An Update on the Serres d’Auteuil

Inside the Greenhouses of Jean-Camille Formigé
Photo : Didier Rykner

7/1/12 - Heritage - Paris, Serres d’Auteuil - Although we have not brought up the subject of the Serres d’Auteuil in the last few months (see our previous articles), and Paris City Hall’s decision to install the Roland-Garros tournament there, two recent events occurring in December have convinced us to reopen a debate which is sure to remain foremost in the minds of those who feel strongly about supporting French national heritage in 2012 as it did in 2011.
We will not however talk about the so-called "concertation" organized by the Fédération Française de Tennis as requested by the Commission Nationale du Débat Public. These types of reunions, especially those for Paris City Hall projects, are a farce where everyone sticks to their original position. It has become obvious that the real debate will take place in court where it will be much more difficult for the city to defend its unfounded arguments.

The first of these events is the communiqué issued by the Comité Scientifique International pour les Paysages Culturels of the ICOMOS, the Conseil International des Monuments et des Sites.
This assembly of scientific figures, including a group of experts who visited the Serres d’Auteuil to observe the "possible impact of the project for installing the new activities of the Fédération Française de Tennis and the Roland Garros tournament on this garden whose vocation is scientific, pedagogical and pleasurable.", concluded that the garden was "gravely threatened in its landscaping and botanical integrity", "that it ignored the scenography designed by the [architect] J-C Formigé", that the greenhouses planned for replacement around the new court "did not correspond to the technical characteristics needed for housing fragile plants [and] have been reduced to a decorative cover-up", "that the project would result in the loss of about 25 trees, including several remarkable ones (among these a pistacia terebinthus, a celtis koraiensis and an ailanthus giraldii)" and "that it would totally modify the flow of visitors in the garden, and go beyond the Serres d’Auteuil garden’s capacity to welcome them as originally designed". It therefore asks Paris City Hall and the Fédération Française de Tennis to abandon the idea of extending Roland Garros onto the Botanical garden at the Serres d’Auteuil and suggests that they should take a closer look at alternative projects, notably covering over the access road to the highway there.
In summing up, this scientific group is only stating what supporters of the Serres d’Auteuil have been saying since the beginning.

This categorical scientific opinion did not however influence the voting of the Commission supérieure des sites which, on 15 December, gave its approval to this act of vandalism. How surprising is it though ?
Not at all, if we recall the conditions in which the voting took place. In fact, as disclosed by Serge Federbusch on his website Delanopolis (to which we refer our readers for an account of this session), the Commission expressed itself unanimously... from the government to the City of Paris. Except for one abstention, all of those with qualifications (eight out of nine), that is appointed to the commission for their professional competence, not for their position or mandate, voted against the project. It was approved only thanks to the vote of the politicians and government employees following specific orders, in an absolutely touching act of unity.

The triumphant communiqué, immediately published by Paris City Hall, will not fool anyone. The mayor’s office claims that this vote "proves once more that the FFT project [...] is in accordance with a scrupulous respect of the site". In fact, it shows above all, besides the holy unity between Paris City Hall and the Elysée Presidential office, what we pointed out in our previous articles, that is, the current French Culture Ministry’s ability to swallow whatever is forced down its throat, as long as it comes from the French President or any of his colleagues, especially Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (French minister of Ecology) who Delanopolis notes, had her administrative director general preside over the voting session, an unusual event.

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Didier Rykner, samedi 7 janvier 2012

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