Ministry of Culture: loosely holding the reins

Ministry of Culture building

Ministry of Culture and Communication.


The Ministry of Culture is in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, Rue St Honoré, Parallel to the Rue de Rivoli. The façade, recently transformed by Francis Soler adds a contemporary

Corner element

Art Nouveau-ish stainless steel screen to the 19th Century building. The ministry also has a new wing that uses the same screen. The overall effect is decorative and has a slick, silven sharpness.


The interior, also by Soler is a typical French office, with endless corridors of separate transluscent offices each with a name and title printed on the door.


Laurence Cassegrain, (Project director for Public Politics relating to le Grand Paris) was just moving into her new office on the 3rd floor. It was spacious.


Laurence has been involved with the Grand Paris Project since before the Consultation. Le Grand Pari de l’Agglomération Parisienne, (the consultation) was run and funded by the Ministry of culture, the idea having been proposed to the President. He made it his baby.


Architecture is under the Ministry of culture. The question of looking at the city at the large-scale had occurred to the ministry sometime before. The Kyoto commitments and how they would apply to Paris were the catalyst needed to convert the thinking on the metropolis into the consultation.


Firstly, the idea was for the consultation to be not a competition. A change in culture from the very beginning with respect to the competition process, that generally has a winner takes all outcome.


Hairy ceiling, Ministry Lobby

The brief was to be as open as possible, in order to allow the teams the freedom to take their ideas in whichever direction they liked so that a breadth of thinking and application would result.



The selection of the 10 teams was deliberate and calculated. Half of them were to be French and half Foreign. They were also to be multidisciplinary, capturing the breadth of research and knowledge on the metropolis. It was recognised that research should be paid for and not just expected as a byproduct of an architect’s methodology.


The exhibition was planned from the very beginning. Bringing such high-level urban design issues to the public was at risk, but the fears were unfounded as an unprecedented number of visitors, many of whom would not normally visit an architecture Gallery, poured through the doors.


Laurence Cassegrain in her new office

The consultation had taken 9 months, and cost about €2 million to the ministry and another half €1 million to the city of Paris. Laurence acknowledges that in retrospect, the teams, who had given so much of themselves, were probably underpaid.


After the exhibition, the president asked for the AIGP to be formed, which it was, in 2010. At 1st, it was solely funded by the state, but it was always intended that the other ministries (such as that of infrastructure and ecology) as well as other levels of government including the region and the communes be brought in, so that in the end, the state would only be funding one half.


Laurence was on a pilot committee that followed the process from the time of the consultation. This committee included the other ministries, the Association Mayors, the city of Paris, the region and their respective urban design agencies.


Real Art Nouveau, just near The MoC

Local and regional elections came into play and slowed down the process somewhat. It was clear from the beginning, that governance was going to be a major issue. Streamlining a heavily bureaucratic system was not going to be easy.



The teams failed, in most cases, to come to grips with this prickly issue, however the idea of forming a place to bring everyone together was popular. That place being the AIGP.


The AIGP has now called for tenders to establish a new consultation team which they call a scientific committee. It is hoped that the 10 teams will submit tenders but it is also hoped that others, with differing points of view will also submit. The tenders are due next month and a new scientific committee will be announced in January.


pest control display, Rue des Halles

The law on Grand Paris outlined the idea of the CDTs (territorial development contracts) which combines those communes that will be affected by the new transport corridors into super project sites. The CDTs will be given the necessary skills and resources to develop projects that address the key challenges that the consultation revealed.

The AIGP will give its opinion on whether the CDTs are achieving the objectives.


The main task of the scientific committee will be to continue to generate the big ideas and to ensure that they are translated onto the ground via the CDTs. The agencies will develop the tools that will allow this to happen.


Laurence is modestly proud and openly happy with the impact the Grand Paris consultation has had. ‘Cities around the world have sought to understand, develop and apply similar processes. The list is growing quickly, as the cities of the world realise that they have to find a new way to address their issues’.


last warm days

Big cities such as Moscow, Tokyo, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Berlin, Brussels…… She said she would send me the list…… Have been to see her.




Smaller cities within France are also facing similar problems and urban agglomerations or’ intercommunalités’ such as Lyon/Grenoble, Marseille, Nantes/St Nazaire, and Bordeaux are developing their own versions of the consultation. There is no one size fits all solution. Rules need to be developed specifically for each place. But the concept seems to be easily transferable and transformable.


There is a clear program for the next 5 years. There will be a fresh crop of architects in the AIGP, the new SDRIF will be produced which will involve the necessary confrontation between technical and conceptual thinking.


Laurence finished off with the current major challenge, namely housing.

It is widely acknowledged that the rules in Paris are out of date and that more experimentation and innovation needs to be brought into housing stock especially social housing. The areas around the new stations will allow such experimentation to occur. The ministry has just announced changes to the rules to promote innovation.


I’m amazed, as I am led back through the maze of individual offices, that such a work environment can allow for the level of communication and consultation necessary to get a little project like Grand Paris off the ground!

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