Geneva is not just a city of diplomacy, but also a riot of colours and architectural marvels
I am looking at a scene unfolding in front of me that looks straight out of a comic book. A riot of colours and curving shapes, whimsical mushroom houses that make me think of elves and gnomes peeping out of their households. Concrete animals, spiralling staircases, organic looking wrought-iron balconies… it is certainly not what I expected to find in Geneva.
Cosmopolitan Geneva for most people is its banks, the United Nations, gigantic water fountain or the famous watch industry. But dig below its staid surface and you will find its fun quotient and a playful streak. I am on Rue Louis Favre in the Grottes neighbourhood behind the Cornavin train station. And, I am smacked by the Gaudi-style apartment blocks built between 1982 and 1984 by three architects instrumental behind these unconventional marvels. With an aim to pump some life into the dead architecture, the city council decided to experiment with the buildings and structures. Reminiscent of the smurf houses, these unique blocks are home today to more than 700 families, all centred around trees and playgrounds.
Right behind the Gare Cornavin, bordered by the Rue de Montbrillant, I see colourful art work enlivening gritty walls, ranging from beautiful human figures to graffiti. Also, a funky double decker bus painted like a hamburger, nestled beside a bicycle parking structure grabs several eyeballs.
As I further explore the city, I see metallic art installations decorated on the streets. Taking a tram across the Arve River, Geneva melts into the handsome suburb of Carouge with a Mediterranean vibe. Also called the ‘Greenwich Village of Geneva’, it has many boutiques and studios selling handicrafts. The 19th-century houses with steep slate roofs, painted shutters and stone archways are a delight to gaze at.
Carouge, founded for the King of Sardinia, is yet another beauty to treasure. The leafy streets bustle with restaurants, open air cafes, independent cinema, art spaces and boutiques run by craftspeople. Another new gentrified district that I discovered is the Quartier des Bains, a former industrial district, now flowering with hip galleries focusing on contemporary art. During my jaunt, I feasted on the dramatically lit and curated richest collections of ethnological objects from India, Japan, Africa, etc.
Saving the best for the last, behind Geneva’s city hall is La Treille Park, a lovely and sunny square with the longest wooden bench in the world. Built in 1767, the bench is 413 feet long and made of 180 wooden boards. That’s not all, the bench lies under a chestnut tree and it is said that the chestnut’s first
bloom announces the arrival of spring in Geneva.
Words: Kalpana Sunder