Haussmannian apartment buildings and the zombie apocalypse

Paris will be a great place to survive the zombie apocalypse. Part of the reason why: those stereotypical Parisian apartment buildings.

A recent study evaluated the survivability of cities during the zombie apocalypse.  The approach was rational, modeling a number of factors that contribute to surviving the apocalypse–food supplies, containment, and the like.

Paris was nowhere on the list of best places to be when the mort-vivants come.  This illustrates a problem with the study, because Paris is going to be an excellent place to survive the zombie apocalypse.  In a recent post, we looked at how the history of Parisian street design will make it easier to defend your little home against the marauding flesh-eaters.  However, the next step is important, too–clearing the zombies from the city.  In this, Paris has some distinct advantages.  They come from the design of the stereotypical Parisian apartment buildings.

Picture source:

Part of everyone’s image of Paris is those stereotypical apartment buildings.  They make up about 60% of the city, especially in the older quarters.  You know them: seven stories tall (6 as we count them in France, where the ground floor is the rez de chaussée and the first floor is what we would call the second floor in the US).  The design goes back to the 3rd quarter of the 19th century–roughly 1850 to 1875.  They differ in their details, but the basic design is a 7-story building with horizontal lines of decoration and some kind of additional fancy detail–often a balcony–on the second floor (American 3rd floor, known as the étage noble) and the 6th floor.  The exterior embellishments reflect the original intent of the structure of the floors: shops on the ground level, the shopkeepers on the floor above that, richer people on the floors above that, and the servants under the roof (in the chambres de bonnes).  The picture to the left gives the idea, with more details to be found in the picture below, in French–scroll down past it for the rest of the post, and see the French notes below for a couple of the related vocabulary items.

Picture source:

Second-Empire Paris was a place where there was an enormous amount of money to be made, and an enormous amount of money was made–by people in the “right” social classes.  The Haussmannian apartment buildings played a big role in that money-making.  As Rupert Christiansen puts it in his magnificent Tales of the new Bablyon: Paris in the mid-19th century,

The money was made out of the apartment blocks, those distinctive…six-storey tapered edifices, which have remained the norm in stretches of central Paris until today.  Architectural historians now lovingly catalogue the variations in detail that their iron- and stonework embrace, but the basic construction followed a strict code of regulation: specified height and depth, with an entrance wide enough for carriages and a courtyard for parking, ventilation and fire prevention.

Those apartment blocks are, I think, beautiful–but, their construction (along with that of the wide boulevards that we talked about here) had the effect of displacing an enormous number of people who had previously lived in the old buildings that they replaced.  As Christiansen describes it, Haussmann‘s redesign of  Paris

…remains the nineteenth century’s most radical experiment in shaping and governing urban society… [The logic of the redesign was to] push industry and the sans-culottiste tendency out of the centre of Paris, replacing its warren of dangerous slums with public monuments and commercial development attractive to a new class of clean-living, high-spending, Empire-supporting bourgeois.  In other words, kill off a city built on the virus of poverty and give birth to a financially fecund city resting on clean foundations… [and] keep the construction trade busy and happy, thus preventing a resurgence of the discontents which had led its workers to fan the revolutionary flames in 1848…

You can find more details on what kind of housing the displaced poor ended up in on this web page:  Housing the poor of Paris, 1850-1902.

What’s missing from the study mentioned above will be the relative ease (or difficulty) of   clearing out the zombies afterwards.  The architecture of Paris is made for clearing zombies.  In particular, the typically small apartments limit the number of zombies that you could possibly have to deal with at one time in order to clear a building, as well as reducing the number of rooms from which a zombie could mount a surprise attack–the typical ad for an apartment in Paris (I read them obsessively) is for 30 square meters, versus a more typical 90 square meters in the US.  The vertical design will play a role in this, too–you can clear the zombies one floor at a time, isolating the apartments pretty easily.  A working-class Haussmannian building–if you can find one–is not an imposing edifice (see pictures of mine below, probably built around 1900, a quarter-century after the end of the big Haussmannian boom).  Clearing the zombies out of my building is going to be cake–I look forward to a relatively easy time when the zombie apocalypse comes.


