Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hôtel Emile Gaillard

Built for a rich banker who needed a large structure to store his significant collection of renaissance art, this impressive house at first looks much older than it is. The design touches have a mixture of gothic and renaissance influences, and the brickwork is distinctly medieval. The walls notably feature the diapper pattern of darker diamond forms, but this style was to go quickly out of fashion.

The exterior today looks somewhat ludicrous and pretentious, but the interior is apparently of greater interest. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to see such brick craftmanship in Paris, even if it is a mere copy of older constructions.

Address: 1 Place du Général-Catroux, 75017
Architect: Victor-Jules Février
Year of construction: 1878-84

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ecole Maternelle Trois Bornes

A modernist chef d'ouevre, this school building used brick to fantastic effect to decorate concrete curves, balconies and porthole windows. The narrow, pink coloured bricks were layed in alternate directions, vertically then horizontally, giving the facade additional texture and movement.

Interesting side note - an air-raid shelter was built in the basement and used by local residents during the 39-45 war.

Address: 39 Rue Trois Bornes, 75011
Architect: René Requet-Barville and Louis Longuet
Year of construction: 1936

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Original Brick Facade

The sheltered housing project on the Rue Morand built on a previously run-down site in Paris garnered a lot of praise when it was completed. Andrew Ayers in his book 'The Architecture of Paris' called it "a colourful clearing in a dense and dingy area of the city", but times can change quickly. The structure is still an interesting one, but the surrounding area has changed. A busy park today sits opposite and modern sports hall has been built alongside, and it is now the imperfections of this structure that have become visible. Panels are falling off the wall, and the building now seems somewhat cut off from its neighbours, hidden as it is behind high gates and fencing.

There is one unique feature though which still helps it to stand out - the magnificent brick mesh facade which helps the building glide seamlessly from its dynamic pointed edge at the front to the early 20th century brick building at its rear. It is a thoroughly imaginative and unusual use of brick and one that does honour to those who took time to decorate the neighbouring structure alongside one hundred years ago.

Address: Rue Morand, 75011
Architect: The Architecture Studio
Year of construction: 1994-96

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ecole des Arts et Metiers

Stand in front of the main entrance to this prestigious technical school and you will see a classical stone structure, but if you wander around the perimeter of the site you will discover more mysterious buildings where brick dominates. It should be easy to guess which aspects of this structure grabbed my attention!

The Ecole des Arts et Metiers turns students into engineers, and it is particularly on this site that they gain hands on experience with practical work. In essence it is a working building, a factory that churns out engineers on its production line. They arrive in their final year of acadamia through the clean white walls of the entrance, but leave via the brick walls at the rear on thier way to their first professional assignments.

This contrast between the front and rear is striking. Although the major decorative elements were concentrated on the main facade, the rest of the building is not without touches of elegance. Workshops to the rear feature large cathederal windows, brick arches and iron and glass roofing whilst lines of bricks in fire-warm shades run the length of the site to one side. Frustratingly though, high iron fences and security guards prevented me from investigating the site in any greater detail.

Address: Boulevard de l'Hopital, Rue Pinel, Avenue Stephen Pichon, 75013
Architect: Georges Roussi
Year of construction: 1912

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The First Social Housing

Almost all social housing in Paris up until the 1960s (when concrete took over) was built using brick, so it is entirely appropriate that the first such structure should have been constructed with the material. At the beginning of the 20th century, such buildings followed Art Nouveau inspirations of the time and used brick and ceramics to very attractive effect, but here in the Rue Jeanne d'Arc, the brick is almost frightening in its rough simple form.

The architect Wilfred Chabrol had been asked to draw something functional, and he designed a structure with 35 almost identical two-room apartments. No thought was given to making the facade of the building attractive, indeed its harsh, cold form was supposed to act as a deterent. This was a structure designed to get the destitute back on their feet, not make them feel warm and comfortable in their position of the assisted.

