A Digital Break in Paris

So this is probably the world’s classiest outdoor Wi-Fi hotspot. A new project in Paris by French designer Mathieu Lehanneur, who has done innovative, sustainably designed products, and JCDecaux, a British firm said to have invented the idea of embedding advertising in outdoor furniture, got lots of attention from the major design blogs a few months back and just last week The New York Times’ “Home” section also picked up the trail.

Called Escale Numérique (or Digital Break), the new Wi-Fi hotspot is a green-roofed pit-stop at the busy corner of Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées, a few blocks from the Grand Palais, writes Urban Gardens. Inspired by the Wallace fountains, “which since the end of the 19th century, have offered Parisians the free drinking water circulating beneath their feet, Escale Numérique allows everyone to benefit from a high-speed Wi-Fi connection by raising it from beneath the ground,” said Lehanneur, in comments to that Web site. 

The new piece of urban infrastructure comes with a large multimedia touch screen that provides maps, guides to city services, and local news, along with free Wi-Fi.

As Architizer remarked, “Evidently, if the 19th century flâneur needed drinking water to fuel his meandering journey, the flâneur of the 21st century needs a means to check Facebook.”

Just the beautifully-sculpted yet sturdy-looking concrete swivel seats may be worth a visit alone. These have built-in electrical outlets for a quick laptop or phone charge and mini-tables to rest weary elbows.

The New York Times
 writes that they profiled Lehanneur because he’s seems so unlike the usual designer interested in creating yet another high-end chair. Lehanneur is well-known in the product design world for creating smart sustainable products like a household air purification system using plants and a small tank to raise fish and vegetables that can fit into an average kitchen. Increasingly, he’s also interested in designing for the public realm, with new chess player tables and urban infrastructure for skaters in the works.

While Wi-Fi is free in all Parisian parks, Lehanneur makes this ubiquitious and invisible infrastructure a destination. The green roof and warm woods are inviting, the touch screen looks useful, and the chairs comfortable. According to Lehanneur, Paris may do more if the project is successful. It looks like that’s actually a possibility, too: the designer said, “It’s not easy to insert one more object in the city, which already has so many things on the street. But it seems to be very natural. Five minutes after it was set up, people were using the map, sitting and making calls.”

Image credits: copyright Felipe Ribon

One thought on “A Digital Break in Paris

  1. karlbarrett 08/15/2012 / 3:13 am

    This is the future! I love it…. As a landscape architecture student I keep on thinking of ways to incorporate wi fi into my design work and this is a really good precedent. Thanks!

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