The Haussmann style, from Medieval to modern Paris
The Haussmann style is a typology of architecture exclusive to Paris, but which has inspired the development of numerous buildings around the world. Today we would like to explain how these Parisian buildings were born, analyse the Haussmann style house model and its expansion.
The birth of the Haussmann style in Paris is no coincidence, as its architectural heritage and the fusion of styles have always placed the French capital as a global reference in urban planning. Today, no one is surprised that the city is the sixth most visited capital in the world. A simple stroll through “the city of love” will immerse you in the old Paris thanks to medieval landmarks such as Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame, a walk through the Baroque with incredible spaces such as the Palace of Versailles and enjoy the sophisticated architecture of Art Nouveau, contemplating treasures such as the Castel Béranger or the beautiful entrances to the Hector Guimard metro.
And in all this urban configuration, Baron Haussman’s reforms had a decisive impact… here’s why!
Who was Baron Haussmann?
The first thing we want to point out is that Baron Haussman was first and foremost an urban planner, not an architect. In other words, he did not actually design or plan many of the buildings that we know today as “Haussmann style”. His job was to promote the urban reforms that made it possible to create the necessary infrastructures and spaces on which these Parisian buildings and the prototype of the Haussmann-style house were erected.
Georges-Eugène Haussmann was born in Paris in 1809, a few years after the French Revolution, when architecture was in its neoclassical period. At that time, France was rebuilding itself as a state and its capital saw the birth of some of the monuments that today form part of the emblematic Parisian skyline, such as the Arc de Triomphe by J.F. Thérèse Chalgrin and the National Assembly by Giardini and Gabril. With these architectural references, Haussman studied law and music and later developed a political career focused on urban reforms.
What did Baron Haussmann do?
In 1852 Haussmann was commissioned by Napoleon III to modernise the urban layout of Paris, making it safer and more hygienic. To this end, Baron Haussman drew up a plan that eliminated a large part of the old medieval street layouts, demolished residual structures of the city walls and replaced these neighbourhoods with large gardens, roundabouts and avenues such as the Opera, which today form part of the collective imaginary of Parisian architecture.
To homogenise the buildings of Paris, Haussmann established a unit of measurement to regulate the height of buildings, taking the Opéra and the Arc de Triomphe as reference points. He revitalised the city by creating the Lyon and Gare du Nord railway stations. He also provided a green lung for the city by designing the Bois de Boulogne and he cleaned up the water system by creating the Réservoir de Montsouris, one of the city’s main reservoirs.
For architectural specialists, one of the most significant changes of the “Haussmann Plan” was the linking of the southern and northern axes of Paris by connecting the boulevards of Saint-Michel and Sébastopol. This type of reform was truly inspirational for other European capitals such as Vienna, London and Brussels, and served as a model for the famous urban extensions in Barcelona and Madrid.
Although the Haussmannian model in Paris is not without controversy. Its radical transformation of the city centre with the consequent expansion of the suburbs led to one of the first massive processes of urban gentrification, and also served expressly to quell revolts such as the famous Paris Commune in 1871. With its negative and positive notes, the “Plan Haussmann” continues to play a decisive role and have a great impact on the architecture of Paris.
What is the Haussmann style?
As you may have guessed, the reforms of this urban plan led to the creation of the prototype of the Haussmann-style house. These houses were created in blocks of buildings connected by symmetrical exterior areas, because their aim was to unify and give cohesion to the image of Paris.
The unified façade style is one of the key features of the Haussmann style, created with a special type of cladding based on calcaire lutécien stone whose colour range varies subtly from white through vanilla to a soft grey. Other key features of the Haussmann style are the mansard roofs, the zinc roofs and the chimneys in red stoneware ceramic tiles.
It is believed that in total more than 38,000 buildings were built in the Haussmann style, supported by more than 510 million francs financed by the Caisse des Travaux de Paris. Interestingly, more than half of these buildings in Paris are still standing and you can see them as you stroll through the streets of Paris.
Layout of the Haussmann-style house
If the exterior of Haussmann-style buildings in Paris follows a certain order, the interior is also quite codified. The Haussmann-style house is divided into a ground floor, a mezzanine, an étage nobile on the first floor with imposing balconies, and a third, fourth and fifth floor with small balconies.
The ground floor was usually used for shops or offices, which is why its ceilings are higher than the rest of the building. Occasionally, the first floor was used as an auxiliary office or even as a store for the shops. The rest of the floors were used as living quarters, with the first floor being the largest and most important. One of the constants in these Haussmann-style buildings is that the quality of the decoration becomes less and less intense as you go up the floors. The large windows and the use of iron for the balustrades are other typical features of these buildings.
Haussman’s renovations and his houses completely transformed the French capital from its medieval past into a model of a modern city. The Haussman houses are today a typical picture postcard image of Paris, a must-see if you like architecture.