The southeastern stretch of the 13th arrondissement now boasts an ultra-modern area called ‘Paris Rive Gauche’ along the banks of the Seine. This new district is the result of a large-scale redevelopment of former industrial sites. Bordered by the river, the railway tracks of the Gare d’Austerlitz and the Avenue de France, Paris Rive Gauche is a living lab for ambitious architectural projects that are altering the skyline of the 13th arrondissement. Here is an introduction walk to the area.
This itinerary begins on Boulevard du Général d'Armée Jean Simon (the ‘Avenue de France’ stop of the T3a tram line).
This residential high-rise building is a poster child for the district’s regeneration. Designed by the well-known architect Christian de Portzamparc (to whom we also owe the Cité de la Musique and the U Arena indoor venue), this mixed-use development has given rise to some avant-garde housing that really stands out from the surrounding landscape: you can’t possibly miss it.
1 / Tours Duo
Respectively 180 metres and 122 metres tall, the ‘Duo Towers’ were designed in the studios of the eminent architect Jean Nouvel as part of a vast complex comprising shops, offices, restaurants and a public garden. The project is expected to reach completion in 2021.
Tours Duo - boulevard du Général Jean Simon, Paris 13th
2 / Tour M6B2
This tall green tower will surely catch your eye: the building’s titanium cladding changes colour depending on the angle of the sun, and metal mesh sheaths the façade. The Tour M6B2, also referred to as the ‘Tower of Biodoversity’, is a tool for seeding. The height of the building allows the wind to carry away the seeds of the plants growing up the mesh-covered exterior and spread them far and wide.
Tour M6B2 - place Farhat Hached, Paris 13th
3 / Tour Home
This white-and-gold housing block was purposefully designed to resemble a construction kit. Nearly 200 apartments have been ‘stacked’ on top of each other over 13 storeys on one side of the building and over 16 storeys on the other.
Bâtiment Home – 8, rue Nicole-Reine Lepaute, Paris 13th
4 / École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture
Continue walking along Boulevard du Général Jean Simon until you reach the Seine, then make your way along Quai Panhard et Levassor. You will come upon an unusual architectural ensemble: an attractive seven-storey contemporary building (designed by the architect Frédéric Borel) standing alongside a (now redeveloped) former compressed-air factory with a tall chimney listed as a historic property. Together, they are the premises of the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris architecture school.
ENSA Paris-Val de Seine – 3, quai Panhard et Levassor, Paris 13th
The old factory manager’s house located in front of the school is now the Maison des Projets, a centre providing information about the Paris Rive Gauche development.
Maison des Projets - 11, quai Panhard et Levassor, Paris 13th
Open to the public: Tuesday to Saturday from 12h to 13h and from 14h to 18h.
Time for a break? Walking along Rue Jean Antoine de Baïf, you will come to ESS’pace, a café, canteen and coworking space across from the greenery-covered buildings of the Jardin Biopark. Continue on to Rue Watt and walk through the railway tunnel to get to Rue Cantagrel.
5 / Cité du Refuge
This red, yellow and blue building was designed by the world-famous architect Le Corbusier, some of whose projects feature on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites. Built in 1933 to house the Salvation Army, the Cité du Refuge is now a shelter and social reintegration centre. Visitors can register to take part in one of the guided tours frequently organized here.
Cité du Refuge - 12, rue Cantagrel, Paris 13th
6 / Quartier des Grands Moulins
Rue des Grands Moulins leads you into the new district of the same name (part of the Paris Rive Gauche development project), where a linking series of housing blocks opening into the street has sprung up around the Paris Diderot University.
Take the footbridge over the Jardin Abbé-Pierre, a green space popular with students from the neighbouring university in the lunch hour. In front of you, you will see the Grands Moulins, a former milling complex dating to the First World War, and its flour storage site, the Halle aux Farines. The two buildings now house the Paris Diderot University’s classrooms, library and administrative offices.
Grands Moulins – 16, rue Marguerite Duras, Paris 13th
Jardin Abbé-Pierre - 15, rue Thomas-Man, Paris 13th. Open from 8am to 8.30pm.
