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Buildings Monuments

An Illustrated Guide with over 850 Drawings and Neighborhood Maps

By Michael Poisson

Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 463 pp, 1999, $39.95

Book cover

Book cover showing I. M. Pei's "Pyramid" at the Louvre

By Carter B. Horsley

This hardcover guide to Paris includes excellent drawings of 535 important structures in Paris with brief accompanying texts and excellent neighborhood maps that pinpoint their location.

While it is too large to fit into a jacket pocket, this guide is superb for its drawings concentrate on the architecture and are large enough to quite legible. While some other, smaller guides have good photographs, they are usually quite small and are only provided for the most famous landmarks. This guide, however, gives a much broader spectrum of the vast architectural treasures of Paris and is certain to provide the incentive for many readers to revisit Paris.

The book is divided into the city's 20 arrondisements and each section begins with a brief introductory text and map of the arrondisement. Most entries consist of only one drawing and a short paragraph about the entry as well as its specific address, the nearest Metro station, the patron (or developer) of the structure, and the name of the architect. In some instances, such as the Conciergerie (the former royal palace) on the Isle de la Cité, a floor plan is provided.

The author, who is an architect, has done an admirable job of providing vistas of many buildings that the average tourist will be unable to see and his drawings often give vantage points that would be very difficult to capture in photographs. While one ideally would have preferred more textual information for research purposes, this guide does provide excellent information not often included in other guides about each building's developer, owners, and architects.

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

Some of the best illustrations are bird's-eye views, such as that of the Place des Vosges, shown above. Mr. Poisson provides the following commentary:

"The Place des Voges was built on the site of the Hôtel des Tournelles, which was abandoned by Catherine de Médicis after her husband, Henry II, was mortally wounded in a jousting tournament there. It was Henri IV who decided to built a royal square on the site, ceding all the peripheral residences save those on the southern side to private individuals, all of whom had to accept the following stipulations: no parcels could be subdivided; all facades had to adhere to a uniform, brick-and-stone design (probably conceived by Louis Métezeau); and each owner had to allow for a circulation gallery on ground level in accordance with a preconceived model. These rules were respected, even during the Revolution, when some of the residences became government property. Note, however, that total uniformity does not reign among the various pavilions, especially regarding their dormer windows. Furthermore, some owners saved money by substituting painted masonry for brick. But these differences do not compromise the uniform effect produced by the whole, which has miraculously survived intact. A bronze statue of Louis XIII stood on the center between 1639 and the Revolution, when it was melted down; in 1819, it was replaced by the present stone statue."

Palais de L'Elysée

Façade of the Palais de L'Élysée at 55-7, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré

The Palais de L'Élysée has its entrance on the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré but the property occupies a full block that extends to Avenue Gabriel and much of the block consists of gardens. Mr. Poisson provides the following the commentary:

Built in 1718 for the comte d'Évreux, this hôtel later became the Parisian residence of Madame de Pompadour, who commissioned the architect Jean Cailleteau, known as Lassurance the Younger, to make alterations. After several more changes of ownership, it was purchased in 1805 by Napoléon I for his sister Caroline, wife of the comte de Murat. It served as the residence for Napoléon himself, and on June 22, 1815, after the Battle of Waterloo, he signed his abdication here. The Élysée palace has been the official residence of the president of the French republic since 1873."

Hôtel Amelot de Gournay

Hôtel Amelot de Gournay

The Hôtel Amelot de Gournay at 1, rue Saint-Dominique near the Solférino Metro station was designed by Germain Boffrand in 1712 and acquired by Michel Amelot de Gournay the next year. Mr. Poisson notes that "this hôtel has several original features, most notably an oval forecourt," adding that "Boffrand's use of a colosssal order that rises the full height of the court façade gives the central block exceptional dignity. The garden façade also features a central curved wall, this one convex."

Musée Rodin

Musée Rodin (Hôtel Peyrence de Moras or Hôtel de Biron)

The Musée Rodin at 77, rue de Varenne near the Varenne Metro station was commissioned by Abraham Peyrenc de Moras and designed by Jean Aubert and Jacques V. Gabriel from 1727 to 1732. Mr. Poisson provides the following commentary:

"There are two good reasons to visit this hôtel: it is one of the most beautiful in Paris, and it is devoted to the sculptor Auguste Rodin. The financier Abraham Peyrence de Moras, enriched by the speculations of the banker John Law, built this residence, his third in Paris. It was later purchased in secession by the duchesse du Maine and the maréchal de Biron (1753) and came to be known as the Hôtel de Biron. From 1828 to 1902, it served as a residence for young girls; the chapel on the rue de Varenne dates from this period. In 1904, the French state became the owner and began to rent portions of it to artists. Rodin resided here from 1908 until his death in 1917. Since he bequeathed all the work then in his possession to the government, the state chose to restore the hôtel and transform it into the Musée Rodin. Several of the artist's larger works on are display in the gardens, which have also been restored."

The accompanying map for this entry shows its proximity to the spectacular Hôtel des Invalides and the Hôtel de Matignon, which was built for the prince of Tingry and subsequently became the residence of Tallyrand, the Austro-Hungarian embassy, the residence of the French prime minister and has, according to Mr. Poisson, "one of the most beautiful private gardens in Paris."

Lycée Italien Léonard-de-Vinci

Lycée Italien Léonard-de-Vinci

Paris has a lot of fine Art Nouveau architecture. The Lycée Italian Léonard-de-Vinci at 12, rue Sédillot near the École-Militaire Metro station was designed in 1899 by Jules Lavirotte. Mr. Poisson observes that Lavirotte "is, after Hector Guimard, the best-known advocate of Art Nouveau in France." "Over a very brief span of time, he built three structures in the same quarter. The earliest, an Italian secondary school, is still relatively restrained: its façade blends elements inspired by 18th Century models with Art Nouveau forms that become more emphatic in the later buildings."

