Elephant of the Bastille Paris

Unbuilt Paris

A monumental elephant in place of the Arc de Triomphe. An aerodrome in the Jardins de Bagatelle. Multiple Eiffel Towers. Take our tour of the Paris that never was!

Paris in the Twentieth Century

Paris in the Twentieth Century

Jules Verne’s Paris in the Twentieth Century (written in 1863 but not published until 1994) was rejected by his publisher for being too far out-there, but actually got many things right. His 1960s have cars, skyscrapers, underground trains and a network of computers that can be used to send messages. Women work the same jobs as men and have children outside marriage. Entertainment is dominated by nudity and sex. For most people in the 1860s, this would have been totally incredible.

Unlike Verne’s earlier and later books, Paris in the Twentieth Century is a dystopia. The protagonist is a romanticist disappointed in the modern world.

Le Vingtième Siècle illustration
Albert Robida’s depiction of Paris in Le Vingtième Siècle (1883)

Verne’s contemporary, Albert Robida, imagines a happier, but less futuristic, twentieth-century Paris in Le Vingtième Siècle (1883). The streets are filled with smog and the skies are full of dirigibles. Police towers dot the skyline to keep an eye on the nighttime traffic.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Paris
Paris in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume I (1999-2000)

The Paris in Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is something of a homage to Verne’s and Robida’s. The sky is full of smog and dirigibles and there appear to be several Eiffel Tower-like structures on the horizon.

Monumental Elephants

Paris could have had two monumental elephants. The first proposal dates from 1758, when architect Charles Ribert drew up plans for a giant elephant statue in central Paris. It would have water coming out of its trunk and music coming out of its ears, courtesy of an orchestra inside.

A full-scale plaster model of the Elephant of the Bastille was actually built in 1813. The monument was sponsored by Napoleon, but construction on a bronze version stopped when he was defeated at Waterloo in 1815. After rats took up residence in the plaster version, it was torn down in 1846. The July Column now stands where the elephant once did.

New Parliament

Paris parlement design

Around the turn of the last century, the Bourbon Palace, across the River Seine from the Place de la Concorde, was considered too small to house the French parliament, which had doubled in size.

Étienne Coutan, then a young architect, proposed demolishing the palace altogether and replacing it with a vast and monumental structure that would have dominated the Paris skyline.

Open Air Theater

Paris open-air theater design

Before he became an architect in the Art Deco style, Adolphe Thiers proposed replacing Square Barye on the eastern tip of Île Saint-Louis with an open air theater.

Palace of the People

Paris Palace of the People design

As a young architecture student, Léon Jaussely — who would go on to author the most significant revision of Barcelona’s urban expansion plan, the Plan Cerdá (also see Unbuilt Barcelona) — dreamed up a Palace of the People for Paris, built north of a vastly expanded Place de la Bastille.

The column in the center of the drawing is the July Column, which was erected in 1835-40 to commemorate the July Revolution.

Maison de la Mutualité

Maison de la Mutualité Paris design

The Maison de la Mutualité was built in the early 1900s in the Art Deco style. If architect Henri Ebrard had had his way, the theater and conference hall would have been done in the more traditional Beaux-Arts style instead.


The fact that this wasn’t built must be steampunks’ biggest regret: an “Aero-Club”, or aerodrome, west of Paris in what are now de Jardins de Bagatelle. The designer was Henry Bans.

Newspaper Office

Paris newspaper office design

Little is known about this drawing, except that it was entered into a competition for the design of a Paris newspaper office.

The byline credits a “Laprade”, which suggests the architect may have been Albert Laprade, who started his career in the studio of René Sergent, a Louis XV-style specialist.

Laprade’s own style became more modernist after the First World War. Starting in the 1930s, he became a well-known advocate of town preservation and restoration.

Place de la République Train Station

In 1909, Paul Bouchet won a National School of Fine Arts competition for the construction of a new train station in the center of Paris.

Bouchet proposed a huge Crystal Palace-like building that would sit between the Place de la République and the Canal Saint-Martin. A roofed passageway would separate the departure and arrival halls. The railway tracks would be underground.

Expanded Place de la République

Paris Place de la République design

Architect Claude Mortello had his own ambitious plan for the Place de la République that similarly involved tearing down half the neighborhood around it.

Concert Halls

Eugène Chifflot and Maurice Prévôt both designed these various concert halls for Paris.

Unfortunately, that’s all the information I could find, which suggests these may have been doodles rather than serious plans.

Monument to the Glorious Dead

Paris Monument to the Glorious Dead design

Another one that sadly comes without specifics. All I know is that it was the brainchild of one Alphonse Gougeon.

Automobile Palace

Paris Automobile Palace design

Jean Hébrard designed this Automobile Palace as a student at the National School of Fine Arts. He moved to the United States in 1907, where he taught architecture at Cornell.

Hébrard served in the French army during World War I and returned to the United States in 1926, where he resumed teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.

Phare du Monde

Paris Phare du Monde design
Story about the planned Phare du Monde in Modern Mechanix (July 1933)

Eugène Freyssinet, a French civil engineer who specialized in the construction of bridges and airship hangars, proposed a gargantuan “Lighthouse of the World” for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.

Modern Mechanix reported in July 1933 that the 700-meter-high tower would have dwarfed the Empire State Building and the Eiffel tower and that its design, including “a spiral ramp for autos to climb up its sides, stuns the imagination with its vastness.”

April’s Extraordinary Paris

April and the Extraordinary World

In the 2015 French-language animation film Avril et le Monde truqué, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 is averted when Emperor Napoleon III dies in an accident. In the following decades, top scientists, such as Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, mysteriously disappear, setting back the pace of progress. By the 1940s, the world has run out of coal and is burning wood instead to power its engines. The people of Paris have to wear masks outside to survive the smog. The French Empire is plotting a war against forest-rich Canada.

The rest of the plot involves a talking cat, a secret lizard city underneath Paris and the terraforming of the Moon, Mars and Venus.

Steampunk Paris

Various artists, including Marcin Gęzikiewicz, Didier Graffet, Stefan Prohaczka, Ludovic Ribardiere, Gilles Roman and Sam Van Olffen, have given us their own interpretations of a steampunk Paris.

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