BY THE SILENT LINE
2011 - 2015
Mankind has influence on its own territory in many ways. Human actions such as technical paradigm shifts, or simple urban tissue cutting, transform our surroundings. As by-products of these transformations, residual spaces can be found in the interstices of our habitat.
Such forsaken places experience heterogeneous mutation paths and multiple timelines. However, these trajectories successively experience the same phases1 and inevitably undergo a waiting period before the emergence of a new use2. During the latter, they are generally qualified by society as wastelands. Indeed, to rational & functional minds, residual spaces appear as wasted and as an inevitable parasites to useful and organized ones3.
There is however, in this ephemeral state and in the uncertainty of its outcome, an unusual poetry investigated by the series. To that purpose, By the silent line focuses on a metropolitan scar carrying history: la Petite Ceinture.
This long-term project is a way of maintaining the memory of a landmark and to give thought to our ability to constantly question, reconsider and transform our territory.
As an odd reminiscence, all across Europe stand vestiges of its Industrial Revolution. During the 18th century, as population kept on increasing, new techniques were developed to produce more, faster and at a lower cost. This wave of radical changes culminated in the development of the railways, which gave a strong impulse to the entire economy by reducing distances. One of greatest vestiges – however unknown – of the Industrial Revolution lies in Paris. La Petite Ceinture is a dormant railroad track, a 32km path surrounding the city of light. Since its access has been closed the rails belong to a forgotten past. Yet, la Petite Ceinture had its time of glory. In early 19th Century France, the various Parisian railway networks were not connected, and transfers were horse-drawn as the City of Light didn’t have large boulevards yet. The project became a necessity to facilitate the circulation of both goods and people. Its construction, seen as an invitation to progress, was decided in 1852 by Napoleon III. Traffic was already considerable during the very first years, and reached its apogee with the Universal Exhibition featuring the Eiffel Tower in 1901. However, its operation wouldn’t survive the automobile revolution, nor the advent of the underground system. Indeed, urban passenger service discontinued from 1934.
If different sections have been exploited for freight carrying until the early 90’s, on some of its course la Petite Ceinture has produced nothing but silence since the 30’s. Oddly enough, it hasn’t gone to wrack and ruin as the infrastructure has been maintained in condition. As a river, its shores constantly change over time, but it persists. Grasses, flowers and small trees sprout from its bed. The vestige has become a boundary on the fringe of society. An intimate place, where past and modernity make their acquaintance. At last, la Petite Ceinture is likely to be reclaimed by modern society. A handful of lagging projects envisage partial conversion into dancing clubs, restaurants, public transportation or linear parks, just like la promenade plantée de Bastille in 1988, which partly inspired New York’s High Line redesign.
1 Lauren Andres "Les usages temporaires des friches urbaines, enjeux pour l’aménagement", Métropolitiques, 11 mai 2011
2 Patrick Degeorges et Antoine Nochy "La forêt des délaissés. L’impensé de la ville" sous la direction de Patrick Bouchain, janvier 2002
3 Gustave-Nicolas Fischer "Psychologie sociale de l'environnement", Privat & BO-PRE, 1992