This is the third in a new series of posts covering the rich history of Carouge, one of Geneva’s most fascinating neighborhoods. This series is authored by B, an AIWC member and resident of Carouge who is obsessed with history, languages, and winter sports.
III. One Shade of Gray
The innovative new city of Carouge would be erected with no fortifications, a directive for religious tolerance, and an organized layout which would deliberately funnel travelers into its tree-lined commercial center. Carouge would be a model of modern urbanism.
Over the course of the next 20 years, 6 architects from Turin would labor over designs and oversee the construction projects that created Carouge. From the outset the architects wanted to impose an orderly grid system with wide, paved streets, providing ample light for the houses and “making the place gay in order to attract visitors”, as well as interior gardens within each city block, called îlots. The biggest problem faced by city planners was the rue Ancienne, which had so many private houses by 1772 that the king couldn’t afford to replace them all. But the city also had to be oriented toward the existing bridge, not toward the currently blank bank on the Arve which was the terminus of rue Ancienne. Carouge was being deployed as a secret weapon; the out of the blue construction of a new international bridge was also out of the question. So, Carouge was laid out on a generally North to South grid orientation, with rue Ancienne cutting across on its own original diagonal.
Plans included a water feature. The River Drize would be diverted into a canal that flowed along Boulevard des Promenades and into the Arve north of rue du Pont-Neuf. The canal bridge which remains at the western edge of Place de Sardaigne connected to the road to Lancy, passing by the estate of the Marquis de Wuache. Originally, a second interior canal was envisioned, which would have traversed the town at Place St Victor (now Place du Temple), providing a “Dutch” atmosphere and more accessible water. Ultimately, this construction was considered impractical and was controversially eliminated from the plans under Viana.
The architects and some of their major achievements are outlined below:
- Garella before 1772- original map of Carouge, which determined its grid layout and its cardinal orientation, first designs of the Church and the Presbytere.
- Piacenza1772 – 1777 – (Charles Emanuel III dies and his son Victor-Amadee III takes the throne.) Sainte Croix and the Presbytere, a wonderful portal for the old cemetery, abandoned in 1822, diagonally across from the later Jewish cemetary.
- Manera 1777 – 1779 – Interior of Sainte Croix, Maison Perrier (Rue du Marche 2)
- Robilant1779 – 1781 – modifications to Sainte Croix, new plan for the city, the most experienced of the Carouge architects
- Viana1781 – 1783 – Mainly responsible for grading the terrain to build the new streets, the canal, and the canal bridge. A city planner took over from Viana, until he realized that he really needed …
- Giardino 1786 – 1792 – original design for Hotel de Ville (was located beside the canal bridge, demolished 1961), the hospital, the Arcades, many, many houses, especially rue J. Dalphin and Place du Temple.
The various architects based their building designs on the existing local architecture of simple low structures of 2-3 levels with rectangular doors and upper windows and rounded archways. The buildings were originally dark gray, covered in a rough crushed stone called crepi which can still be observed on a few addresses on rue Saint Joseph, for example. The pastel colors of today have been made possible by replacing the old crepi surfaces with smooth concrete.
Giardino in particular can be credited with the harmony of archtecture in Carouge, in which the buildings share many common unifying elements, but are never identical. In 1787, all new construction in the îlots facing “the new street” and Place Saint Victor was placed under the supervision of Giardino in order to “give this street decor and uniformity”. Rue Dalphin is the best example of Giardino’s gift for creating a pleasing scale and blend of facades, as most remain largely intact. A notable detail is the 4 matching corner stone treatments on the buildings at the intersection with Place de Sardaigne. The Auberge des Trois Rois – where the owner was forced to sell much of his land and structures so that the streets could be built and was not happy about the price – provides a good comparison with Giardino’s more neoclassical interpretation of the local type.
Essentially all of the development achieved to this point had progressed from rue Ancienne west. The plans included a corresponding expansion to the east, but history intervened. The southern side of Place du Marché should have been a series of Arcades, of which 2 remain. The hospital was never built. The next block of Rue Caroline (Dalphin) north of îlot 13 would not be completed until the twentieth century.
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