Top 10 industrial sites reincarnated as bustling art hubs
The bleak visions of Chaplin’s "Modern Times" are over and many of France’s former workshops and factories are now producing culture. Swap your spanner for an unlimited Navigo pass and get ready for an artistic excursion off the beaten track.
Six feet under
For more than 120 years, the Centquatre (104) housed Paris's municipal funeral services. Since 2008, however, its two massive halls have become a bona fide artistic and cultural hub. Set right by the Canal de l'Ourcq, the centre welcomes artists and visitors to enjoy its contemporary art exhibitions or browse its boutiques and bookshops.
Le Centquatre : 5, rue Curial - 75019 Paris
Film lovers, your temple to the silver screen can be found in Saint-Denis. Reachable in only 30 minutes by RER D from Châtelet-les-Halles, Luc Besson's Cité du Cinéma — a former power plant — has been transformed into a complex of film sets, production offices and a film school. Here, you can follow a guided tour, "Lumière sur la Cité du Cinéma," that takes you through the decors and costumes of many legendary films.
Cité du Cinéma : 20, rue Ampère - 93200 Saint-Denis
The Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Pantin, an offshoot of the Marais gallery, has taken over a 20th-century former ironworks factory in the suburb of Pantin. Only 30 minutes by RER E from the Gare Saint-Lazare, the vast site is programmed with exhibitions of often monumental works by world-famous artists, from Georg Baselitz, to Alex Katz or Anselm Kiefer.
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Pantin : 69, avenue du Général Leclerc - 93500 Pantin
The city doesn't have the monopoly on contemporary art. And proof can be found at the Galleria Continua in Boissy-le-Châtel, at the heart of the countryside east of Paris.
This former 10,000 m2 paper factory has presented, since 2007, works by Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren and Mona Hatoum.
New art market
Set at the foot of the Butte Montmartre, the Halle Saint-Pierre — originally a market, then a school — is now a centre dedicated to outsider art and art brut.
Its typical 19th-century iron-clad structure, in the Baltard style, houses a museum, a gallery, an auditorium, an arts bookshop and a café.
The new iron age
Once a slaughterhouse, the Grande Halle de la Villette has maintained its cast-iron structure. Renovated by the architects Bernard Reichen and Philippe Robert, this new cultural space offers a programme that combines circus arts, dance, theatre and urban culture.
In the midst of the contemporary buildings around the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, Les Frigos — a former railway refrigeration hangar — immediately catches the eye with its colourful frescos.
Since 1980, the building has been transformed into an artists residence for more than 200 creators and is regularly open to the public for exhibitions, shows and open days.
Les Frigos : 19, rue des Frigos - 75013 Paris
Back to the farm
Once a chocolate factory, the Ferme du Buisson de Noisiel in the suburbs east of Paris has become a space for experimental art and cross-cultural interactions.
At just 30 minutes on the RER A from Châtelet-les-Halles, its brick and exposed timber buildings now house six theatres and an arts centre.
Forging new culture
Trombones and trumpets were once the main sound at the Maison Couesnon, a former brass instruments factory in Belleville.
Transformed in 1937 into a trade union house for French metalworkers, it is today an arts centre — the Maison des Métallos — which offers a rich programme of exhibitions and debates, mixing art with social issues.
With its red brick façades, this former eyelet factory in Ivry-sur-Seine is a marvel of industrial architecture, reachable from Paris in just 20 minutes via metro line 7.
Today, it has switched its metal rings for art works from the Centre d’Art Contemporain d’Ivry. Each year, four exhibitions by emerging artists, both French and international, cover its walls.
- Copyright image: Cité du Cinéma