Monday, January 15, 2007

THE ROOFTOPS OF PARIS

I got a great book called "The Rooftops of Paris" for Christmas. Thumbing through it I found myself asking, "What are these rooftops trying to tell us?" They seem to be saying something, I just can't figure out what it is.


In the 19th century, when a lot of these buildings were put up, the poorest people lived on the top floor. That's because there were few mechanical elevators and getting up there required an arduous climb. What a good deal for the poor! They not only got a terrific view of the city but they were able to look out over the surreal, mysterious, innovative, historic, artistic wonderland of the rooftops!


Some rooftops seemed to be planned and ornate, others seeme to be gerry-rigged and put up almost as an afterthought. Maybe some featured add-on rooms, built without knowledge of the law. Some of the most creative designs might have been add-ons.


Rooftops like these provoke so many interesting questions. Are we wasting the best part of buildings by putting them so high above the street that nobody can see them? Should we build rooftop-type structures on the street level? Should we promote a world above the ground by bridging rooftops? Should we deliberately send our eccentrics up there to live in the hope that they'll create an interesting world up there? Should we have trolleys up there so rooftop people could visit each other without going down to the ground?


Matbe witches or Dickensian criminal types like Fagin should live up there. Maybe ninjas. Maybe thatched cottages and trees should be permitted. Maybe a foreign country should be allowed to exist up there.




I borrowed this picture from a previous post. This suggests that people in higher rooftops could lean over a railing and enjoy the antics of people on lower rooftops. Or maybe it suggests a kind of pedestrian highway enabling fast travel on the rooftops.






20 comments:

Gchaime said...

I really enjoyed this post, i will learn it by heart and impress my friend and family with my insightfull views about roftops and their place in society. Maybe we should let our eccentrics up there, as long as they promise to come down sometimes.

But anyway, this post of rooftops raises another question: why aren't they building them anymore? How many recently raised building got interesting rooftops?

Anonymous said...

what are your thoughts on Art Spiegellman? I thought maus was alright but it bothers me that he seems to be regarded as the grand old man of cartooning.

There seems to be way too much intellectualism in that whole fantagraphics "comix" scene, theyve taken a medium that was full of fun and creativity and turned it into boring elitist art.

Like theyll give heaps of praise to stuff like krazy kat and harvey kurtzman but their own comics seem to star pretentious cartoonists that moan about how depressed they are and how their work isnt appreciated.

They also seem to casually dismiss great cartoonists like Larson Kliban and Watterson. Im not really with the whole art scene but it seems that actual creativity is illegal and youre only allowed to do "postmodern deconstructions" of past artists work

Anonymous said...

does anyone here read mother goose and grimm? todays comic was the most banal trash ive ever read, http://www.grimmy.com/comics.php uggh! Since Gary Larsons retired theres been literally 20 syndicated panel cartoons that have taken his place and theyre all garbage

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Haha! This is an awesome post... I love the way your mind seems to work. And I really like the idea of bridges... They already exist midway with some buildings, but I don't think I've ever seen something that has a bridge on the top. Unless you count the "Grande Arche de la Défence" in Paris. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arche_de_la_Defense)

Aside from being an amazing sight, such bridges would just lighten people up and make'm smile. Fresh air, a slight breeze and sunshine seems to do that with people.

Gchaime said...

The new CCTV building has a design kind of similar to the Grand Arche.

http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=CCTV+Headquarters+&btnG=Search+Images

This shoppingcentre/mall in Almere kind of incorporates Uncle Eddie's idea of a rooftop city: Shops are located on the ground floor, on the rooftops you can find houses, appartments and communalgardens.

http://album.zoom.nl/user/10777/images/800/2277258/nTO1hr.jpg.jpg

This was the only picture i could find of it. Too bad Almere is nowhere as exciting or beautiful as Paris.

Lester Hunt said...

Another delightful post Eddy. Merci!

"But anyway, this post of rooftops raises another question: why aren't they building them anymore?"