Today it still looks oddly out of place in the city, but it still serves the same purpose, perhaps still with the same philosophy of not making residents feel too attached to the structure. However, when you have a roof over your head after spending nights beneath the stars, it is unlikely that you will worry too much about the facade of a structure that is bringing you warmth and shelter.

Address: 45 Rue Jeanne d'Arc, 75013
Architect: Wilbrod Chabrol
Year of construction: 1888

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Notre Dame de la Sagesse

One hundred years after Anatole De Baudet's St Jean de Montmartre church became the first religious building to use brick in the city, Pierre-Louis Faloci again used the material to create this modern structure, interestingly also the last such building to be erected in France in the twentieth century. Difficult to find in the warrens of the new Paris Rive Gauche sector, and not obvious immediately as a religious structure, the building nevertheless deserves a visit.

The Paris Rive Gauche district behind the Bibliothèque François Mitterand has mushroomed out of the ground at an incredible pace in the last 20 years. Now a mixture of office buildings, apartments and universities, it was decided that a new place of worship should also be built. The space set aside for this was not large, and Faloci decided to go for discretion rather than the monumental, creating a brick envelope around the building and adding a bell tower in the material which looks a little like a chimney.

However, it is on the inside that Faloci concentrated more of his efforts. The shell of the building is in concrete and this is clearly seen when you push open the doors. Raw exposed concrete dominates, organised in a manner that was clearly intended as a hommage to Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp.

Address: 2, place Jean Vilar, 75013
Architect: Pierre-Louis Faloci
Year of construction: 1999-2000

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

L'IRCAM (Extension)

Few visitors to the Centre Georges Pompidou are aware that an integral part of the scheme is also a centre for research into music and sound, the IRCAM (L'Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). The reason for this oversight is very clear - the original structure is completely underground, and it wasn't until the architect Renzo Piano added an above ground level extension that anybody could be expected to know of its existence.

For the original structure, Piano and Richard Rogers had been free to use the design and materials of their choice, but when Piano was asked to add additional floor space and come back above ground he was forced to respect Paris planning laws. He would be limited to a certain height, and above all, the building would have to be in brick to match the two neighbouring structures (an old school and a disused public baths).

Renzo Piano has never done things the easy way though, and was totally against producing a simple building in brick and mortar. He wanted to find a new way to work with the material, and eventually discovered a technique which allowed him to use brick in the facade without actually sticking them together. The bricks are actually perforated and strung together like beads on a necklace, then placed into panels and slotted into the building's metal frame.

The technique was experimental and proved to be very costly. After being placed into the furnace, the 20,000 bricks used in the building had expanded slightly and would no longer fit the frames, so each one had to be filed down to the correct size again - by hand! Nevertheless, the result was judged an overwhelming success and has become something of a Piano trademark, and much copied elsewhere.

Address: 1, Place Igor Stravinsky, 75004
Architect: Renzo Piano
Year of construction: 1988-89

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Like an Arch

And if you think of Brick, for instance,
and you say to Brick,
"What do you want Brick?"
And Brick says to you
"I like an Arch."
And if you say to Brick
"Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lentil over you. What do you think of that?"
Brick says:
"... I like an Arch"

Louis Kahn, 1963

A series of painted brick arches above doors and windows to decorate a nondescript plastered facade. I'm not sure that this is what brick had in mind, but the result is rather striking.

Address: 11 Rue Auguste Barbier, 75011
Architect: Unknown
Year of construction: Unknown. Late 19th century?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Saint Jean de Montmartre

Somewhat in the shadow of the nearby Sacre Coeur, the church of St Jean de Montmartre is in fact a far more interesting and revolutionary structure. After Montmartre was absorbed into Paris in 1860, the population on the small town on the hill began to rise quickly, and new places of worship were needed for this expanded community. The Sacre Coeur was built as a message to the city as a whole following the uprising of the 'Godless' during the Commune in 1871, but Saint Jean de Montmartre was always intended to be simply a community building.

