Since I was in Paris I wanted to find a copy of the PCF’s theoretical review Cause Commune. I’d already done a survey of the left-wing bookshops I knew, and those generally didn’t stock journals. On the way I picked up this little book by Henri Lefebvre, but no luck on what I was actually looking for. I was told that ‘magazines are for newsagents’. So, I took a metro to Colonel Fabien to ask the PCF directly.
I’ve walked past the party headquarters many times, but it was my first time going inside and admittedly I was pretty excited about it.
Inside the building, I asked the receptionist if there were any newsagents nearby which stocked Cause Commune, he asked me to wait and went to fetch someone who would know. It turns out he’d called down one of the people who works in the party’s publications section, she suggested I come up to her office, and she gave me a brief tour of the building.
There are dedications in the lobby to members of the Central Committee who ‘died so that France may live’ during the resistance.
I got to go in the white dome, where the party’s leadership holds their meetings. It genuinely feels like being in a spaceship.
There are some stories about how this dome was built with some shielding in place to make the party meetings impenetrable to surveillance by French intelligence services. I asked about that and the publications worker nodded, but she didn’t elaborate.
Beneath the dome there are two more levels underground, containing the party’s historical archives and some more meeting rooms. There are photos of these rooms on Flickr and they could easily be mistaken for the set of a science fiction film. Walking around the dome feels like you’re in a spaceship, it’s an alien space.
Underground there is also the remaining exposed wall of an abbatoir which the new building replaced.
The corridors follow the curve of the building, which prevents you from seeing a straight line across the offices.
There are little details, like a special pattern for the canteen tiles, or custom window handles.
The roof of the building is topped off with slanting concrete mounds.
It feels like a cross between a playground and a bunker. Apparently in an earlier time, party workers came up here to sunbathe and drink, with a view over the whole of Paris.
The party keeps beehives on the roof.
This section of the roof is partly hollow, exposing the penultimate floor of the building to a kind of sheltered balcony.
From the back part of the roof you can also see a sunken garden behind the building.
Back inside, we went through the former canteen. This used to be a large open space, but has since been cut up into generic office cubicles. It’s connected directly to the offices of the party leadership through a circular staircase.
There was clearly a genuine intention to create a progressive workplace here. No walls, all staff mixing freely, with lots of room for leisure and relaxation.
One wall was decorated with an original tapestry by Fernand Léger, an illustration of the poem Liberté by Paul Eluard. Even though it’s just an office building, there’s special attention given over to art.
If we take that same vision today, open plan offices are viewed as environments of surveillance. Workers long for the privacy of a walled cubicle. Silicon Valley tech companies create fashionable campuses with social spaces which look a lot like this building. But these workplaces come tinged with a cynical idea that the pool tables and bean bag chairs are really there to increase productivity.
If you had the budget to design a party headquarters from scratch today, what would the building ideally look like?