Rocked by months of controversial – and sometimes violent – yellow vest protests, Paris’s most famous avenue is greeting the vernal equinox on a lighter note. Today’s ceremonial opening of six luminous fountains along the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées aimed to rekindle a sense of wonder at the legendary thoroughfare. Designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec in an ambitious collaboration with Swarovksi, the installation revitalizes the six 19th-century fountain basins on the parklets surrounding the intersection. Together, they feature a combined total of 3,060 of the namesake crystals, framing the roundabout in a sparkling necklace of light and water.
Each fountain is anchored by a bronze mast, which holds the delicate, slowly rotating crown of crystalline jets that splashes Paris from above. Suspended just above eye level, the angular chandeliers are light and graceful, allowing the gentle sparkle of water and glass to define the experience. At night, the LED-infused Swarovski crystals alight, accentuating their presence with a warm glow.
In an urban context awash with history and culture, the brothers Bouroullec aimed for a modest intervention that infuses a contemporary aesthetic with a sense of historical context. The scale and geometry of the fountains carefully reflects the size of surrounding street trees, while the use of crystal harkens to the glass of the site’s erstwhile 19th-century fountains. According to Ronan Bouroullec, the design was shaped by a commitment “to stay in keeping with historical tradition by choosing crystal, a material similar to the one that was already found in the previous fountains on the Champs-Elysées, the glass.”
The lightness of the bronze and crystal structures lends each fountain a deferential grace. Quietly compelling at first glance, the fountains grow more alluring under our gaze. Individual crystals are seamlessly joined with a bespoke support structure – developed by Swarovski as part of the commission – allowing them to read as a weightless, floating whole. The unhurried rotation imbues the installations with an almost hypnotic quality, fostering a reassuring sense of slowness amidst the urban rush of 21st-century Paris.
Built to withstand the elements – and the test of time – the surprisingly durable crystal structure is designed to retain its distinctive lustre. “Patented new techniques and technologies will help [the crystals] to shine bright for many decades to come,” says fifth-generation Swarovski scion Nadja Swarovski. Complementing the innovative structure, each fountain incorporates some 60 metres of energy-efficient LED strips, producing an output of 50,000 lumens.
The new fountains are the first project by Fonds Pour Paris, a privately funded initiative created to bolster the public realm – and commercial draw – of the Champs-Elysées. The organization is also supporting the installation of a Jeff Koons sculpture in the Petit Palais, along with a new lighting program for the Arc de Triomphe by Olafur Eliasson. For now, there are six fountains, introducing a quiet and lovely sparkle in troubled times. Yellow vests or not, it’s springtime in Paris.