"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Friday, 10 June 2016

41. Paris' Castel Beranger: Delightful or Deranged?

When architect Hector Guimard put his finishing touches on Castel Beranger in 1898, Paris had its first Art Nouveau apartment. Some of his critics called it deranged, but I think the building is completely delightful. So, either tastes have changed considerably over the past 118 years - or else I'm deranged too. I suspect the jury is still out on that one!

Art Nouveau, which was inspired by nature and its round, sinewy and elongated forms, was considered a "total art style". Guimard was involved in every aspect of the building's design, including, structure, furniture, ornamental ironwork, carpets, glass, wallpaper, door knocks and doorknobs. He designed each of the apartments individually - no two were alike.

Castel Beranger's front gate (pictured above) may be the single most beautiful piece of metalwork I've every seen. It has all of the curvy, swervy lines and hints of musical notes that Guimard learned from his mentor, Brussels architect, Victor Horta. The pairing of bronze and blue, an unusual coupling to say the least, was pure inspired genius.

The fluidity of motion in the gate, carries on through to the entrance hall and inner door, where ceramics and stained-glass add to the blend of materials. The ceilings and the tops of the walls are covered with polished copper plates with metal motifs. The metalwork looks a little more green than on the outside, owing to the hallway's yellow lighting:

(Photo via: Jean-Pierre Dalbera, Wikipedia)

The pattern continues on into the vestibule:

(Photo via: Jean-Pierre Dalbera, Wikipedia)

And to the main stairway where a relatively new innovation - blown-glass bricks - were used to bring in light and add beauty to the stairwell:

(Photo via: Jean-Pierre Dalbera, Wikipedia)

The outside facade of the building - with the exception of the gate - is a bit more whimsical, featuring wrought-iron sea horses, and masks said to bear a more than striking resemblance to Guimard's face:

But it wasn't all fanciful. Guimard also used the project to develop and advance his Art Nouveau design technique:

While Castel Beranger may not have pleased the more conservative elements within Paris' society - avant-garde design rarely does - it earned enough friends to see the building's frontage designated as Facade of the Year in the 16th arrondissement in 1898. It also played a major role in winning its designer another commission, without which Paris would be missing one of its most recognizable icons:

Yes, the Hector Guimard who created Castel  Béranger is the same Hector Guimard who created dozens of Metro entrances across Paris' extensive subway network. And really, where would the romance of the Art Nouveau period be, and where would the beauty of Paris' Belle Époque era be, without Guimard's uniquely delightful Metro entrances?