Continue along the Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet, where you will come across a bright yellow Wallace fountain (these iconic Paris drinking fountains are usually painted dark green) and a large metal sculpture of a ‘tree’ by the American artist Nancy Rubins. Stop to have a browse at the Bétonsalon, an art and research centre inside the Halle aux Farines.
Bétonsalon – 9, esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet. Open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday from 11am to 7pm during the exhibition period.
More info on Bétonsalon
7 / Les Frigos
Continue on the rue des Frigos which will lead you, as its name indicates, to the former Entrepôts Frigorifiques, known as the Frigos. This former CEGF refrigeration station in Paris is rented as a creative and production workshop by the City of Paris to a variety of professions unique in Europe.
Les Frigos – 19, rue des Frigos, Paris 13th
More info on the Frigos
Return to Avenue de France. Lined with bold contemporary buildings, it is the main street of this groundbreaking district. Stop on the corner with Rue Neuve Tolbiac to admire the glass skyscraper designed by Norman Foster, the British architect who also created the Millau Viaduct, London City Hall and Apple’s headquarters in California.
The place Jean-Michel Basquiat, officially opened in September 2018, is named after one of the 20th century’s greatest artists and devoted, appropriately enough, to contemporary art.
8 / Immeuble T8
This building with a highly unusual façade seemingly covered with branches has been named ‘Le Nid’ (The Nest) by the French architect who designed it, Rudy Ricciotti. The building will be occupied by shops and offices. Next door, the same architect has designed a housing block sheathed in dark stone inspired by ‘dwellings chiseled into a rock face’.
Immeuble T8 – 115, avenue de France, Paris 13th
9 / L’EP7
This innovative building – a black block covered with 12 giant screens – is home to a venue that describes itself as a ‘digital and gourmet gathering space’. The two-storey venue offers a variety of activities (exhibitions, yoga classes, concerts, etc.) as well as a bar and a bistronomy restaurant. The building’s interactive façade doubles as a virtual gallery showcasing digital art renditions. Have a look at the cultural events programme of this daring hybrid venue.
EP7 – 133, avenue de Francs, Paris 13th. Open every day.
Restaurant LAHO open from Monday to Friday from 12h to 14h30 and from 19h30 to 22h30.
10 / Fab.
Also located here is a large all-white building: the recently-opened La Fab., a 1,400-m² gallery space where the French fashion designer Agnès b. has showcased her own vast collection of contemporary art.
La Fab. - place Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris 13th
Cross back across Avenue de France to get to the MK2 Bibliothèque cinema. Turn around before going in to look at another building.
More info on La Fab.
11 / MK2 Bibliothèque Cinema
The surrounding area was a stretch of urban wasteland when this multiplex opened here in 2003. The MK2 cinema chain is a family-owned business founded in 1974 by Marin Karmitz to promote independent films and increase the reach of culture in working-class districts. MK2 also pioneered the concept of the cinema/bookshop/café. Today, MK2 Bibliothèque boasts 20 screens and hosts a number of events, from previews to fresh screenings of cult movies and cinema-related talks.
MK2 Bibliothèque – 162, avenue de France, Paris 13th
More info on MK2 Bibliothèque
12 / Bibliothèque Nationale de France
As you continue walking towards the Seine, you will come to the magnificent esplanade on which the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand stands: a 60,000-m² expanse of Brazilian hardwood decking. The imposing ‘BNF’, as the national library of France is known, is part of the legacy of the former French president François Mitterrand. It was designed by the architect Dominique Perrault and opened in 1996.
The library is the landmark of the district, visible from afar with four 79-metre-tall tower blocks designed to look like open books. It is the main site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (spread over seven sites), and holds 40 million documents and manuscripts from French collections dating back as far as the Middle Ages.
There is a 9000-m² forest garden modelled after the Fontainebleau forest in the middle of the esplanade. It is filled with pine trees that were moved here from a forest in Normandy, as well as oaks, hornbeams and silver birches, and ferns providing undergrowth. There are also rabbits and sparrow hawks, and seven goats to keep the lawns in check: a small ecosystem in the midst of this centre of learning, which puts on some beautiful exhibitions (check the programme).