The architect chosen to build the structure was Anatole de Baudot, a former pupil of Viollet Le Duc. He despised much of the architecture of the 19th century, calling it an architecture of pretence, where the structures used to create the buildings were often hidden behind columns and decorations. Working with the engineer Paul Cottancin, he discovered a way to build a new type of structure, one that would be lightweight and easy to produce. The framework for his building would be in reinforced concrete, with brick being used for decoration, insulation and as an additional support. The technique was so revolutionary that people refused to believe that it would be solid enough, and construction was halted for several years whilst tests were carried out.

When it was finished in 1904, reactions to the structure were very mixed. It was the first modern religious building in the city, and one that would prove influential when a whole series of brick churches were created in the 1920s and 30s, but many found it to be dark and austere. Today, we can admire the engineering and experiments with new materials, and wonder at the techniques they found to enable construction on such a steep slope, but on simple aesthetic terms it is not entirely successful. From the outside, it is a curious mix of byzantine and art deco, whilst viewed from the rear we could be forgiven for thinking it is a factory. The decorative elements are also not entirely convincing. The stained glass windows and the tesserae that cover the cement on the facade are certainly attractive, but other items are fussy, and only now have I noticed the ridiculously small clock on the top left side of the main tower.

Address: 19 Rue des Abbesses, 75018
Architect: Anatole de Baudot (with Paul Cottancin)
Year of construction: 1894-1904

Friday, May 22, 2009

The 5th and 6th floors

The classic Haussmannian structure was a building of 6 stories, no more than 20 metres high with eaves with a 45° incline. The typical earlier structures had very little exposed brick, but towards the end of the 19th century, a certain number were built with the final two stories constructed entirely in the material.
A superb example can be found in the 11th arrondissement. A magnficent 'ilot' structure, covering four separate streets (the Avenue Parmentier and Rues Deguerry, Darboy and du Chevet), it actually also has two individual entrances (130 and 132 Avenue Parmentier) and four street numbers, although apparently only a single architect and building permit.

It seems that this was something akin to a building fad which lasted approximately 30 years, with the first example being built in Paris in 1885 (12, Rue de la Pompe*). A new generation of architects wanted to transform the dominant Haussmannian face of the city, and this was the easiest and least controversial manner to add a touch of colour to the cityscape. In some respects, this was also an early pointer towards the arrival of Art Nouveau in city constructions.

Address: 130 & 132 Avenue Parmentier, 75011
Architect: Paul Fouquiau
Year of construction: 1891

* "La Brique à Paris", Bernard Marrey

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Leon Mager Building

This ensemble of structures, which for the sake of simplicity (and because of the large lettering!) I have named the Leon Mager building, is a curious mixture of the industrial and the residential. It was built to house not only the metal transformation factory of Mr Leon Mager, but also offices and rented accommodation. It was Leon Mager who was the major investor in this project and one that would seem to be a particularly interesting example of an 'immeuble de rapport', as he clearly saw the housing aspect as a means to gain additional profit from site of his factory.

Brick was naturally the ideal material to use for this unusual combination of industry and housing. Being built around a reinforced concrete structure, the architect, Julien Chapelle, was able to integrate several attractive features on the façade, notably the small, curved balconies dressed in brick. Combined with the larger, columned concrete balconies and the impressive lettering at the entrance, the overall effect is at once one of solidity and of more feminine curves which lean slightly towards the Art Deco.

The company apparently still exists, still at the same address featured in the advert above, but now seems to be simply known as Mager. Little remains of the factory area today, but the appartments still stand proudly. You can visit them virtually using the Google StreetView feature below.

View Larger Map

Address: 16, Passage Thière, 75011
Architect: Julien Chapelle
Year of construction: 1926

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits

Brick can be many things, but it is not often that it is linked to the romantic. What could be more romantic though than continent crossing steam trains filled with plush sleeping accomodation and restaurant cars? This is the image that the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits were trying to sell from this address, and how interesting that they should try to do so from a solid brick building!

