29 January 2018

Nine of Paris' Architectural Gems

Undoubtedly a beautiful city, Paris can thank Baron Haussmann’s mid-19th Century re-ordering of the French capital for its uniformity and elegance. But the French capital isn’t all boulevards. In fact, it’s a city where architect’s laboratories have come to test their new ideas for centuries – and today is no different. From the iconic Art Deco Théâtre des Champs-Élysées to the shimmering modernism of Oscar Niemeyer’s Communist Party Headquarters or Le Courbusier’s Maisons Joul, the city is full of stellar examples from every architectural era. It's been a year since I was living in the French capital for a brief work stint before starting a semester abroad and one of my favourite things to do there was just wander; here are nine mighty fine buildings I stumbled across...

communist party headquarters
Oscar Niemeyer’s 1972 building for the French Communist Party is vast. Made of a wall of glass curves around an elevated concrete base in Paris’ 19th arrondissement, it’s become one of the city’s architectural gems. It’s played host to Prada shows in the past, and it’s easy to see why. The overall feel of the building, with its cavernous central debating chamber, feels like something straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Parti Communiste Français, 2 Place Colonel Fabien.

cinémathèque française
Frank Gehry’s national film center located in the Seine-side district of Bercy predates the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, and you can see how it led to both. Made from limestone and zinc, it sits on a Haussmann street facing the park and has Gehry’s trademark “collapsing-cubist” style. He compared it to a “dancer lifting her tutu.”
Cinémathèque Francaise, 51 rue de Bercy.

orgues de flandre
The “organs of flanders” are a group of residential buildings in the 19th arrondisssement of Paris. The two towers were designed by Martin van Trek and completed in 1980. Like Paris’ answer to the Barbican, they’re a big and beautiful ode to Brutalism. Generations of families have grown up in these apartments, which are a tribute to the city’s post-war housing initiatives. And they’ve stood the test of time being one of the most popular high-rise towers in the city.
14-24 rue Archereau.

agoudas hakehilos synagogue (pavée synagogue)
Located in Le Marais, this Hector Grimaud synagogue is over 100 years old. It’s art nouveau perfection, with huge vaulted ceilings and a façade that resembles an open book (Grimaud used the motif of the Ten Commandments to inspire the building’s shape and interior). When inside, head up to the balcony to take in its impressively well-preserved interiors.
10 rue Pavée.

fondation cartier
This Jean Nouvel designed building is home to some 1000 works of contemporary art. It’s also an incredible glass structure immersed in a leafy historic garden in the 14th arrondissement. Built back in 1994, the glass box and slender steel frame is the perfect light bright space to see the foundation’s massive collection.
261 Boulevard Raspail.

maisons jaoul
These two Le Corbusier designed houses were built in the mid-1950s and are among his most important post-war buildings. Located in Neuilly-sur-Seine, they feature the rugged “bréton brut” aesthetic of cast concrete and rough detailed bricks. Maisons Jaoul have been protected by the French government as historical monuments since 1966, so while they’re not going anywhere fast, they’re worth a trip into the suburbs if you’re a Brutalist enthusiast.
83 Rue de Longchamp.

fondation jerôme seydoux
Renzo Piano designed the armadillo-shaped Pathé headquarters on Avenue des Gobelins. The organization is dedicated to the preservation of Pathé’s heritage and the promotion of cinematographic art, so it’s both a company’s headquarters and a cultural institution. Completed in 2014, its glass vault clad in perforated aluminum panels acts like a tent that joins various spaces on the site together. Decorated with sculptures by Auguste Rodin, this is an iconic building for the Gobelins area.
73 Avenue des Gobelins.

grand mosque of paris
Founded in 1926 as a token of gratitude to the Muslim tirailleurs from France’s colonial empire (around 100,000 died fighting against Germany in WWI), the mosque stands at 33 meters high. Assigned to Algeria in the 1950s, the mosque has a controversial designated prayer room set up by Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, who founded the group ‘Homosexual Muslims of France’. Located in the Latin quarter, the gardens and ornamental detailing in the central courtyard are a slice of the levant in central Paris.
2bis Place du Puits de l’Ermite.

théâtre des champs-élysées
Named after the Champs-Élysées, the Auguste Perret designed theatre was home to the Ballets Russes premiere of Stravinsky’s iconic Rite of Spring in 1913. Hard to believe today, but Stravinsky’s ballet caused a riot – probably the most famous classical music riot in history. It was the first example of Art Deco architecture in the city – and its reinforced concrete, rectangular shapes, straight lines and marble and stucco decoration were unprecedentedly, almost shockingly modern at the time. The interiors are perfectly preserved and just as worth checking out.
15 avenue Montaigne.

Images courtesy of Manuel Obadia-Wills (you star, you.)