanding of the city and its buildings in an essay on “The Third Typology”: after the first typology of nature, realized in Laugier’s cabane, and the second typology of industry, realized in Le Corbusier’s machine à habiter, comes the third typology of the city, realized in Rossi’s urban artifacts. According to Vidler, this “third typology” looks at “the nature of the city itself, emptied of specific social content from any particular time and allowed to speak simply of its own formal condition.”

The work of Boudon, Lemoine, and Van Zanten takes us to the edge of my thesis that Baltard based his design of the Halles centrales on the historic urban forms of Paris. But there is critical difference between their arguments and mine: Boudon, Lemoine, and Van Zanten each continued to see the markets as examples of Haussmannian planning that broke radically with the city’s earlier patterns of development. The reasons for this are complex, but the one I want to examine here is the enduring skepticism that Baltard was qualified to design the markets. Already in his lifetime, Baltard was accused of stealing ideas from experts better qualified to design such a progressive work of industrial engineering, particularly the engineer Eugène Flachat and the radical architect Hector Horeau.

We doubt that an architect like Baltard, trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, had the requisite skill and imagination to design such a radically modern work. Beaux-Arts architects were trained to produce monuments like the Paris Opera, with its functionally elaborate program, its layered sequence of processional spaces and expressive volumes, and its confident adaption of historical models to modern building technologies. The Central Markets, with its simple program, repetitive modular grid of space, and frankly revealed industrial structure, did not employ the techniques Beaux-Arts composition.

This doubt about the qualifications of Baltard to design the markets was codified as historical fact at the end of the nineteenth century in the Mémoires of Haussmann. Baltard had been named architect of the markets in 1845, along with his municipal colleague, Félix Callet. In 1851, Baltard and Callet began construction of the markets with a design for eight masonry pavilions with roofs resting inside on iron arches and columns. Président Louis-Napoléon proclaimed this project to be in the interest of the entire nation when he laid the cornerstone for the first pavilion on 15 September 1851: “En posant la première pierre d’un édifice dont la destination est si éminement populaire, je me livre avec confiance à l’espoir qu’avec l’appui des bons citoyens, et avec la protection du ciel, il nous sera donné de jeter dans le sol de la France quelques fondations sur lesquelles s’élèvera un edifice social assez solide pour offrir un abri contre la violenece et la mobilité des passion humaines.” Instead, as this pavilion neared completion in 1853, it provoked a storm of protest. The monumental walls of limestone that Louis-Napoléon had praised in 1851 were now being attacked in the press for being more like a fortress than a marketplace.
Market employees complained about the awkward circulation of the building and, on 3 June 1853, Napoléon III returned as emperor to a site he had last visited as president and ordered that construction be stopped.

Baltard was relieved of his duties and the project was put on hold until Haussmann was named to replace Jean-Jacques Berger as Préfet de la Seine in that same month of June. As Haussmann remembers in his Mémoires, he first went to the emperor for instructions: “L’Empereur, enchanté de la gare de l’Est… concevait les Halles Centrales construites d’après ce type de hall couvertes en charpentes de fer… ‘Ce sont des vastes parapluies qu’il me faut, rien de plus’ me dit-il un jour… et en m’equissant, par quelques traits de crayon, la silhouette qu’il avait en vue.” Haussmann returned to his office at the Hôtel de Ville, where he coordinated the emperor’s sketch with his new masterplan for the markets as two groups of pavilions divided by a main central street. Then he summoned Baltard to his office, and told him to produce a new project based on the emperor’s sketch and his masterplan. He said to Baltard: “Il s’agit de prendre votre revanche. Faites-moi, au plus vite, un avant-projet suivant ces indications. Du fer, du fer, rien que du fer!” The architect resisted, but capitulated when Haussmann made it clear that his career was at stake. Baltard drew up three alternate projects, one for pavilions with masonry walls and iron roofs, one mixing stone and iron, and one entirely out of iron. After the emperor selected the project in iron, Baltard drew up a revised project in October 1853, which led that same month to his reinstatement as architect of the markets. Construction of the emperor’s iron umbrellas, using Haussmann’s masterplan, began in February 1854. As Haussmann tells the story in his Mémoires, Baltard was little more than a draughtsman, carrying out a design that was actually conceived by the emperor and his prefect.

