Footloose at l’Arenas

As you approach Nice with the sea on the right buffered by the airport, you see one or two modern buildings on the left, but they only peep out as the enviebus flashes by.

Probably from the late-1980s the area called l’Arenas was developed as a city hub.  To have done this within traditional Nice would have been a disaster, but older cultures appreciate this and protect their own.  The place is a marvel and it never ceases to amaze me that I have known of the tips of icebergs, but, on walking there, under the sky-daring edifices of this quarter, I find the true extent of it.

Banks, insurance houses, upmarket hotels… there’s nothing small in this urban development, buildings that create a series of les places or large piazzas.  It is a panorama of post-modern architecture with a sense of having the gargantuan bases of the buildings scattered there, instead of lined up neatly.  Strangely, it pays respect to the scattered quality of the vieille ville in each medieval city, the parts that rose up before anyone had thought of urban planning.  The design dwarfs the tradition of three, four storeys in old streets – see Antibes, see Nice, see Paris.

And glass… entire facades of these sky-reachers are huge panels of reflecting glass.  It lends at once a lightness that sheer granite would not and at the same time you look at the opaque burgundy of sunglasses:  what happens behind these vast facades is private.  The immense reflections fascinated me – the buildings reflect each other in bloodless cameraderie. The flambouyance of the 19th-century, the grace and twirl of the beach front hotels on the Promenade des Anglais, famous in the world, have evaporated. This is all square.

Overlooking the largest of the Arena spaces, a step-terraced park area, there is an artwork of l’Enfant fou  –  a rough ceramic disc with a text on the one side and on the other, a strange child-within-child image, almost cherubic baroque in style.  The text reads:  the child sees through the eyes of the mad child… An odd moment in this landscape of human rationality.                                                                                                 

It was hot and I had one more building to see, one that was along the Promenade.  I walked (and walked).  The wind was lashing the sea, flecking it with seahorses, as my mother used to call them, very different to the still sheen of last December when I walked along here.  I reached it – perhaps the last of the starkly modern buildings before the traditional hotels begin.

It is called the Spada, or, at least, that is what I’m calling it.  A striking design, it is a glass-clad rectangle next to a glass-clad wedge.  It looks for all the world like pieces that have been cleaved apart.  It is interesting to see what a sloping line like that does to the entire feel of a large building.  It never ceases to move somehow.

Will van der Walt ©

Mardi 12 Juin 2012

Image Sources:  Photographs by Will 


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