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, site François Mitterrand – 162, avenue de France / quai Mauriac, Paris 13th
13 / Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir
An undulating steel footbridge leads over the Seine to the Right Bank. Known as the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, it was opened in July 2006, and leads from the BNF on one bank of the river to Bercy Park on the other. From to the middle of the bridge, where its two curvilinear sections intersect, there is a lovely view of the river. To your left, you will see the above-ground metro crossing the Pont de Bercy bridge, the Josephine Baker floating pool, and the buildings housing the French finance ministry.
Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir - quai François Mauriac, Paris 13th
More info on passerelle Simone de Beauvoir
14 / La Station F
Walk back across the BNF esplanade, heading in the opposite direction, and take Rue Alphonse Boudard to cross the railway tracks. You will find yourself at Station F, the world’s biggest start-up campus. Founded in 2017 by the well-known French telecoms magnate Xavier Niel, the 34,000-m² campus is entirely dedicated to digital technologies.
It’s worth going inside for a closer look. You can also have a drink or a meal at La Felicità, a gigantic 4,500-m² restaurant with an amazing bar.
Station F – 5, parvis Alan Turing, Paris 13th
More info on Station F
The courtyard surrounding the Station F building is aptly named Parvis Alan Turing after the inventor of one of the first computers.
On reaching Boulevard Vincent Auriol, you will find yourself looking at the ‘Dr. House’ patchwork of mosaics by the street artist Invader, who is best known for the tile graffiti featuring characters from the Space Invaders video game with which he decorates various Paris streets (there is even an app called Flash Invaders that you can use to track down the mosaics). This huge street art piece – one of the artist’s largest – is a tribute to the people who work at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital on the other side of the wall.
15 / Église Notre Dame de La Sagesse
Make a little detour via this church – the last one to be built in France in the 20th century. The interiors made of rough concrete are a tribute to Le Corbusier.
Église Notre Dame de La Sagesse - rue Abel Gance, Paris 13th
Then return to Boulevard Vincent Auriol to go up Avenue Pierre-Mendès France: be careful, between two buildings under construction on your left, you can see the dome of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, the first and largest hospital in Paris built in the 17th century at the request of Louis XIV.
Between numbers 16 and 22 of Avenue Pierre-Mendès France, go down the small staircase that leads to Rue Fulton.
16 / Immeuble Fulton and Danse de la fontaine émergente
The incredible Fulton building, with balconies that change colour depending on the light, is one of the most eye-catching additions to the cityscape in this part of Paris. The tower block that previously stood on the same spot was transformed before its demolition into one big street gallery called ‘Tour 13’. More than 100 street artists were given free rein to decorate the space in October 2013, and it was open to the public for that entire month.
Immeuble Fulton – 2, rue Fulton, Paris 13th
Walking back up Rue Paul Klee, you will see an unusual piece of art: a dragon that starts as a frieze on a wall and snakes its way to the nearby square, where two of its coils emerge from a City of Paris underground water treatment facility. This street art installation is a fountain called the ‘La danse de la fontaine émergente’ (The dance of the emerging fountain).
"La danse de la fontaine émergente" - place Augusta Holmes, Paris 13th
More info on ‘La danse de la fontaine émergente’
17 / The headquarters of ‘Le Monde’
Return to Avenue Pierre Mendès to admire the new headquarters of the French newspaper ‘Le Monde’. France’s best-known daily is moving into this tall glass building on its 75th anniversary. The futuristic building has been designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta to represent a bridge between ‘Le Monde’ and its readers. On the façade, clusters of LEDs in a glass matrix represent ‘the transient flow of information like clouds or stars moving across the sky’.
Groupe Le Monde – 78, avenue Pierre Mendès, , Paris 13th
Rue François Bloch-Lainé leads you straight to the Cité de la Mode et du Design.
18 / Cité de la Mode et du Design
The best view of the Cité de la Mode et du Design is to be had at night from the Pont Charles de Gaulle (the bridge connecting the Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare de Lyon railway stations). Behind the façade resembling a long green snake winding over the water’s edge is a 6000-m² venue spread over four floors. It houses the Institut Français de la Mode (a fashion school), a restaurant and some very trendy nightclubs. The Cité de la Mode et du Design also boasts the biggest rooftop in Paris.
Cité de la Mode et du Design – 34, quai d'Austerlitz, Paris 13th
More info on Cité de la Mode et du Design