Posts Tagged ‘Chinagora’

Visit to a Phantom Palace – Part 3

Sunday, July 25th, 2010
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Tea Pavilion in Chinagora Garden
(c) Discover Paris!

In its hour of glory, the garden must have been a fabulous place where one could take tea in a pavilion that overlooks the sublime landscape. Yet it became evident why the garden was supposed to be off limits when one of the wooden guardrails of a footbridge yielded to the slightest pressure.

I later found information on the Internet that part of the Chinagora project is being used as a warehouse. This would seem to be confirmed by the presence of a guard whom I spotted, standing in front of an office marked “Sécurité” on a side street. I also read that flight crews from China Airlines stay in the hotel. Anything to bring in some revenue!

It is pretty clear why the Chinagora project failed. Although lying only five miles from the heart of Paris, it is not serviced by convenient transportation. The closest metro stop is about 15 minutes away by foot. Two buses stop nearby, but Bus 125 only goes to the edge of Paris; and Bus 325 only goes as far as the National Library. In effect, anyone who wants to travel between Chinagora and Paris has to make an extraordinary effort.

It is regrettable that this monumental tribute to Chinese architecture and culture failed. May the magnificent phantom palace continue to sleep peacefully for a thousand years!

This is the last post in the series entitled “Visit to a Phantom Palace.”

Visit to a Phantom Palace – Part 2

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
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Chinagora Viewed from Place du Confluent France-Chine
(c) Discover Paris!

Today, Chinagora stands on the banks of the Seine and Marne rivers like a magnificent phantom Manchurian palace. We entered the grounds, where I noted that there was a tourist bus parked in the parking lot of the hotel. As we made our way into the hotel lobby I noted that a number of hallways were blocked off with the same type of metal grills that are used for crowd control in Paris. Decidedly, this was a building that one was not permitted to explore!

The lobby was a peaceful place, with a number of the hotel staff going about their business. I was surprised to see a few tourists sitting in the lobby. Why did they come here? I wondered. And what is the point of staying in this isolated place? The hotel staff paid no attention to us, a group of about twenty persons, as we purchased soft drinks from a vending machine and wandered about. Patrick Urbain must have asked the concierge if we could explore the garden that sits in the center of the hotel, because someone opened a sliding glass door and we were allowed to step outside.

Chinagora Garden
(c) Discover Paris!

The garden showed signs of dilapidation, but was still a beautiful place. A couple of footbridges crossed over empty ponds, and vegetation grew abundantly. I overheard someone comment about an unusual plant that he spotted. He said that it was only found in China, and he took a picture to document his discovery.

To be continued…

Visit to a Phantom Palace – Part 1

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
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Chinagora Viewed from the River Marne
(c) Discover Paris!

On Saturday, June 5, I joined a group of people led by Patrick Urbain, Director of the Conseil d’Architecture, d’Urbanisme et de l’Environnement du Val-de-Marne, for a visit of unusual buildings that lie to the east of Paris along the Seine river. The highpoint of the visit was the Chinagora project, located at the confluence of the Seine and Marne rivers, just upstream from Paris. We took a boat, a Veugéo, from the dock in front of the National Library upriver to the dock at Alfortville, and then walked downstream along the riverbank of the Marne to get to the site.

Chinagora was built in the early 1990s on the site of an abandoned paper factory. At the height of its glory, the 44,000 m2 project consisted of five buildings that comprised a commercial gallery, an exposition palace, three panoramic restaurants, and a three-star hotel. It was financed by the Guangdong Entreprises Limited, a Chinese group, at a cost of 100 million euros.

The Cantonese architect for the project, Liang Kunhao, is said to have been inspired by the architecture of the Forbidden City for the design of Chinagora. The beautiful dark-green tiles that embellish its roofs were imported by boat from Canton. The project opened in 1992 with the completion of the Chinagora Hôtel, the Chinagora Restaurant, and the Palace of Expositions. In 1994 a magnificent three-story, 3000 m2 shopping center opened, housing a score of boutiques selling merchandise and food from China.

The entire project was destined to become a showcase of Chinese culture. Indeed, from 1992 to 1996, a number of cultural expositions were held, including “The Treasures of the Museums of Canton” and “The Splendor of the Costumes of China.”

But the development fell on hard times. The exposition palace was not profitable and was transformed into a Chinese supermarket. This, too, closed. In fact, all of the enterprises eventually closed except for the three-star hotel. A new Chinese group, called Nouveau Monde, took over the project in 2003 but was unable to turn it into a profitable enterprise.

To be continued…