…may be on the Boulevard Mortier, on the eastern edge of the city.
It’s massive, dingy, and dilapidated. Walking down the overpass underneath its residential upper floors on your way to one of the shops or offices or the children’s library located there, you see fissures in the dirty walls and wonder in a sudden panic if the whole thing will collapse.
This isn’t the only ugly building in Paris, really. For example, two that most visitors are more likely to see are the CROUS building across from the lovely Closerie des Lilas, just below the magnificent Jardin du Luxembourg, and a dilapidated circa-1970’s structure whose underpass stinks of urine, just a few steps away from the eccentric Centre Pompidou and the neighborhood’s countless picaresque historical structures.
But here’s the thing. In Paris, ugly buildings are surrounded by beauty. In the case of this particular building, the one on the boulevard Mortier, you only have to look across the street to see its opposite: a former customs house dating to the 18th century, its warm, beige stone and brown, old-fashioned shutters radiating charm. Or head a street away to the Square Emmanuel Fleury, a beautiful park full of flowers. Down the street that runs beside the ugly building, the rue St. Fargeau, you’ll see modern apartment complexes prettily decorated with urban gardens at the foot of planted trees just outside. And further down, you’ll arrive at the formidable Beaux-Arts buildings of the Avenue Gambetta. Further still, there’s the stunning landscape of Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Though it’s not what their architects intended, I like to think of Paris’s ugly buildings as monuments to the hope of better things to come. Their facades may be bleak and dingy as despair, but just around the corner, there is always something breathtaking.