We find it normal our days that a property situated higher in a building costs more than a similar property on a lower floor and that the most expensive apartments are located on the top floor. This was not always the case though…
During the Second Empire in France, Napoleon III launched a huge urban planning project, which he confided to Baron Haussmann. In Paris, about 60% of all buildings belong to this architectural style. Even in Nice we can admire this type of building, especially on Boulevard Jean Médecin, as well as in the area of les Musiciens. There are a few ones in Cannes as well. In addition to the architectural aspect, the Haussmann buildings also reflected the society of the time, as they housed several families from different social classes, in the same building.
So what is so special about these Haussmann buildings, which all look alike and were constructed by fairly strict rules?
- The ground floor was reserved for shops. Just above the shops was the mezzanine (first floor), without a balcony, which served as accommodation for the owners of the shops on the ground floor.
- The second floor, "the noble floor", with the highest ceilings (up to 3.20 meters against 2.60 meters on the first floor), the largest rooms and apartments as well as balconies all alongside the facade, was reserved for the bourgeoisie. The noble floor was the best placed, as it was sheltered from the noise of the street (a little different type of noise, at a time when the automobile had not yet made its appearance) and without too many stairs to climb (the elevator was not yet really in common use). Even today it is very common to see fairly new buildings, where balconies and terraces exist only from the second floor.
- The third, fourth and fifth floors were simpler, with lower ceilings, for the "middle classes". However, the fifth floor often has a balcony, in order to create harmony with that of the second.
- The top floor, under the eaves, was reserved for the domestic staff of the second floor. These "maids' rooms" are now very sought after by students, or by people looking for a foothold in the big city.
photo @vorbild architecture (Haussmann building with Niçois colours, rue de l'hôtel des Postes)