Once again, the date of construction has been carved on to the building, this time beneath the majestic clock (which unfortunately, but inevitably in a country that takes no pride in public time-keeping, no longer works). 1903 was at the very heart of the Art Nouveau movement, but despite the company having been started by a Belgian, there is nothing 'nouveau' about this structure. Traditional in form, it is only the classical touches, notably the clock and the company crest in stone, that take this building out of the ordinary. Oh, and the use of brick of course!

In fact, the use of brick, as well as the clock and crest, were more to present an image of solid reliability than romance and escapism. Today though, we can look back on the golden age of steam when this building was constructed, and dream of being served champagne on one of the lines they ran (the Orient Express, the Transiberian, the Sud Express to Lisbon...).

Address: 44, Rue des Mathurins, 75008
Architect: Henry Duray?
Year of construction: 1903

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Charles Wislin's House

It was common practice for architects in Paris in the 19th century to sign and date their constructions, but few have been so obviously dated than the house that was made for the artist Charles Wislin. Built in a Flemish style, the date of construction, 1891, is displayed in chunky figures across the gables. Elsewhere, large stone 'W's have also been incorporated into the design, thus showing clearly who the house belonged to!

Wislin had inherited a fortune from his father, a chemist and inventor of a special kind of medicinal paper called the ‘Wlinsi’. Although he was a prize winning artist, time has not been favourable to him, and little trace remains today of his creations. He did though leave behind this interesting house, a not unattractive mixture of stone and brick, albeit in a rather incongruous style. Being taller than accepted levels, Wislin needed special permission to build his chosen design (which also originally included a bell-tower!), permission that was given as it was agreed that the house had artistic qualities and had not been built for speculative reasons.

The building today houses rehearsal rooms for musicians and a recording studio.

For more details on this story, see this previous post I made on the man and the building.

: 28 Rue Ballu, 75009
Architect: Gaston Dézermaux
Year of construction: 1891!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ecole d'Architecture Paris Belleville

The new home of the Ecole d'Architecture de Paris Belleville is within the shell of an old technical school, but what better proof of the adaptability and enduring popularity of brick could there be than to have it endorsed in this manner by a school of architecture?

The building itself had previously been empty for nearly 20 years, becoming a squat in 1994. The school of architecture had been looking for a new location closer to the centre of Belleville, and particularly wanted to regenerate an existing, historical building rather than build a modern structure from scratch. This school, the Lycée Technique Diderot seemed perfect, as it had originally been a model 'school/factory' teaching establishment, complete with several industrial features, but in reality not much of the originally structure was still standing or was in a saveable condition.

The main entrance remains though, an elegant U-shaped structure built around a small courtyard, with a façade that mixes stone with several different types and colours of brick. Behind, a large brick chimney shoots skywards, and on one side, a later brick building is linked to a modern extension via a suspended four-story block. Containing 14200 square metres of floorspace, the structure is now large enough to welcome the ever increasing numbers of students and teachers. It is however hoped that the building itself, extended and modernised in several different eras and styles, will also become an educational tool for the students.

Renovations are now drawing to a close, and the building will open in time for the beginning of the new educational year in September.

Address: 60 Boulevard de la Villette, 75019
Architect: Antonin Durand
Year of construction: Original building in 1872, the front-facing entrance in 1913.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bains Douches Rue Oberkampf

A classical example of municipal architecture from the 1920s, these public baths were designed in brick as a means to create a warm and welcoming environment for users. Built at a time when washing facilities were not widely available in private apartments, these facilities are nevertheless still widely used today, with an estimated 2500 people using this service each week.

Built between the eras of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the building has echos of both. Ceramic tiles display the coat of arms of the city of Paris, whilst the roof has a gently curving arch of reinforced concrete. The brickwork is a combination of a lighter golden brick incorporated into a checkerboard with warmer red bricks.

Address: 42 Rue Oberkampf, 75011
Architect: Unknown
Year of construction: 1920s.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Palais des Thermes

The Palais de Thermes de Cluny is the oldest building at least partially built from brick in Paris and one of the few remaining structures from the settlement of Lutèce or Lutetia. Originating in the 2nd or 3rd century BC when the Romans occupied the site, it housed baths, a frigdarium and a gymnasium. The building was open to all members of the public and was an area where people socialised. It is believed that this structure, like many other such Roman baths, contained an exceptional display of mosaics, but the only thing visible today after centuries of attacks and misuse are the red veins of Roman brickwork.

