The Lutèce, a fireboat built during the inter-war period, was used to put out the fire that set ablaze the Pantin mills in 1944. Abandoned for more than 15 years, it finally makes its big return to Pantin in 2018, bringing with it: culture, memory, and a festive program.
1944 – 1991: a powerful state-of-the-art fireboat
The Lutèce is a steel fireboat built in 1937 in the old Franco-Belgian shipyard of Villeneuve la Garenne. It was commissioned by the city of Paris to protect the Universal Exhibition that took place along the Seine and whose extent made eventual land rescue complicated.
The Lutèce could put out fires in the coastal areas but also supply pumper trucks and fire trucks in more distant zones.
The technical specifications of the boat and its sistership, the Paris, were: excellent handling – specially during starting and stopping commands – thanks to its Voith Schneider propeller, which is still used on state-of-the-art vessels; average speed of 25 km/hour; top-notch equipment capable of fighting fires and refloating the vessel, absolute autonomy and perfect stability.
The two ships were also equipped with diving suits in case underwater research or work needed to be done.
During World War II, the Lutèce was a means of retaliation against the German “anti-city” air strikes. If the bombings were to cut off the water network, or waterless sectors were in need, the Lutèce could supply water to relay land devices. It could also produce the electric energy required to operate projectors, ventilators, spotlights, and all other electrical equipment that was used on the battlefield.
One of its most remarkable interventions was fighting the fire of the Great Mills of Pantin, bombarded by German warplanes in 1944. Alongside with the mills of Corbeil and the 13th district of Paris, these mills were part of a big 19th century infrastructure destined to supply the city with flour from the Brie and Beauce regions.
In 2003, the building was renovated by architect agency Reichen et Robert to turn it into the new home of the BNP-Paribas offices.
In 1991 the Lutèce was taken out of service and retired. It narrowly avoided destruction and ended up abandoned, docked in a port in Genevilliers for nearly 25 years.
2018: a recreational space to promote culture
The Lutèce is transformed into a unique space, rich with history, encounters, and recreation around a shared purpose. Transporting goods and people isn’t the boat’s only use – it also conveys values. Just like in its previous life as a fireboat, the Lutèce is synonymous with adventure, sharing, discovery, and solidarity, but this time, articulated around educational and cultural events.
The Lutèce becomes a public space that carries its passengers along the Ourcq Canal, between the Rotonde and the Magasins Généraux in Pantin, as they navigate through the history of the canal and surrounding buildings. The engine room becomes a museum that retraces the boat’s history and different key interventions of its career. The customized sail cover and furniture are designed to maintain the passengers’ comfort without altering the boat’s original esthetic.
Once the ship is docked, the upper deck turns into a stage that can accommodate concerts, plays, and screenings. The audience can sit an enjoy the show with a drink from the patio on the port. The Lutèce becomes the center of attention. Each supporting function, such as the kitchen or restrooms, is located inside the boat. To make service easier, a service hatch is set up between the front cabin, where the preparation office is, and the navigation room. All of the patio equipment is stored beneath the wheelhouse.
The cultural animation and program primarily target Pantin and Paris residents who visit the canal and not only passing tourists. The navigation content is adapted to school groups and first-aid training workshops organized by the BSPP are available to all citizens. The scene space showcases a selection of original and talented artists.