According to Haussmann, Baltard was “un classique endurci” who looked only to the past, while Napoléon III and Haussman looked to the future with a new kind of architecture, an architecture that replaced aesthetics, tradition, and history with modern criteria of rational planning, industrial utility, and economic efficiency.

The story is clear and compelling, and it explains why the Central Markets continue to be seen as utilitarian instruments of urban renewal that Haussmann imposed like a foreign body both on his reluctant architect and on the city of Paris. But this story is contradicted by the facts of what really happened in the summer of 1853. On 5 July, Baltard did submit three alternate projects to the prefect. But these three projects are dated 13 June and had already been presented to the emperor several weeks before Haussmann arrived in Paris at the end of June. The project described by Haussmann in his Mémoires, incorporating the new central street, was not drawn up until the following October. Haussmann redated this later project to his arrival in Paris and collapsed the projects of June and October into a single moment of decisive intervention. In fact, Haussmann was not the main actor at a pivotal moment in the history of Paris, saving Baltard’s career even as he forced him to redesign one of the most important projects of the Second Empire. Instead, the prefect turns out to have turned up too late, nearly a month after Napoléon III stopped construction on June 3, and a full two-and-half weeks after the architect had himself seized the initiative, not on orders from Haussmann but of his own volition, by radically revising his design of the markets.

We have known that Haussmann exaggerated his role at least since 1980, when Bertrand Lemoine straightened out the design chronology of the markets. If scholars continue to see Baltard as the accidental author of his most famous work, this is for two reasons. In the first place, Baltard himself seems to confirm the judgement of Haussmann that he was “un classique endurci” opposed to the use of iron. In his Monographie des halles centrales, Baltard noted drily that that the original project for the markets had been rejected because “un engouement pronounce pour les constructions en metal, dont les gares des chemins de fer offraient d’intéressants specimen, dominait le gout public et l’éloignait des constructions en pierre.” Later, in his Complément à la monographie, Baltard came bluntly to the point: “…nous avons toujours pensé que le vrai système de construction pour des marchés publics dans nos climats se rencontrerait aujourd’hui dans une combinaison raisonnée de la pierre pour les murs d’entourage, du fer et du bois pour les supports intérieures et pour les toitures.” In thought, if not actual deed, Baltard did resist the emperor’s instructions of the emperor to employ “du fer, du fer, rien que du fer!”

The second reason is that the pavilions of iron and glass seem to reject the historicism that characterizes the rest of his architecture. I represent that work with the final major project of his career, the church of Saint-Augustin on the Boulevard des Malesherbes, designed and built in 1860-68. Shaped volumetrically to its angled site, the church drapes an eclectic curtain of stone on the exterior over an exposed structure of iron on the interior.

The Industrial Revolution is acknowledged, but only when justified by historical sources. Scholars have drawn two, related conclusions from this contradiction: first, that Baltard was a versatile practitioner who did what he was told, but who finally didn’t have any clear ideas of his own beyond a loose and flexible eclecticism; second, that Baltard could never have conceived the industrial and urban architecture of the Halles centrales without the help of Haussmann. Thus David Van Zanten concludes that Baltard was an architect of “unresolved juxtapositions” who was caught between the conditions of modern technology and the “niceties of traditional design.” Pierre Pinon, in his recent biography of both Pierre Baltard and his son, Victor, states that the Halles centrales were the single excursion of Baltard into “le domaine de l’expérimentation,” the one clear exception to the architectural “bricolage” of ad hoc and indiscriminate assemblages of historical styles, building technologies, and functional programs that characterize the rest of his work.

In my book, I challenge this conventional wisdom that everything changed at the markets with the arrival of Haussmann in 1853. Pierre Lavedan, Karen Bowie, François Loyer, Nicholas Papayanis and other scholars have already demonstrated that many of the prefect’s ideas for transforming Paris were already in place by 1853: like so much else in his Mémoires, his attribution of the transformation of Paris to a single imperial sketch, which he alone was able to realize, is a piece of political mythology. Haussmann did not so much create a new plan for Paris, as he took advantage of a planning process that went back at least two decades, and which conveniently reached maturity just at the moment when he arrived in 1853. What Haussmann brought to this process were the political as well as administrative skills needed to push this plan through to completion. This shifts our focus, away from a story of heroic intervention, to a protracted history of collaboration between multiple experts, including municipal architects like Baltard. And this shift in focus opens up another way for us to think, both about Baltard’s design for the Halles centrales, and about the place of those markets in the historic fabric of Paris.