The Romans were the first to truly popularise the use of brick in their structures, using a longer and narrower brick than other civilisations, and one which was later to influence architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright. It was they who would export both brick and brick making skills across their empire, ensuring its long lasting success.

This building can be visited today and is contained within the Musée de Cluny. This museum, which concentrates largely on one person's collection of artefacts from the middle-ages, is housed in the 15th century Hôtel de Cluny, itself an exceptional and rare example of gothic architecture in Paris. It is interesting to see how this Hôtel was built around and on top of the previous Roman structure, and parts of the brickwork from the 'thermes' can still be seen on the left-hand side of the entrance courtyard.

Address: 6, Place Paul Painlevé 75005
Architect: Unknown
Year of construction: 2nd or 3rd Century BC.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Hôpital St Louis

The Hôpital St Loius was built at the beginning of the 17th century in a similar style to the much better known Place des Vosges. It was built just outside the ancient city walls as it was designed to keep victims of infectious diseases away from other inhabitants of Paris.

It was Henri IV who ordered the construction of the hospital, but he was assasinated by Ravaillac before the edifice was finished, and it was finally opened in 1618 during an outbreak of the plague. Its necessity was shown by the fact that it had to put up to six patients in the same bed! For the next two centuries it dealt with many outbreaks of infectious diseases, slowly building up world-renown in the field of Dermatology. This has led to another curiousity in the hospital, perhaps the most unusual and secretive museum in Paris, the Musee des Moulages (Museum of Masks).

It is a mixture of brick and stone, designed in a manner which was relatively common in the 17th century. It is believed that the architect was Claude Vellefaux, but this is not certain. Still in operation as a hospital today, the site can nevertheless be visited, and indeed makes for a very relaxing pause in the city.

Built in quadrangle form, the bricks appear mostly as splashes of colour on the first and second floors. The entire structure was renovated in the last twenty years, making the bricks appear to be almost new. To see older brick forms look up to the twin chimney stacks in the central areas.

Address: 1, Avenue Claude Vellefaux, 75010
Architect: Claude Vellefaux
Year of construction: 1618

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Begin at the Beginning

There is something intrinsically comforting about the impeccably designed, immensely tactile brick. Thousands of years of experience have made them hand-sized, enabling a builder to grasp one in one hand and still have another hand free to apply the trowel of cement. The metallic scrape of the trowel on the brick’s surface, then the chink of one brick being placed on top of another is an urban symphony. In the hand they offer a satisfying, not too heavy weight, a scratchy roughness and a warm smell of burnt-pink dustiness. They are one of man’s ultimate creations, so much so that today they look and feel like an extension of nature.

It is these sounds, smells and sensations that make me passionate about the material. They first appeared somewhere in the Middle-East, but it was the Romans who were to popularise the material. The Pantheon in Rome has stood solid for thousands of years, with the brick structure hardly moving in that time. Whilst Caesar boasted that he'd found Rome brick and left it marble, the invading Roman armies found poorly constructed dwellings and paths on their travels, and eventually left these sites with sturdy brick edifices. As the Roman army came to Paris (Lutecia), so did brick. Roman built brick lines and arches can still be seen today at the Cluny palace near Saint Michel.

However, Paris is far from being a city of brick. For hundreds of years, the city chose to either hide or ignore the material, and yet there are still many fascinating examples scattered around, linked to a wide range of social, artistic and architectural movements. On this blog, I will pick particular sites and buildings almost at random and will outline why brick was used, when it was built, who the architect was and how it fits into a wider movement. In this way I hope to create a large archive of the material in this city, and hope that it may be of use or of interest to visitors.

I have also created Flickr and Facebook groups where you can upload photos or make suggestions about buildings that you would like me to cover.

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