Tag Archive: urbanism

The Tour of Guimardia (English Version)

Métro Porte Dauphine (1900). Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

In its shopfronts cashmere sweaters the colors of macaroons. Behind their digicodes its reposing hameaux. In its ballot boxes three out of every four votes for Sarkozy. Hidden in their Maseratis its children dressed in black. The sixteenth arrondissement of Paris is a peninsula between the Bois de Boulogne (which belongs to it) and the Seine; there is the slight feeling of a border crossing, of breaching a feeble forcefield, upon entering or leaving. One can find here the works of Perret, Sauvage and, soon, Gehry, but it is the section of the Earth’s surface with the greatest concentration of buildings by Hector Guimard (1867-1942). The seizième is to Guimard as Oak Park is to Frank Lloyd Wright, except that it contains works from all periods of the architect’s career, from 1891 to 1927. Along the way one passes other buildings which support the contention, inherently arguable and worth arguing, that the sixteenth is the most architecturally interesting arrondissement. Annexed to the city in 1860, the seizième grew up in what we might call, with light apologies to Robert Caro, The Years of Hector Guimard, a complex, under-appreciated and richly contested period in the history of modern architecture. A new eclecticism began to rebel against the last moments of a played-out Haussmannization. Many modernisms were in play. Art Nouveau, which seems barely able to contain Guimard’s work, let alone the output of the entire period, may now seem the stuff of coffee table books, a particularly beautiful dead end, a fashion, a decorative style, but its surviving remnants hint of an influence more spiritual than physical.

Opera Houses in the City, Part I: The Palais Garnier (English Version)

Un paon au parc de Bagatelle. Photo © Alan Miller 2012.

Imagine a peacock at the Paris Opéra. Having taken the Métro eastwards from his digs in the heavenly Parc de Bagatelle, he passes the intermission munching an eight euro canapé. As we stare at the cultured bird, we find his feathers blurring into the architecture. Does the peacock, we wonder, prove that ornament is hard-wired into nature? This is not a “modernist” bird, a bird with clean lines and sharp edges like an Australian King Parrot. Like the Garnier, the patterns of the peacock’s plumage are subtle and layered, they seem to curl in on themselves until, through modern eyes, it is difficult to read in the ornament anything but beauty itself. This is a particular kind of beauty, one which provokes émerveillement rather than analysis.

Les opéras dans la ville, première partie: le Palais Garnier (version française)

Un paon au parc de Bagatelle. Photo © Alan Miller 2012.

Imaginez un paon à l’Opéra de Paris. Après avoir emprunté le Métro de son nid au parc Bagatelle, il passe l’entr’acte en mangeant un canapé de huit euros. Lorsque nous regardons cet oiseau cultivé, ses plumes commencent à se mêler avec l’architecture de Charles Garnier. Le paon est-il la preuve que l’ornement vient de la nature? Certes, il n’est pas un oiseau “moderniste,” ses couleurs ne sont pas aussi nettes, aussi précises que, par exemple, le perroquet roi d’Australie. Son plumage est comme le Palais Garnier, subtil, dépendant des effets de la lumière et son grain, autant que de la couleur. Pour nous dans le monde contemporain, les bâtiments si ornés sont quelquefois difficile à lire. Cette architecture d’autrefois excite les sentiments flous, l’émerveillement plutôt que l’analyse.

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