Victor Baltard spent nearly his entire career, from 1840 until his retirement in 1870, working for the Préfecture de la Seine, climbing through the ranks of municipal service until 1860, when he was named Directeur of the newly reorganized municipal Service d’architecture. Over the course of his career, Baltard reported to the prefects Rambuteau, Berger, and Haussmann under three different regimes: July Monarchy, Second Republic, and Second Empire. Against this backdrop of administrative and political change, Baltard worked on the Halles centrales continuously from 1843 until 1870, longer and more consistently than anyone else engaged in the project. Where Haussmann approached the project from the outside in 1853, bringing what he claimed was a fresh perspective, Baltard already knew the project intimately from the inside, as an ongoing process in which he repeatedly redesigned the project in response to the evolving needs and expectations of the municipal administration. Instead of looking at the markets to confirm what changed in 1853, in my book I look at the markets to see how their redesign 1853 resulted from ideas that Baltard and his colleagues had been formulating since 1843.

There are two points to be made. First, throughout the process of planning and design, Baltard drew the form of his markets from the urban conditions and character of the surrounding quartier des Halles. And second, throughout the process of planning and design, Baltard worked to reconcile the historic identity as a city of stone with its industrial transformation in the nineteenth century into a city of iron. What distinguishes his final project for the Halles centrales was not a completely new set of ideas, at least as far as Baltard was concerned, but rather a distillation of ideas he had been contemplating for some time. Out of this distillation came an urban architecture whose forms were at once profoundly historical and radically modern. To explain this distillation, I will review the development of Baltard’s successive projects, in order to document how this process led him to formulate a language of industrial architecture that was based in the urban history of Paris.

From the start of their modern conception in the nineteenth century, the markets were shaped less by their generic function to sell food, than by their specific place within an urban plan to renovate the quarter des Halles. By the mid-nineteenth century, the quarter had become an irregular warren of ramshackle markets sheds surrounded by decrepit housing blocks interrupted by a few monuments, most notably the Renaissance church of Saint-Eustache, and the circular Halle au Blé, built in the eighteenth century to the design of Nicholas le Camus de Mézières. Active planning of both the markets and the Halles quarter began in the late 1830s when the Halles centrales became part of a planning debate over the rapid growth of Paris and the apparent displacement of its population from the center of the city to new districts being developed on the west side of the Right Bank.

This debate raised the question of whether the Halles should remain in their historic location or be moved to another part of the city. Effectively, this question was answered in July 1842, when the Préfet Rambuteau established the Commission administrative des halles and charged it with planning a new Halles centrales at its present site. To assist this Commission, a municipal architecte-voyer named Lahure drew up the third of three masterplans for the site. Identifying the markets as a space of public utility subject to urban planning, Lahure regularized the markets as a coordinated series of pavilions. At the same time, he regularized the surrounding quarter through a series of street alignments, including the new rue de Rambuteau on the north side of the markets.

Exactly when Victor Baltard became involved in the Halles centrales is uncertain. But it was probably soon after April 1843, when the Commission administrative confirmed the decision to rebuilt the markets at their present site. A preliminary scheme by Baltard organized the markets as two clusters of polygonal pavilions, placed to either side of a central square, the Carreau des Halles, and extending from the Halle au Blé down to the rue Saint-Denis. At this stage, Baltard conceived the markets as a monumental complex that, like the Halle au Blé, interrupted the urban fabric of the Halles quarter with geometrically centralized pavilions. A companion sketch suggests that he envisioned a composite structure of masonry walls with metal roofs, like the Halle au Blé, whose original wooden dome had been replaced with one of iron and copper after at fire in 1806.

Two subsequent plans addressed the potential of the markets to organize the surrounding quarter with a pair of intersecting diagonal streets that cross at the Carreau des Halles.
Unlike the first scheme, Baltard was now trying to create a more integrated urban plan: the projected extension of the rue Montmartre formalized the historic diagonal route that cut through the markets from the church of Saint-Eustache; and the more-or-less rectangular pavilions now include two pavilions at the top, whose square plans approximate the footprint of the surrounding housing blocks. Even so, the project still applies the conventional and abstract logic displayed by the Halle au Blé, by developing the plan from the inside out as an independent formal system that is imposed on the irregular grid of housing blocks that actually defines the Halles quarter.

