Les Halles: Architecture and Massing

Architecture and massing is the characteristic of an area involving the relationships of buildings to each other and to the streets. In order to assess the strength of this variable, we considered the form of individual buildings and the impacts that their forms and placements had on adjacent buildings and streets. Effects related to this variable include shadow impacts, the way that building arrangements can affect pedestrian traffic and traffic congestion, and the way that different architectural styles can culminate in a cohesive or clashing aesthetic.


We chose to observe specifically the way that street-level shops and restaurants affect the flow of pedestrian traffic, since Les Halles is a heavily commercial area as well as a center of transportation, and is often crowded with shoppers, diners, and travelers. Therefore the number of shops taking up sidewalk space might affect crowding and pedestrian traffic.

In order to properly analyze our variable, we determined three categories of sidewalk occupancy:

  1. None: The commercial building does not occupy any sidewalk space.
  2. 20150617_144027 Some: The commercial building occupies some, but not more than half of the width of one side of the sidewalk.
  3. High: The commercial building occupies half or more of their side of the sidewalk space.20150617_144055

We then divided the Les Halles area into four sections that each group member would carefully observe individually. Each person was responsible for counting the shops that belonged in each category, and observing the effect of the shops on pedestrian traffic in their area.


Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.34.30 PMWhile most of the businesses in Les Halles occupy no sidewalk space, when they do, it tends to be more invasive than limited.

The shops that occupied no sidewalk space were usually retail. Shops that occupied some space usually had some kind of advertisement set outside for their products. Those that occupied high sidewalk space were restaurants with tables or clothing shops with several racks placed outside.

From our observations, a reason why such businesses might occupy large areas of the outside spaces is that there is insufficient space inside the buildings due to the multitude of stores packed into a limited amount of building space, forcing them to go outside for more space.

However, many shops with large sidewalk occupancy didn’t obstruct traffic too much. Restaurants and cafés with tables usually kept them separated from the area of pedestrian traffic, whether by a physical barrier or an organizational divide. Retail stores that extended a great deal onto the sidewalk usually had awnings or temporary walls erected, which create a clear divide between where to walk and where to shop.
20150617_144316The businesses that obstructed the most traffic had disorganized mannequin arrangements, shelves, or racks that were placed so that the people viewing them were in the way of bypassers.

However, we also observed that even when these street-level shops obstructed pedestrian traffic, it was not to a significant degree. Most of the streets in Les Halles were wide enough to accommodate a significant amount of sidewalk occupancy and still leave a large amount of room for pedestrian flow. We still observed traffic, but it was usually not caused by shops obstructing the sidewalk, and most often caused by a group of slow walkers, or large groups of people trying to walk in opposite directions.

Proposed Method of Improvement

It was difficult to come up with a method of improving the crowding situation in the Les Halles area based on the number of shops taking up sidewalk space, because we observed that sidewalk obstruction caused by the shops created a less significant effect on pedestrian traffic than we had initially thought.

However, the sidewalks could still become more organized by regulating the amount of space on the sidewalk that specific shops are allowed to take up. Stores and restaurants with smaller amounts of interior space should be allowed to take up more space on the sidewalk than stores and restaurants with larger amounts of interior space, so that they can properly conduct business. This regulation could be imposed in the form of the number of feet away from the storefront that they are allowed to place furnitures. For example, a small shop could be allowed to take up up to six feet away from its storefront, while a larger shop could only be allowed up to three feet away from its storefront.

Shops that don’t need their sidewalk space could also be allowed to sell their sidewalk space allotment to nearby shops that might need more space, similar to the way that development rights of buildings can be transferred in city-wide planning.

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