Haussmann (or Haussmannian) architecture refers to the quintessential Parisian style of 19th-century architecture that still defines Paris and whose enduring appeal has made Paris one of the most visited and well loved cities in the world.
Haussmann architecture features large, elegant buildings with stone facades and wrought iron details. Consider it the quintessential Parisian-style building.
History of Haussmann Architecture
The history of Haussmannian architecture began with Napoleon III’s desire to take Paris from a ramshackle medieval city plagued with overcrowding and disease to a cohesive modern city full of light and air. He appointed Georges-Eugène Haussmann, a city prefect but not an architect, who oversaw this radical reimagining of Paris from 1853 to 1870, causing a massive social and civic upheaval and making Haussmann one of the most famous and controversial urban planners in history.
To realize Napoleon’s vision, Haussmann bulldozed cramped winding streets lined with snug medieval buildings and created straight broad boulevards and avenues lined with block after block of sober, elegant stone apartment buildings that redefined and unified the look of Paris. The renovation also included new parks and squares, kiosks, street lamps, the opulent Palais Garnier opera house, and the modernization of the city’s water and sewer system.
Haussmann was ousted after 17 years. He was criticized largely for turning Paris into a giant and expensive construction site, disregarding its history, and destroying the medieval charm of old Paris (which has never completely disappeared, chiefly in the heart of the Marais district). But his work had already transformed Paris and his influence carried on through around 1910, to what is called the post-Haussmannian period, when many of his stone buildings were embellished with the kind of decorative stone and wrought iron work that are most prized today.
Many Haussmann buildings were torn down in the 1970s to make way for contemporary tower blocks. Nevertheless, Haussmann's legacy endures in Paris, where 40,000 Haussmann buildings represent 60 percent of the city’s housing stock. Apartments in Haussmann buildings are still sought after by locals and foreigners alike. And you can find pockets of Haussmann-style architecture in various places around the world, from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Buenos Aires and modern day China.
Key Characteristics of Haussmann Architecture
- Large, elegant, imposing buildings that vary slightly in size and details but share common characteristics
- Stone facades
- Plain or ornamental black wrought iron window grills and balconies, especially on the 2nd floor
- Gray zinc Mansard roofs angled at 45 degrees to allow maximum sunlight on city streets below
- Chimneys that were originally used for heating and now symbolize the iconic rooftops of Paris
- Dormer windows on top floor attic rooms that sometimes include tiny balconies and offer some of the best views across Paris
- French double windows
- Large single or double wooden entry doors with bronze or iron doorknobs
- In many buildings, stone paved carriage entrances that lead to a central courtyard
- Traditional interiors with hardwood herringbone pattern or straight plank oak floors, intricate moldings and millwork, marble fireplaces, inlaid fireplace mirrors, and French doors and windows
Haussmann architecture may have a reputation as a classically beautiful, crowd-pleasing building style that remains popular today and gives Paris a timeless appeal, but Haussmann apartments were built for another century.
In today's real estate market, apartments on upper floors generally command more money and are considered more desirable. In large part because Haussmann apartments were built before elevators became the norm, upper floors were less desirable, with lower ceilings and rents. (Today, some buildings have retro-fit elevators that may start one floor up or end one floor before the top, depending on the building layout.)
The ground floors of Haussmann buildings were designed to accommodate shops and commerce. The first floor (second, in the U.S.) was usually reserved for the shopkeeper and often used for storage. The second (third, in the U.S.) floor was known as the noble floor, reserved for the elite, with the highest ceilings and grandest proportions. The top (6th) floor was generally reserved for household staff. Miniature rooms sometimes included fireplaces for heating and tiny balconies. Not all had water hook ups, and even today top floors of upscale Haussmann buildings may contain converted maids rooms as small as 50-150 square feet that have no access to water and shared toilets in the hallway. It's not uncommon for people to buy out the top floor and combine them to create larger apartments with prized views.
While Paris’s buildings still look unified on the outside, many homeowners have chosen to make modifications to existing interior floorplans to make them more in line with modern lifestyles. Many people choose to knock down walls to create more open plan spaces, chiefly between what would have been a formal dining and living rooms.
One of the most crucial modifications is in regards to kitchen placement. In the 19th century, kitchens were cramped quarters located far from main living spaces and close to service stairways, so that staff could prepare food out of sight. Today most people want a big, open-plan kitchen that’s connected to dining and living spaces, and many current homeowners are fine with knocking down walls and tearing down original woodwork in order to create floorplans suited to current lifestyles, often balancing historic features with contemporary kitchen designs.
How Georges-Eugène Haussmann's Architecture Defined Paris. Architectural Digest.
Herod, Andrew. The rational city: Paris. Atlas of Cities, pp. 88-105, 2014, Princeton University Press.