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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