Then, in November 1843, Baltard proposed a radically different solution in the so-called Delessert plan. Drawn up for the Préfet de Police, Gabriel Delessert, who served on the Commission administrative, this plan plots an irregular grid of four approximately rectangular and four approximately square pavilions. This grid weaves the pavilions into a coherent urban fabric that mimics the surrounding quartier des Halles. Two types of street organize the circulation of people and goods: public thoroughfares circle the perimeter and cut across the markets at two points, and service alleys wrap each pavilion. Double rows of trees separate the service alleys from the thoroughfares.
The sectionally zoned space of the markets layers the space continuously from pavilion, to covered sidewalk, to service alley, to rows of trees, to public street, signaling a decisive shift from buildings to streets in planning the markets. At the same time, the surrounding streets and housing blocks have been straightened and aligned. Instead of trying to urbanize the markets through the Baroque device of a square crossed by diagonal avenues, Baltard drew the logic of this plan from the historic growth of the Halles quarter as a gradually more coherent fabric of quadrangular block held together by a cross-axial grid of streets.
The spatial density of this plan, and its conflation of pavilions with streets, anticipated both the final design of the markets and the emphasis placed by Haussmann on streets over buildings in his plan for Paris. Perhaps because this plan was so radical, Baltard retreated to a more conservative architecture for the pavilions was conservative, with wooden roofs on walls of stone.

Baltard followed this plan, directly and without alteration, with his first official plan for the markets. Dated 17 July 1844, this project was approved by the city in September. In August 1845, Baltard and Félix Callet were named architects of the Halles centrales. Callet was a municipal architecte-voyer, charged with regulating street alignments and building façades: even though he played a minor role in the actual design of the markets, and then died of cholera in 1854 at the very start of construction, his selection alongside Baltard spoke to the increasing importance of urban planning to the project.

In August 1848, Baltard and Callet drew up their first fully detailed project for the markets. Based on the official plan of July 1844, they proposed a set of eight pavilions with masonry exteriors: walls rise from stone bases, past metal awnings cantilevered over the sidewalks, and large paired windows between pilaster piers, to reach the light metal frame of a clerestory lantern. Inside, roofs spanning 12 meters are supported on curved trusses of cast and wrought iron that rest in turn on a stacked structure of attenuated cast-iron columns, segmentally arched struts, and round arches. To address lateral forces of sheer, a matter of concern in such a light structure, the structure is tied together by the segmental struts and by the rows of curved purlins in the roof above. The classicizing yet structurally rational pavilions are ingenious statements of progressive thinking about iron architecture at the middle of the nineteenth century.

The next official project by Baltard and Callet was drawn up in June 1851. This project refined both the plan and the architecture of the markets. Modifying street alignments in place since 1843, Baltard and Callet proposed a more consistently symmetrical and rectangular plan. Rectangular end pavilions to the west and east bracket six interior pavilions that cluster along a single transverse street on axis with the Halle au Blé. The transverse street cuts through the two end pavilions to create covered streets. The central group of pavilions is crossed by two interior service streets and is bordered to either side by two public streets that run through the markets. Meant to separate the internal function of the markets to sell food from their external function in the city’s circulation, this plan organized the markets into an urban system whose regular yet inflected grid plots a tightly integrated weave of pavilions and streets. Indeed, the markets were now clearly part of a comprehensive plan for the entire Halles quarter. Published in August 1851, this plan reached all the way from the rue de Rambuteau to the Seine and included the projected extension of the rue de Rivoli. Refining an idea already in place by 1844, this new plan spoke to the double urban identity of the markets: on the one hand, the gridded layout of the markets was drawn from the patterns of the surrounding streets; on the other hand, the regular grid and symmetry of the markets provided an instrument for transforming the rest of the quarter.

For this second project, Baltard and Callet simplified the architecture while keeping the progressive combination of stone and iron found in the previous project of August 1848. On the exterior, streamlined masonry walls are now opened with large segmental arched windows in gable bays, which rise up to the delicate iron and glass canopy of the clerestory lantern. Inside, the iron framework makes efficient use of a curved variant of the Polonceau truss that at once lightens the structure and delineates the structure’s equilibrium between vertical forces of gravity and lateral forces of sheer.

