Essential Architecture-  Paris

Ministère de l’Economie, des Finances et du Budget


Paul Chemetov with Borja Huidobro


Quai de la Rapée & Boulevard de Bercy, 12th.






masonry, concrete frame


Chemetov is an exciting but uneven architect. He excels at innovative sculptural forms and beautiful use of materials, both of which are admirable here, but he often falls down in the human aspect of architecture. He doesn’t seem to always remember the fact that people have to live with his buildings on a daily basis. Here, Chemetov has created a sarcastic but perfect symbol for the Finance Ministry: its Orwellian shape looms like a monster guarding the entrance to the city, with two feet firmly planted in the rushing waters of the Seine. Chemetov might be making conscious reference to the 18th-century Paris walls which once stood here, exacting tolls on all merchandise entering the city. But sometimes architecture should be more than historic sculpture, especially when it’s 1,200,000 square feet of offices. It’s hard to pity Finance Ministry workers, but their souls must suffer every morning as they are sucked into this weighty hulk. The Minister, though, has a very spiffy office, facing the water, and some of the inside spaces are magnificent; unfortunately they’re almost impossible to visit. The best way to see this building is from the river. If you can’t find a boat, stand on the Pont de Bercy and be thankful this was plonked down towards the edge of the city and not in the middle of it. Despite its rather monstrous shape, this building is typical of Chemetov. At least you can’t call him boring. To see his sculptural sense at work in a different environment, check out his very successful Les Halles underground entrance, near Saint-Eustache, which in 1988 was added to the hideous 1979 mall. Or if you’re up at Parc La Villette, drop by the fabulous sunken bamboo garden, which Chemetov co-designed with visual artist Daniel Buren.


By Lisa Pasold (Special thanks to