Les Halles: Public Space


We looked at the nature of open and public spaces in Les Halles, an urban transit and commercial hub in central Paris. Focusing on two major spaces in the area—La Fontaine des Innocents and Le Jardin Nelson Mandela —we initially conducted a qualitative analysis of their public use. We noted that although the two locations were physically dissimilar, their purpose and usage were largely similar: to provide an open area for people to relax and interact.


Our first examination of the area noted subtle qualitative aspects of the space, and we proposed several hypotheses about how these aspects related to the nature of how each space was used. In Le Jardin, we found that people were more dispersed, and, in general, engaging in more restive activities including sunbathing, sleeping, reading, and relaxing, while at La Fontaine, we observed more active interactions — speaking on phones, conversing, eating, skateboarding, and such.

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We hypothesized that this differential usage of space perhaps resulted from the Jardin being padded with grass, being surrounded by trees, and containing approximately 2 km of benches.

These aspects of the Jardin thereby provided large seating areas, lacked background noise as it is located far away from the construction, had more airflow and sun, and was less pungent in scent.

As a whole, it provided stark visual, aesthetic, and ambient contrast to the norms of busy and bustling city life that is common throughout the rest of Paris. Conversely, at the Fontaine, the sound levels were higher as it was situated directly adjacent to the construction site, and there was fewer green furniture.

In terms of physical infrastructure, the area consists of more utilitarian structures—large square slabs of concrete, benches at right angles, etc. The entire location was surrounded by myriad shops, cafés, and businesses.

We thus hypothesized that the higher sound levels, combined with the lack of green and natural space, resulted in the Fontaine’s usage being markedly different from that of the Jardin.


Because we identified sound level as a significant factor affecting the variable use of these two open spaces, we decided to conduct a quantitative analysis of sound level within these two spaces. We thus used the application “Sonomètre”  to measure decibel levels at several points within Le Jardin and La Fontaine. In order to correct for outlying sound levels due to unrepresentative activities, we collected data at several points within Le Jardin and La Fontaine and subsequently calculated a weighted average.

Map of sound measurements taken in Chatêlet-Les Halles
Map of sound measurements taken in Chatêlet-Les Halles

Data and Analysis

Based on our sound level measurements, we made the following table and calculations:

Table 1: The decibel levels at the two public spaces.

Jardin Nelson Mandela        La Fontaine des Innocents

62 dB

72 dB

61 dB

70 dB

60 dB

68 dB

60 dB

68 dB

59 dB

 Average: 60.4 dB

       Average: 69.5 dB

The sound levels differ greatly between the two public spaces. In the garden, the average is 60.4 dB, which is much less than the average in the fountain, 69.5 dB. As seen in the map of the Chatêlet-Les Halles area, the contribution of the construction to the sound level increased significantly at the east side of the mall.

The orange circle shows the increase in sound levels.
The sound level measurements in the orange circle show an increase in noise closer to the fountain!

This increase in sound levels may actually be due to the fountain. In our initial observation of the area, we noted that the sound of water flowing nearby almost covered up the sound of construction. As such, the fountain may contribute a significant amount to the sound levels. However, it is important to note that more construction work is being done quite close to the fountain. The point where we measured 76 dB was right next to small construction site separate from the larger, closed-off area for the mall. Because of the louder nature of the fountain, activities that don’t typically require a relaxed, quiet atmosphere (such as reading) happen near the fountain.

Proposal: Potential Improvements

We therefore offer the following proposals to improve the quality of open space around La Fontaine:

1. In order to reduce the level of ambient sound, we could plant more trees and increase natural street furniture. We also propose adding grass either natural or artificial to the ground around the fountain. These proposals would have a three-fold impact:

  • First they would absorb ambient sound by functioning as absorptive surfaces to eliminate background construction noise and the noise from other artificially generated sources.
  • Second, these improvements would provide larger surface area for people to sit and relax, opening up the entirety of the ground surrounding the fountain to people.
  • Third, they would increase the natural atmosphere of the locale—aligning the surroundings more with the Jardin to foster a more rejuvenating environment.

2. In order to create a similar space to the garden in this bustling city square, we could erect physical infrastructure in the form of sound barriers between the construction site and the Fontaine. This would help decrease construction noise, and perhaps allow an opportunity for artists in the area to decorate the walls and create a different kind of atmosphere.

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