This project was revised in August 1851, and it led in turn to the start of construction for the first pavilion to be built between 1851 and 1853. After the progressive architecture and efficient structure of the two preceding projects, this pavilion was unexpectedly massive and heavy: on the exterior, heavy stone arches; on the interior, sturdy metal arches that rested direct on stone piers set into the walls. Pierced cast-iron panels were screwed to I-beams of sheet-iron to build each arch in voussoir-like pieces, as if the arches were in fact built of stone. As it neared completion, a newspaper observed that the stone walls “sont édifiées avec une telle solidité qu’on dirait presque une veritable fortresse.” After it was finished, César Daly noted that the effect of solidity was achieved at the expense of any economy or efficiency of structure. Baltard answered his critics by explaining that he was simply following the instructions he was given, and indeed both the monumentality of the pavilion, and its troublesome corner entrances, had been stipulated in the official program.

AnonymousView of Les Halles in Paris, taken from the upper gallery of Saint-Eustache church© Musée d'Orsay / Sophie Boegly

But I think that Baltard had another motive behind these official commands. When he was forced to step back from the more progressive architecture of the two previous projects, he turned to the adjacent church of Saint-Eustache. Visual continuities between the round arches shaping both buildings extend to their interchangeable use of stone or iron in structures of arched compression. Baltard was charged with the restoration of Saint-Eustache between 1842 and 1860, and its monumental presence in the quartier des Halles became increasingly evident as the site of the markets was cleared of existing buildings in preparation for the new construction. By directing his attention to Saint-Eustache, the redesigned pavilion marked an important stage in the development of Baltard’s thinking about the urban architecture of the markets. On the one hand, their form was now consciously modeled on a regularized version of the quarter’s grid of housing blocks and street. On the other hand, Baltard began to think how the markets, as public buildings, were like the monuments that, like the church of Saint Eustache, punctuated the quartier des Halles. In 1851, Baltard’s attempt to synthesize these two models of housing block and monument produced an unhappy pastiche. But the idea reappeared in his definitive project of 1853-1854.

The final master plan for the markets and the quartier des Halles was developed between June 1853 and March 1854. The pavilions were now clustered as two groups of four and six pavilions to either side of a single cross street, the future rue Baltard. Diagonal streets radiate from the south side of the markets, interrupting the quarter’s grid of streets but serving to link the markets directly with the rue de Rivoli and the Seine. When the Conseil des bâtiments civils reviewed this plan in 1854, they criticized both the street intersecting through the markets, and the fragmentation of the quarter into multiple small blocks crossed by diagonal streets. A city official sent by Haussmann explained to the Conseil that the plan was designed both to serve the internal needs of the markets, and to connect the quarter with the rest of the city. He also informed the Conseil that the plan had been worked out personally by the prefect in consultation with Napoléon III. No mention was made of Baltard and his municipal colleagues. The myth that Paris was transformed by a completely new plan developed by the emperor and his prefect was already in place in 1854, long before Haussmann codified that myth in his Mémoires. In fact, this new plan was the result of a protracted history of planning dating back to the 1830s. Haussmann cited calculations of cost and feasibility to justify his decision to keep the markets at the site they had occupied since the Middle Ages, but this decision effectively subordinated his instrumental plan to the historical persistence of place. The linkage of the rue Montmartre, first to the projected rue Baltard and then to the projected rue des Halles, regularized the crooked diagonal that had wended its way through the markets for centuries, even as the orthogonal grid of the pavilions regularized the irregular grid of housing blocks that shaped the surrounding quarter des Halles. Baltard had himself recognized this diagonal path in one of his early projects from 1843, just as he had formalized the urban typology that generated the markets from the historic development of the quarter as a gridded fabric of housing blocks and streets. And the decision to cluster the pavilions into two groups on either side of a central street had been introduced, not by Haussmann, but by the engineer Flachat, who used this layout for a counter project drawn up in June 1853 on direct instructions from the previous administration of the Préfet Berger.

