Architecture: Old Meets New

One of the things which strikes me about France is the fierce protection and pride in la patrimoine. Often translated as ‘heritage’ this word is often used when talking about the restoration and preservation of buildings. Coming from Melbourne, this idea isn’t new to me, as there are many heritage houses which are subject to certain rules and regulations regarding their upkeep. In France however, historical buildings abound. Whilst new buildings do appear, they are often far from city centres or built to camouflage into the existing urban environment.

Whilst in Lyon, I couldn’t help but admire the occaisional building, and I noticed that I appredicated the use of dark toned, highly polished glass in some of the newer developments whose simple, streamlined walls mirrored the ornate details of buildings surrounding them, catching different angles as I walked along below.


Family and friends walk down a street that mixes new and old.

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The town hall is mirrored in a nearby building.

The building which had the biggest impact on my ponderings was the opera house. Nothing quite so architecturally adventurous as that of Sydney, but an interesting style nonetheless. L’Opéra Nouvel, as is known, was originally built in 1831 and by French standards was considered a rather simple affair. In the 1980s, the city decided that it was time for a revamp and commissed once of France’s most distinguished architects, Jean Nouvel, to do the job.  Nouvel tripled the space of the previous theatre by excavating below the building, and strikingly, through the addition of a half-cylinder like space arching over the original façade. His work is considered an original concept for the times, in which the past and present are linked together.

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I have to admit, whilst I like the building it was a bit of a shock to see it sheltered amongst the stonework of Lyon. Glass and steel tend to be a rare sighting in the midst of most French cities, although it is used more and more, especially in new areas of development. I am so used to seeing this type of architecture in Melbourne, where glass or a mix is the norm and pure pre-twentieth century stone and brick tends to be on the rare side.

It’s interesting to think how cities grow and change with the needs and demands of those who live there. I enjoyed seeing this piece of wall art depicting a construction worker drilling into the concrete: “Under Construction” marked over his head.


Sometimes, as a tourist, you forget that cities and their social dynamics are constantly changing, especially those experiencing population growth or loss. Monuments and buildings have such a solidness to them, that it is easy to forget how vulnerable they are to destruction, neglet and drastic renovation. However, these changes can bring about a new aesthetic that reflects the ideas of the times and reflects the city of today. That said, I still like the idea of preserving history through the spaces and places that have been preserved: what would Paris be like without the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, New York without  the Statue of Liberty, or Sydney  without the Habour Bridge, for example?  This I why I like this sort of building which aims to both retain the past and move towards the future.


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