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Controversy Surrounds Whether "Brest the Grey" Will Tran...

Controversy Surrounds Whether "Brest the Grey" Will Transform into A City of Colors

Brest, France is often known as “Brest the White” or “Brest the Grey.” But what if these qualifiers were to become obsolete one day? It is possible that things are moving a bit in that direction. This month, the subject of coloring the city was at the center of an ambitious meeting at the Mac-Orlan Center.

Brest, France Tour Tanguy seen on a Grey Day

Brest, France is often known as “Brest the White” or “Brest the Grey.” But what if these qualifiers were to become obsolete one day? It is possible that things are moving a bit in that direction. This month, the subject of coloring the city was at the center of an ambitious meeting at the Mac-Orlan Center.

Since its reconstruction after the Second World War, “The Western City” has been seen in a particular way by the rest of France and even from the windows of its own citizens. Whether unjust or not, Brest has preserved its reputation of being a city that is architecturally rather sad, dull, and above all - grey. Debates reappear regularly, particularly since the 80s, about whether or not it is necessary to put color on the walls of houses and other buildings.

Several years ago a few citizens, tired of being destined to contemplate ad nauseam the dreary chain of pallid facades on their street in the Kérigonan neighborhood (between Camille-Desmoulins and Mathieu-Donnart streets), crossed the line. They decided to repaint the exteriors of their houses themselves, in green, orange, and blue.

Au Coin de la Rue building with orange facade in Brest, France

The act was certainly illegal, but had the tacit support of a number of Brestois citizens who were amused and seduced by the streets, which had become multicolored with an almost Irish feel. The actions of these citizens, who were fed up with the grey, created ripples in the neighborhood, and even beyond. It is enough to walk along Becquerel, Condorcet, Félix-Le Dantec or Camille-Desmoulins streets to be made resoundingly aware of this.

Thierry Fayret, Brest Metropolis’s Vice-President of Urban Planning and Housing, explained that the city decided to seriously discuss the subject of color on the occasion of Architecture Month. He proposed a meeting that intended to address the issue to both professionals and inhabitants of the city. “We have wanted to work around this question during the course of this mandate,” explains Fayret. “It goes along with the happiness of our streets, the attractiveness of the city as a whole, and even the entire identity of Brest. We want to move beyond deeply entrenched ideas and try to establish a shared plan that will allow us to advance peacefully on the subject of color in the city.”

Brest, France Rue de Siam on a grey day

This topic was thus at the heart of debates held at 9:30 am and 4:30 pm on May 13th at the Mac Orlan center, where the featured speaker was architect Daniel Le Couédic, Director of the UBO Institute of Geo Architecture. At 2 pm, there was time for feedback on work done over the year with consulting neighborhood and citizens’ associations in the Metropolis. Also in conjunction with Architecture Month, Brestois citizens could take advantage of visiting a free exhibit in the Jaurès and Coat-ar-Guéven exposition spaces. There, they were able to view several architectural projects that received 2014 awards in the Brittany region, specifically in the Finistère Department.

How much control should the city have over citizens’ use of paint on the exterior of their houses? Have there been any conflicts over exterior paint use in your community? How does color effect the way that we interact or feel about our cities? Share your thoughts and city's stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 1 by Bruno Girin. Images 2, 3, and data linked to sources.

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Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year...

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