This urban history informed Baltard’s redesign of the markets as industrial sheds of iron, brick, and glass. The key to his thinking is found, not in the first project from June 1853, for a structure entirely of iron, but rather in the second project, for a hybrid structure that mixed iron roofs and facades with side walls of stone. Despite its mixed construction, this second scheme is structurally more daring than the first: where the project entirely in iron is divided into aisles that measure a timid 12 meters across, the project mixing stone and iron boasts a central nave 30 meters across. This nave is spanned by Polonceau trusses, which support ingenious girders incorporating segmental metal arches to create a ventilated double roof. The Polonceau truss would not appear in the final project, where Baltard developed another structural systems to span the main nave of each pavilion. This tells us that the use of the Polonceau truss in the second project was for rhetorical rather than strictly practical reasons. Obviously, it demonstrated that Baltard was just as capable as the engineer Flachat when it came to using industrial materials and systems. And his decision to use this truss in the second project, mixing stone and iron, rather than the first project entirely of iron, allowed Baltard to make a paradoxical double point: yes, he knew how to engineer an iron structure, but as an architect he preferred to combine iron with stone. To his way of thinking, this juxtaposition of stone to iron was a material indicator of how cities change over time: signs of modernity like covered streets and iron roofs become more remarkable, are more significant, when compared with signs of tradition like a masonry arcade. Iron alone was inadequate to the task of visualizing this historical dialectic between past and present forms of the city.

Baltard carried this thinking into his final design, even though the structure was now entirely of iron. As Charles Garnier observed in 1857, when the east group of pavilions was nearly finished, Baltard had eliminated the use of stone without losing its lithic sense of containment: “Le murs de soubasement, construits en briques disposés en losanges, et les verres dépolis… qui garnissent les baies et tympans extérieures, donnent à tout l’ensemble un aspect de fermeté qui fait valoir la masse des pavilions et contraste heureusement avec les grandes ouvertures qui terminent les rue couvertes.” In other words, Garnier found little perceptible difference between the original masonry pavilion and the final ones in iron, brick, and glass. As the architect Charles Boileau explained in 1876, the classical tradition in which he, Baltard, and Garnier had all been trained, valued perceived appearances over any literal truth to materials in art: “Je pense qu’on gagnerait beaucoup en précision et en vérité en ajoutant que le vrai, en architecture comme en tous les arts, n’est que le vraisemblable; c’est-à-dire que ce ne sont pas les qualités intrinsèques des matériaux, leur fond vrai qui doit influer leurs formes, mais bien les qualités apparentes sous lesquelles ils se presentent aux yeux, leur fond vraisemblable.” This means that Baltard managed to have it both ways in his final design of the pavilions. On the one hand, the pavilions were in fact industrial sheds with a frankly expressed metal structure. But these same pavilions appeared to be traditional forms that mirror the historical architecture of the surrounding quartier des Halles.

As a historical system of urban form and space, the markets synthesized the residential type of housing block with the monumental type of the church of Saint-Eustache. Like the housing block, the pavilions were organized as repeating modules with rectangular volumes in a gridded plan. Like the church, the pavilions and covered streets were composed into arcuated facades, stepped elevations, and gabled transepts that enclose a portion of the city as public space on the interior: the nave, transepts and side aisles of Saint-Eustache became the covered streets and pavilions with central naves and peripheral aisles at the Halles centrales. The Halles centrales condensed opposing ideas into a coherent work of urban architecture that at once grew out of the past and radically reshaped that past to reflect modernity’s new ways of making cities in the present. Like the church of Saint-Eustache, the markets were public monuments that spoke to the civic identity of Paris. And yet, the markets were no longer monuments in the same way as Saint-Eustache: a self-contained building that is both unique and specific to its site. The industrial structure and construction of the markets replaced had-crafted originality with the standardized assembly of prefabricated elements: building was now separated from its physical place of production, which now became a series of remote workshops and factories. What took place at the Halles was the reproduction of the markets in a series of repeating, nearly identical metal sheds whose logic derived from the city’s own history of urban development. The pavilions preserved the pattern of housing blocks that had shaped the quartier for centuries, even as the covered streets both literally and figuratively jumped over that pattern to address the new scale of urban buildings made possible by modern technology. The markets visualized the city in a form that reflected the industrialization of society in the nineteenth century, but it did so in terms that were fundamentally aesthetic and formal rather than utilitarian and functional. Hybrid and contingent, type at the markets became a sign of the city’s own historicity, of its urban actuality and historical evolution, as mutable patterns of civic identity and daily inhabitation shaped and reshaped Paris over time.

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