Near the Eiffel Tower, a walled garden quite unlike other formal Paris gardens offers a delightful spot to wander and relax outside the Quai Branly Museum.
In the museum garden, an abundance of seemingly natural plantings counterbalances the building’s geometric lines and blocky bold colors. Tucked between a glass wall and the museum buildings, the garden can feel a bit like a lost part of the city, but one with good walkways and convenient places to sit!
Taken as a whole, the museum evokes an abandoned city, sprinkled with French Modernist landmarks, that has been taken over and transformed into a wondrous collage. – Nicolai Ouroussoff in the New York Times (June 27, 2016)
It is very unlike the neatly manicured lawns and formal gardens found throughout the city.
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This post is updated from a photo essay originally published in June 2008.
The Quai Branly Museum floats in a garden
Located on the Left Bank of the River Seine near the Eiffel Tower, French architect Jean Nouvel intended that the Quai Branly Museum (officially the Musée du quai Branly ) would be very different from other museums.
A new type of museum for indigenous art in Paris
The Quai Branly Museum was built to house France’s collection of indigenous art and artifacts from the Americas, Oceania, Asia, and Africa.
It was not a project without controversy, as the museums holding these objects were not eager to surrender them to another institution, anthropologists were displeased by the decision to display the objects simply as works of art separate from their meaning and use, and Parisians in general were unhappy to see a prime location turned over to an architect known for unusual experimental designs.
Indeed, when the Quai Branly opened in 2006, the museum buildings were a dramatic departure from the neighborhood’s existing architecture.
Practically within shouting distance of the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du quai Branly is the newest of the major Paris museums.
Interior needs met by exterior features
The structure Jean Nouvel created is unusual.
The museum itself floats above the site, held aloft visually by a glass wall at one end and physically by pillars at the other. Overhead, elevated walkways link the museum to ancillary buildings. Brightly painted boxes protrude from one side of the museum, solid chunks of color ejected from the wall. A variety of glass walls, some recognizable as such, but most largely hidden behind a lattice of external blinds and shutters.
While some glass walls could be part of any office building, many are set behind an oversized lattice of highly stylize louvers. Other sections are covered in simple flat panels that open vertically to allow light to enter while shading the window from above.
While all of these features make for a fascinating exterior, they were designed to meet needs inside the building. Elevated walkways allow staff to easily move between work spaces and galleries. The protruding boxes hold small galleries.
And all those lattices, shutters, and screens? These are designed to create specific effects inside the building by manipulating the light as it enters. They generally serve the same purpose as Nouvel’s screen of geometric apertures at the Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe) not far from Notre Dame Cathedral. But here the form has changed to suit the more natural setting and more completely control the interior light.
And then the entire site was swathed in greenery.
A garden to evoke a lost world
Of course, as the Quai Branly Museum is not a typical Parisian building, its gardens are not typical Parisian lawns with neatly trimmed hedges and formal flower gardens.
Architect Jean Nouvel sought “a Parisian garden [that] becomes a sacred wood, with a museum dissolving in its depths
The groves and meadows, meandering streams and waterfalls echo a natural landscape that flows around, under, and up the buildings. Abundant greenery sprouts from every space, clambering over walls and hillsides alike.
The natural plantings are a perfect foil for the architecture. They alternately reveal and conceal the site’s structure, the soft architecture of the plants contrasting with the hard surfaces and geometric patterns of the building.
Of course, they also help cool the buildings.
Walls of many types
A long glass wall separates the gardens of the Quai Branly Museum from the street that runs between the museum and the River Seine.
The gardens behind that glass wall flow under and around the Quai Branly. They were designed by French landscape architect and scholar Gilles Clément and serve multiple purposes: an escape from the modern world, a setting for exploration, and a physical screen to obscure the museum itself.
Much of this occurs within the confines of what is essentially a walled garden.
Not a traditional walled garden, of course, but a garden separated from the surrounding world by vertical features of all types. Inside the walls micro-climate thrives where plants appear to grow wild and free (the plantings are carefully planned and pruned) while visitors follow paths that aimlessly wind through the greenery. It is in almost every way the opposite of the fruitful and tightly controlled walled gardens of history. As if nature was walled in, rather than walled out.
The strong lines of the structures within the museum compound (there are four structures on the site) and the walkways that float above the trees near the building top enhance the sense of enclosure. They provide a visual frame or, perhaps, a trellis for the garden.
A vertical garden as a living wall
But the most dramatic wall in the garden is the living wall created by French botanist Patrick Blanc.
Facing the street at the far end of the glass wall separating the rest of the site from the street, this vertical garden is the museum’s most well-known feature.
Its curved façade is faced with large glass windows separated by a vibrant array of greenery. In all, there are 376 species of plants, including species from the four continents from which the work on exhibit inside the museum was collected.
While best viewed from the street, the curved end of the green wall is also just visible from inside the garden.
The original green wall (pictured here) was recently replaced. It retains the same 376 species of plants, but features improved insulation and a stronger system for holding the vertical garden’s 22,000 plants in place.
Plan a visit the Quai Branly gardens
The Quai Branly (Musée du quai Branly) is located along the River Seine about a block from the Eiffel Tower.
The gardens are free to visit, but hours are limited. (See below for more information.)
Getting to the museum and gardens
Currently (spring 2019) only the Debilly and University entrances are open to all visitors.
- Physically disabled visitors may use the Terrace Pools entrance.
The museum can be reached via Metro, RER rail, or bus. There is also a Batobus stop near the museum.
- The nearest transit stops are the Tour Eiffel stop on the Route 42 bus and the Batobus
- The RER C Pont de l’Alma stop is closed through summer 2019
For those who wish to drive, the Quai Branly has a parking garage.
More information on getting to the Quai Branly can be found on their webpage.
The gardens at the Quai Branly Museum are open to the public free of charge.
Both the museum and gardens are closed on Mondays.
Access to the gardens is available beginning at 9:15 Tuesday-Sunday. At least in spring, the gardens close at 7:30 (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday) or 9:15 (Thursday-Saturday). Check the website for up-to-date information.
The museum and garden are closed on Mondays and a few of holidays.
In the gardens
I walked through the gardens at a couple different times of day when visiting the museum in 2008. That was just a few years after it opened. Although there have been a few minor tweaks to the garden, it seems that it still looks much as you see it here – only with taller trees and even more dense plantings.
The gardens are illuminated at dusk by an installation of glowing tubes created by light artist Yann Kersalé.
Visitors can download a map showing the gardens as part of a more complete map of the complex.
The guide specific to the gardens is only available in French.
Restaurants in the museum
The museum has two restaurants, Café Jaques and Restaurant Les Ombres. The café serves light meals in a café or on a terrace in the garden. Les Ombres is located on the top of the museum and offers fine dining with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Neither appear to be inexpensive.
I have not eaten at either restaurant.
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