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

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