Monday, February 02, 2015

What Paris's expensive concert hall looks like? Like a giant Batman cape thrown down by the superhero after a tiring mission

Stephen Clarke couldn’t get in to visit Paris's new Philharmonie building on its open day.
This is the gigantic new concert hall on the northern edge of the city, at the Parc de la Villette. Well, I could have waited, but the two queues of prospective visitors were three or four deep and 50 and 100 metres long (those are estimates, by the way, I didn’t actually measure them). It was also freezing cold, and as an über-Parisian, queuing up is not my speciality, so I wandered around the outside of the building then went for a coffee.

I’m not surprised there were so many visitors. Parisians love open days, and in this case we all have a vested interest. As payers of both city and national taxes, we have all crowd-funded the new concert hall without being asked, and the maths are complicated but I calculate that I’m in for about ten euros personally, plus a few euros per year from now on to cover subsidies and loan repayments (according to the très sérieux magazine Le Point, the project somehow managed to obtain itself a 150-million euro loan at over 5 per cent interest – there’s one mortgage broker who must have retired to the Cayman Islands on the spot).

So what are we getting for our 400 million euros? At the moment, a building site, with a partially unfinished facade, but when it’s finished, it will look (and this is a purely personal view) as though someone is trying to iron a giant Batman cape that has been thrown down by the superhero after a tiring mission (perhaps to track down an errant mortgage broker), crossed with a multi-storey car park. Unsporting, perhaps, but when you step to one side of the façade and go inside the adjacent Parc de la Villette, you have a view of a series of balconies that look like car park ramps. Functional, maybe, but for all that money, couldn’t we have got all-round beauty?

 … This isn’t my first outbreak of Victor Meldrew-like grumpiness about the new concert hall, I know. But it is just so expensive, and the whole budget process has been so dubious. The Le Point article revealed some exasperating facts: the initial tender was for a concert hall that would cost 200 million. Two bids came in, at 300 million each. After haggling, one of the builders came down to 218 million, though allegedly (according to Le Point) certain people admitted that they knew it couldn’t be built for that. And now we’re footing the bill for double the original – wrong – estimate. This at a time when subsidies for Paris’s sports clubs, gyms and many social charities are being slashed.