On a sunny week day in early December the Parc de Bercy is full of life and colour. The most westerly end of the park ‘La Grande Prairie’ (The big meadow) is never closed. This large open grassy space was designed to be used for games and picnics and hosts a busy skate park. It is one of the rare places in Paris for the young and energetic to let off steam.
The north of the prairie is dominated by Franck Gehry’s Cinamathéque Française which hosts the National Cinema Museum. I really like this building which is small in comparison to his later work such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The local limestone façade ensures the building fits with the surrounding Parisian architecture but the dramatic curves and planes show it to be distinctly Gehry.
A row of fastigiate hornbeams separate La Grande Prairie from the Parterres section of the park. Their leaves glow a brilliant orange in the low winter sunlight.
To the south, on the dyke that protects Paris from the river Seine, a monumental stair-like fountain, designed by the sculptor Gérard Singer leads the promeneur to the latest pedestrian bridge, the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir.
As on all the Paris bridges, lovers leave a padlock and presumably throw the keys into the water. This bridge is not yet as weighed down by padlocks as the Pont des Arts.
The elegant wave-form of the bridge can be best seen from the left bank of the river. The split levels are a practical way of combining access from the roads on both sides and from the higher level of the dyke to the Bibliothéque platform opposite.
Across the water, at the foot of the Bibliothéque National, the Allée Arthur Rimbaud provides a green space along the river. Designed by Landscape Architect Jaqueline Osty and opened in 1997, the split-level promenade successfully separates the busy road from the quay-side. The naturalistic use of shrubs and grasses are a signature of the designer.
The use of willows and grasses give this promenade a river-side feel, totally in keeping with its location. It’s a lovely example of using the ‘genus loci’ or the ‘genie of a place’ as inspiration.
The white flowers of the plant become fuzzy seed-heads which fly away in clouds of cotton wool. The leaves are smooth edges or slightly toothed. A native of Florida, it was introduced to France in the 17th century and is particularly happy beside the sea or by water. The airborne seeds are so successful that it can be invasive.
Looking back towards the BNF. The many green plastic bins are an unfortunate blot on the landscape but are perhaps and indicator of success; I imagine this to be an excellent picnic spot for office workers in summer.
The Parc de Bercy is in the 12th arrondissement and can be reached on the driver-less and super-speedy metro line 14. For the western end of the park use the metro stop Bercy on the same line. For the pedestrian passerelle de Simone de Beauvoir and the Allée Arthur Rimbaud in the 13th arrondissement, the nearest stops are Bibliotéque François Mitterand on the line 14 or Quai de la Gare on line 6.
The Allée Arthur Rimbaud is also the access spot for the Piscine Josephine Baker, a swimming pool on a barge on the Seine with a roof that is opened up to the sunshine in summer.