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20.1.05

Façadisme in Paris

My post yesterday (Equerre d'Argent Awarded, January 19) was about the renovation of a building in Pantin, north of Paris, in which the outer shell of the building was preserved and the interior completely redone. As it turns out, this type of construction has a name in French: façadisme (in English, we have façadism). As it turns out, Floornature has an interesting page devoted to this trend, Façadisme in Paris. This practice is not uncommon in Washington either. The new home of the American Society for Microbiology, for example, at 1752 N Street NW, was built between the preserved façade of a row house on N Street and the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Rhode Island Avenue. Other such projects include the Mass Court apartment building (at H Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, just before cars enter the 3rd St tunnel), and the Shops at 2000 Penn (by George Washington University). There is an article about this trend in Paris, by Frédéric Edelmann (Les vertus cachées du "façadisme", January 14) for Le Monde. The word has a pejorative sense in French, which I'm not sure it carries in English. Just when I am posting something in the hope of having David Sucher comment on it, he is taking a leave from City Comforts.

Façadisme is ultimately nothing but an expression of the rejection of modernity's evil avatars, or what is quantitatively the largest part of architecture in the 20th century. The avoidance of ornamentation, decoration, or styles by the theoreticians of the modern movement, such as Adolf Loos or Mies van der Rohe, has led to the revelation that all architects are not geniuses. The "postmoderns" of the 1980s, from Robert Venturi to Ricardo Bofill, had the idea that ornamentation could compensate for an impoverished construction process and reconcile the public with the idea that it is born naturally from the architecture, as told in by nursery tales like Perrault, Walt Disney, and contemporary comic books. The generation that followed became interested in other methods, for the treatment of façades, which take advantage of new technologies and a simple acceptance of intelligence.
Another article by Frédéric Edelmann (Un écran lumineux pour les adolescents en difficulté, January 14) for Le Monde describes another such building project, the Maison de Solenn adolescent shelter, on the Boulevard de Port-Royal in Paris. It has 6,100 square meters (65,660.4 square feet) of space for a health center, consultation rooms, a hospital, cultural care services, and a medical research center. According to the article (my translation),
A long, vast glassed-in patio crowns the building and offers a 360-degree view of Paris and the gardens of the Val-de-Grâce. The whole cost was 19 million € [US$24.68 million], before taxes, nearly twice the predicted cost. This is not a small amount, if you consider that the Centre de rééducation fonctionnelle pour enfants, designed by Jérôme Brunet and Eric Saunier in Palavas-les-Flots (Hérault), cost 10 million € [US$12.99 million] in 1999 for 13,000 square meters [139,932 square feet] of space.
The designers of the Maison de Solenn are Jean-Marc Ibos (b. 1957) and Myrto Vitart (b. 1955), two former young employees of Jean Nouvel, who are known for their renovation of the Palais des beaux-arts in Lille (which also won the équerre d'argent in 1997). This story is related because its long façade, reflecting its green surroundings, hides the vast size of the facility. Psychologically, the author argues, the architecture welcomes its intended clientele, troubled teenagers. The article contrasts this building with the student dormitory built by Nasrin Seraji (b. 1957), Anglo-Iranian architect, at 22, rue du Colonel-Pierre-Avia, in the 15th arrondissement.

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