I read somewhere that Napoleon made a law that the roofs of Paris could be no higher than the tops of his war monuments, which is why the mansard roof was invented -- as a way to get around this dumb law. Maybe that also explains all these complicated jerry-rigged structures. People were finding ways of having taller buildings, despite the artificially low roofs.

Moral: Authority is always slapping limits onto life, and life is always growing around them! (Sorry. I'm always looking for the moral>)

Max Ward said...

Does brilliance come easy to you?

Soos said...

I wish they would bridge buildings together. Imagine how useful that would be in a city like New York, for there to be a second, raised sidewalk - you could stack businesses on top of each other. You could have pedestrians cross the street above while cars drive past below - everyone would get places faster!

But in our accident-lawsuit culture, it'd never happen. Even with guard rails, somehow kids would manage to fall off. People would object to having to go up and down the stairs to get to the lower and higher levels. There'd have to be a ton of elevators for the handicapped.

So, I'm just waiting out for America's first underground city. I still have that to look forward to.

Sean Worsham said...

It seems like animation director Hayao Miyazaki borrows a lot of these roof structures in his films. Despite being Japanese, he has a strong European influence. Check out his films, "The Castle of Cagliostro," "Castle in the Sky," "Kiki's Delivery Service," "Spirited Away," "Porco Rosso," and "Howl's Moving Castle." I 'm guessing you may not be too much into anime, but these films will definitely quench your thirst for your love of architecture.

-Sean Worsham

will said...

I must find this book! I, like gchaime, await the impression of high-nosed lofty intelligentsia I can impart to my family and friends. They will be astonished by my cultural insight. All thanks to the theory corner!

Again.

By the way, this is a staggering postmodern masterwork.
http://img505.imageshack.us/img505/8358/hagarthehorriblevv2.gif
I am not even kidding.

will said...

did that go through? http://img505.imageshack.us/img505/8358/hagarthehorriblevv2.gif

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Benjamin, Gchamie: The square Grande Arche and the CCTV tower probably look great from the air but from the ground they both strike me as featureless concrete wind traps.

Imagine walking past these buildings in the winter when you're buffeted by icy winds. There's no relief for the weary pedestrian on the ground level, no imaginative small shops, no restaurant smells, no small structures to break the wind. I know the same criticism could be made of the Eiffel Tower but that's a prettier structure and besides, every city is entitled to one sentimental excess.

By the way, I concede that the design of the Grande Arche is very elegant and sophisticated. Not only that but looking up at it from below must be an awe-inspiring experience. I just don't think the assets outweigh the liabilities. Buildings should have ground floor appeal and invite everyday use. Even monuments shouldn't be so large that it takes a long time to walk past them. Imagine if the same space contained a farmer's market or a Tivoli.

Benjamin said...

Oh, I've been there, and though tastes differ, I thought the La Défense area was ugly as hell. Especially compared to the rest of Paris. It was just the only building I could think of that you could consider to have a bridge on the top.

Anonymous said...

I recall Dickens Fagin having at least two stories to play around in, if not a third.

Pretty good squatting for a place apparently as crowded as Victorian London and area... plenty of absentee landlords, or abandoned buildings apparently.

lastangelman said...

I like the idea of a foreign country of people who live on rooftops. Not the penthouse or top floor. The roof. Wow. That's like better than all those fantasy books about underground dwellers. They live above us because they think we are beneath them - the roofies. NOW there's a cartoon!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anonymous: I've only seen Spiegleman's serious comics. I like gags so I'm not a good audience for them.

NateBear said...

Jetsons, Venice, Peter Pan's treehouse village (or at least the way it was depicted in the movie "Hook">

Anonymous said...

Hey, you're right Eddie, they do seem to be saying something. They're as clearspoken and unintelligible as cyrillic characters, and they seem to hint at the possibility of an Ultimate Rooftop.

Really good post, gotta get that book.

chrisheadrick said...

The message from the rooftops is simple: they are screaming out to us that The International Style of architecture has completely wiped out the exciting, playful indigenous dialects of regional architecture for good.

Anonymous said...

I love rooftops, they are magical places, even modern rooftops, but those of our big cities are especially magical.
What are they saying... tread with care up here.