Avenue Rapp, no. 29

Avenue Rapp, no. 29

Close to the Lycée Italian Léonard-de-Vinci, is another structure designed by Lavirotte, Avenue Rapp, no. 29. Designed for the ceramist Alexander Bigot who designed the façade's glazed ceramic elements, it was built in 1901 when it won a municipal competition for the finest façade, according to Mr. Poisson. "Lavirotte's gift for exuberant forms attained its zenith in this façade, whose bravura set piece is the doorway."


Rue Réaumur, no. 124

Rue Réaumur, no. 124


Rue Réaumur, No. 124, shown above, is a great modern building designed by Georges Chédanne in 1905. Mr. Poisson notes that "Except for its upper portion, the facade of this building consists entirely of glass and riveted metal, allowing the architect to develop a design of striking originality." "Chédanne's authorship," he continued, "has sometimes been contested because he also designed buildings in a more conventional classical idiom, but these doubts would seem to be unjustified. The building has long housed the offices of the newspaper Le Parisien libéré.

Mr. Poisson devotes a small section of his book to the work of Hector Guimard in the 16th Arrondisement, the Auteuil quarter. "Born in Lyon in 1868, Hector Guimard realized his first important work, the Villa Roszé in 1891, but only in 1898 did his personality blossom, on the occasion of the construction of a group of apartment buildings christened Castel Béranger, which won the competition for the best façade erected in Paris in 1898. He then became the principal representative in France of the 'Modern style,' now known as Art Nouveau.The cluster of buildings known as Castel Béranger [14, rue La Fontaine] is Hector Guimard's most important work, the one that made him vamous. Influenced by his Belgian colleague, Victor Horta, he designed its every detail in the style later known as Art Nouveau. Hector Guimard is best known as the designer of 141 entrances to Parisian metro stations (1900-1904), all made of prefabricated cast-iron elements. Some of them were covered, but only two examples of this canopied design survive in Paris." Mr. Poisson illustrates the one on the Porte Dauphine side of Avenue Foch and the other one accesses the Abbesses metro station in the 18th Arrondisement.

Hôtel Guimard

The Hôtel Guimard is located at 122, avenue Mozart near the Michel-Ange-Auteuil Metro station. It was designed by Hector Guimard between 1909 and 1912 and Mr. Poisson observes that the architect designed it for himself with an atelier for his wife, Adeline, a painter.

Grand Palais and Petit Palais

Grand Palais, left, and Petit Palais, right

High up on anyone's list of great Parisian monuments after the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, the Louvre, and the Opera must be Grand Palais's great horse sculptures (quadrigas) facing the Pont Alexandre III bridge. The Grand Palais is close to the Seine on the Avenue Winston-Churchill near the Champs-Élyseés-Clemenceau Metro station. Developed for the Exposition Universelle of 1900, it was designed by Henri Deglane, Albert Louvet and Albert Thomas under the supervision of Charles Girault. Mr. Poisson provides the following commentary:

"Its enormous but elegant metallic structure is hidden by a classical stone façade designed by Henry Deglane. The entrances are decorated with monumental sculptures, the most famous of which are the quadrigas of the lateral entrances by the sculptor Georges Récipon. The dimensions of the Grand Palais are impressive: the façade on the Avenue Winston-Churchill is 787 feet long, and the top of the dome is 144 feet above the ground. The building is used as a venue for temporary exhibitions, but since 1937 its western portion has housed the Palais de la Découverte, a museum devoted to scientific discoveries. Unlike the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais was built primarily to function as a permanent museum. It now houses the art collections of the City of Paris. Its architect, Charles Girault,engaged a number of important sculptors and painters to decorate the building."

Mr. Poisson does not ignore modern architecture and includes entries on Auguste and Gustave Perret's 1903 Rue Benjamin-Franklin, no. 25 bis, Henri Sauvage's 1927 stepped apartment block at Rue des Amiraux, No. 13 and his 1928 expansion of Frantz Jourdain's Samaritaine Department Store at Quai du Louvre, Le Corbusier's 1933 Salvation Army Hostel at 12, rue Cantagrel, the UNESCO headquarters of 1958 designed by Marcel Breuer, Pierre Nervi and Bernard Zehfruss, Henry Bernard's 1962 Maison de la Radio at 116, avenue du Président -Kennedy, the 1971 Central Headquarters of the French Communist Party at 2, Place du Colonel-Fabien by Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Deroche and Paul Chemetov, Renzo Piano's and Richard Rogers's Centre Georges-Pompidou of 1971, Otto van Spreckelsen's awesome Arch of the Défense of 1982, Francis Soler's nursery school at 99, rue de Pelleport of 1988, Carlos Ott's 1989 Opéra Bastille at the Place de la Bastille, Richard Meier and Partners' 1992 Headquarters of Canal Plus at 85-89, quai André-Citroen, the 1994 Foundation Cartier by Jean Nouvel and Emannuel Catani and Associates, Christian de Portzamparc's 1997 Cité de la Musique, among others.

Boulevard Victor, nos. 3-5

Boulevard Victor, nos. 3-5

One of the most interesting "modern" Parisian buildings is Boulevard Victor, nos. 3-5, shown above, which was designed by Pierre Patout in 1935 and is near the Balard Metro station. Mr. Poisson notes that the architect "designed the interiors of several ocean liners, projects that required maximum efficiency in the use of space." "He was confronted with similar problems when designing this building," he continued, "due to the exceptional narrrowness of the site (ranging from 10 to 40 feet). The result is a remarkable building, in which Patout incorporated a three-level apartment for himself at its narrow end."

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