Illuminating the Path to Grand Pari(s): Architecture and Urban Transformation in an Era of Neoliberalization



This article examines the architectural exhibition associated with the large-scale Grand Paris urban development project initiated in 2007 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Through a close examination of the exhibition, I argue that imaginative representation is crucial to urban transformation, here acting to justify and naturalize neoliberal reforms. While the ten international teams of architects tasked with imagining twenty-first century Paris presented sometimes radical scenarios, the architectural proposals are also used by the state to secure a sense of regional coherence, to reaffirm the imperative of economic growth, and to deny broad sociospatial conflict. The futural aspect of speculative regional development is redoubled in the prospective architectural visions, thus solidifying the dominance of a marketized mode of urbanization. While this cooption of architectural designs emerges from the unique circumstances of contemporary Paris, it also speaks to the broader promise and limits of imaginative urbanism and large-scale architectural intervention.