Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Architecture of the Fondation Cartier Bresson?

I went to see the 'Paul Strand & Henri Cartier Bresson: Mexico, 1932 - 1934' exhibition today. It's a really good exhibition, especially the room of Strand's work, but it's the building that's stuck with me all day. I was walking up the stairs thinking about how nice a building the Fondation Cartier Bresson was when my eyes fell on what was unmistakably a chair designed by Robert Mallet Stevens.

"Of course," I thought, "this building has to be Mallet Stevens!"

I guess it's kind of like how when you miss people you start thinking you see your friends everywhere, but as soon as the thought occurred I saw Mallet Stevens in every detail.

The large windows spilling light all through the space seemed like Mallet Stevens' windows. The red dots that appear on them seem like his little pieces of colour, as do the blue tiles that frame smaller windows on the side when you look out of them. The door-handles are slanted silver metal and the banisters are thin but angular. The shapes of the individual stairs are clearly defined.

Lofty library area on top floor. I thought this seemed like Mallet Stevens in idea (lots of light, lots of space) but not so much in execution (too industrial, too fussy) so I assumed that that was primarily decoration/later work. In retrospect...

At the top of the building is a loft-like area with balconies stepped back, including one with a boat-like curve and railing. It all felt so much like Mallet Stevens; the only thing I was uncertain about were industrial looking beams and stairs leading to the library section of the top floor loft, but they were the sort of things that could have easily been added later for practical reasons. I left talking to myself about how much I loved Robert Mallet Stevens.

Next door is Émile Molinié's 1913 building, 7 Rue Lebouis, which won that year's City of Paris Facade Competition. If you're in the area, it's fantastically exciting to look at. The two buildings fit together well, with a ground floor motif repeated on the Fondation Cartier Bresson building. I thought this, and the fact that the Fondation Cartier Bresson fits into a very small frontage, suggested some of the Fondation Cartier Bresson to be Molonié's work; I initally guessed at the ground floor facade, but thought the rest had to be by a later architect.

When I got home, I decided to look up the Fondation Cartier Bresson in order to learn more about the architecture. I found out that it was an extension of the Moulinie building, which didn't surprise me... but it was done by a firm I haven't heard of, Ceria & Coupel. 

I wasn't close at all in terms of time period; Ceria & Coupel were around in the 1990s and 2000s, disbanding in 2003. Looking at François Ceria's later work, it has a Mallet Stevens tint to it, but I still don't really understand how (other than perhaps wishful thinking, though the name of the architect who made a building doesn't really change how good it is) I was so certain it was by Mallet Stevens. I'm probably going insane.

(Or is this an architecture firm who just create brilliant spaces in the line of interwar buildings? If so, they're my new favourite contemporary architecture firm.)

I've found out François Ceria's firm worked on the renovation of André Granet's Salle Pleyel, which I've been meaning to visit for a while. I'm really hoping I don't end up as confused there. I wrote an essay and gave a presentation on André Granet for my Masters so it would probably be even more embarrassing if I couldn't tell his work from that of the last ten years.

Thinking now, though, perhaps I wasn't giving Molinié enough credit as a modernist; it's possible the aspects I attributed to Mallet Stevens are Molinié. I thought at the time that the bulk of the Fondation Cartier Bresson couldn't be as early as 1913 or by the same architect responsible for the beautiful nouveau curves and decoration of 7 Rue Lebouis. After more scrutiny, the straight lines of Molinié's windows and balconies on 7 Rue Lebouis make it seem plausible that he was responsible for the central staircase and banisters in 2 Impasse Lebouis. This would mean just the upper loft section (the part I deemed too industrial and fussy for Mallet Stevens) is Ceria & Coupel.

But then again, you can see a banister through one of the windows and it doesn't look anything like the staircase in the Fondation Cartier Bresson...

Anyway, this puzzle has just made me more interested in the architecture of the Fondation Cartier Bresson, but I can't find much information on either Molinié or Ceria & Coupel and nothing detailed on the Fondation Cartier Bresson itself; is there any chance anybody could point me in the direction of further information?

In the meantime, I'd really recommend visiting both the building, the brilliant exhibition inside and its charming neighbour, which is definitely by Molinié and not any later doppelganger. And, after all that, I was at least right about the chair.

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