France, city of Nantes forgoes pharaonic artwork in face of social emergency

In France, the city of Nantes has abandoned the Arbre aux Hérons project, a monumental 35-meter high and 50-meter wide work that was supposed to continue the redevelopment of a suburban area. For the mayor, the work no longer responds to the current context of social and ecological emergency.

In France, the mayor of Nantes, Johanna Rolland, announced this week that the city, the regional capital of the Pays de la Loire, will give up an ambitious and expensive art project, L’Arbre aux Hérons (“The Tree of Herons”), because it no longer responds to the current “context of social and ecological emergency.” L’Arbre aux Hérons is a project that in its intentions was to continue the redevelopment of the Île de Nantes, an island formed by the Loire, on the edge of the historic center, and its surroundings: it was to be built on the site of a disused quarry in the city’s first outskirts, about 800 meters from the island, now the site of a city park (the “Extraordinary Garden”) that is in constant evolution. Designed by sculptors Pierre Orefice and François Delaroziere.

It was a monumental work, somewhere between sculpture, architecture, merry-go-round and vertical park, 35 meters high and 50 meters in diameter, shaped like the banyan tree: twenty branches would grow from the trunk with hanging gardens imagined as micro-landscapes above them, in turn containing a bestiary of 130 species of mechanical animals that would welcome visitors. The name comes from the fact that in the authors’ intentions it was also to house a nesting heronry. L’Arbre aux Hérons, their authors explained, “is a unique experience. You walk from branch to branch in the hanging gardens and give life to the animals of the bestiary. You access the tree balconies that open 360 degrees to the river. We gain altitude by climbing aboard the Grand Héron. We contemplate our city and its neighborhood with a fresh look. In the heart of this former mineral quarry, we are experiencing one of the greatest challenges for cities in the years to come: the revegetation of buildings and the urban environment. An extraordinary journey, in the heart of the ’green star’ of Nantes and its network of rivers and parks.”

The mayor’s decision, however, put an “end” to this work whose work had already begun. “I have decided to put an end to this project in the context of the social and ecological emergency we are experiencing,” Rolland said at a press conference, highlighting the rising cost of the project, which has risen in one year from 52.4 to 80.4 million euros due to technical reasons, inflation, and rising raw material costs. “80 million euros,” the first citizen added, “is too much for the people of Nantes,” and finally reiterated that it was a choice that rewards “reason and responsibility.” The end of the work was scheduled for 2027. A total of 8.5 million euros had already been budgeted for the project: 4.3 for technical studies and 4 for the creation of the mechanical bestiary. Johanna Rolland let it be known that the sum already committed will be used to expand the Extraordinary Garden.

The city is now divided: environmentalists, opposed from the beginning to the project (they had renamed it “Arbre aux millions,” or “The tree of millions,” because of the costs deemed too high, and had called it “a metal tree embedded in concrete”) as it was deemed to be environmentally unfriendly, applauded the mayor’s decision and welcomed the “good news,” while Orefice and Delaroziere speak of “betrayal” and “sadness,” as well as a decision imposed without discussion.

It has to be said that from the beginning the project had not gone smoothly, partly for bureaucratic reasons: initially the city of Nantes had awarded the work through a single contract to the company La Machine, and then at the end of August 2021 the prefecture had asked the administration to instead split the work into several public contracts, a situation that increased the construction costs by 13 million euros. Figures that will now no longer be needed.

France, city of Nantes forgoes pharaonic artwork in face of social emergency
France, city of Nantes forgoes pharaonic artwork in face of social emergency

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