French notes

la mansarde: attic room.  In a Haussmannian apartment building, these are the chambres de bonne–the rooms for the servants.  In theory it’s not legal to rent them out, but of course everyone does, and at the moment there’s a legislative move afoot to legalize those rentals while stiffening the requirements for the modifications that have to be made to them in order to make them moderately habitable.

la lucarne: skylight, dormer.  Look for them in the pictures above.

English notes

to be cake: être fastoche.  This is a shortened form of to be a piece of cake, which means to be fastoche, to be very easy.  How it was used in the post: Clearing the zombies out of my building is going to be cake.  This could also have been put as Clearing the zombies out of my building is going to be a piece of cake.  

mansard roof: An English-language technical term for the type of roof that you see on Second-Empire-style buildings in France and in the US.  As Wikipedia defines the term: A mansard or mansard roof (also called a French roof or curb roof) is a four-sided gambrel-style hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its sides with the lower slope, punctured by dormer windows, at a steeper angle than the upper.[1][2][3]  I didn’t use it in the post–its presence here is inspired by the definition of the French term la mansarde just above.

dormer: those things with a little roof of their own and a window that you commonly see sticking through the roof of older American houses.  I love them because there is an entire vocabulary for describing them–you can find it, along with plenty of pictures, on this Wikipedia page.


21 thoughts on “Haussmannian apartment buildings and the zombie apocalypse”

  1. Hello boy . Do you know your post about the National Geographic didn’t appear ?
    The origin of the term “mansarde” is found in Mansart, the XVIIth century architect, Louis the XIVth favourite, who designed several parts of Versailles .

    The will of emptying Paris of her riots makers got a second and definitive impulse in the last 60s . The power built these sad suburbs made of big cheap buildings around Paris to offer workers decent sanitary conditions and heating . It worked, I know 80 years old people who really appreciated to suddenly have a bathroom and central heating . In the beginning these suburbs were inhabited by French workers, no tags nor racket, drugs and guns of course. Moreover it didn’t take 2 hours to go to work . That’s when pennyless foreign and French artists stopped finding miserable hotels in the Latin Quarter, Montparnasse or Montmartre . Until the 90s a memory of popular atmosphere remained in the North- NorthEastern side, Belleville, Ménilmontant, Barbès or La Villette, but even these parts have lost their soul now . Sniff …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m oddly happy to hear about Mansart. When I was a kid, my father told me that Mansard rooves were named after a guy named Mansard. Since growing up I’ve realized that my father’s etymologies were mostly just guesses–it’s nice to hear about one that wasn’t total bullshit–thanks!

      Yes, I know about the National Geographic one–I hit the wrong button.


      1. Your father was right, Yippie!, or actually was as wrong as the rest of the world . Look at here : and you’ll find that “la mansarde” had in fact been invented a century before by Pierre Lescot, a genius of Paris architecture who achieved the definitive front of le Louvre and other monuments of Paris . Lescot designed several mansardes in le Louvre in 1550 . So we should say “une Lescotte” rather, you can tell your father .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m off to Grenoble on Tuesday to find an apartment for the first 6 months of next year while my husband is on sabbatical at IRaM …. we are hoping to find one in a Haussmann block of which there are many in the centre. This is the sole reason that we have asked the Institut not to look on our behalf …. if there is a chance, I need to grab it! Great piece and I will share with my husband later.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We have found a place in a monument historique right opposite the ancien palais de justice but it is not clear whether it will work out …. they are doing work and it may not be ready in time for us. So we will look again after Christmas …. life never pitches straight balls when I’m on the mound!!!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The only thing is for reasons of harmony French law requires that all people who have the privilege of living in a monument historique must wear costumes of the same period as the building . All offenders will have their head cut .

        Liked by 2 people

    1. There can be no sleeping until AFTER the zombie apocalypse! If “The Walking Dead” has taught us anything, it’s that constant vigilance is the only effective response to the mort-vivants, avec ses dents acérées et déployées! No sleep (no I’m not slipping over the edge, no I’m not slipping over the edge, no I’m not slipping over the edge)!!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah, my blessed ignorance. I’m squeamish and close my eyes when films get too gory/scary, so there was really no point in my watching “The Walking Dead” nor anything similar

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I do not like gore and have no stomach for watching any more human suffering than I have to, but “The Walking Dead” explores everything that is useful about the zombie metaphor, and is worth a watch…

    Liked by 1 person

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