Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Metal Mania"

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
2nd Arrondissement: Quirk 4 ~ "Metal Mania"

Paris is known for its uniform architecture, much of it coming from the Baron Haussmann period. Napoleon III's 'bulldog' smashed huge monumental avenues through previously crowded districts of narrow streets often constructed pellmell and any which way, creating the typical and unmistakable French capital style we know today.

Some areas survived, now looked upon fondly as quaint reminders of a Paris long gone by, such as parts of the Latin Quarter and the Marais.

Other parts we able to create a new identity, either because they hadn't been built up yet, such as parts of the 16th, or because later architects were given the freedom to try a few things just a little different.

Rue Réamur is a case in point. Whilst it's true that it bears the hallmarks of the Haussmann era, with uniformly heighted stocky, cream-coloured buildings with the classic little black balconies up around the fifth floor, the grey slated roofs, etc. there are five or six buildings in that area which are decidedly different.

Rue Réamur was created as we know it today in the last years of the 19th century, carrying on the legacy of the Haussmann influence from the Second Empire days which lasted until 1870.

"Parisian Art Nouveau meets
the industrial revolution"

The area was heavily 'textilised' (not to mention the printing influence), as it remains today, and some of the richest cloth merchants were building, or commissioning, at least, impressive offices and prestigious HQs for their operations.

Newly relaxed construction rules meant that they could let their imaginations run wild, well, at least a little, and include highly decorative frontispieces, and bow windows and non-uniform roofs.

A strong metal skeleton structure was often used, allowing features such as huge windows to let in plenty of light for the manufacturing activities taking place within.

At was around this time (1897) that an architectural competition was launched, and some of the buildings in this street were among the early prize-winners.

Anyway, let's focus on a particularly remarkable example of this new era of freedom and innovation in Parisian architectural design, closely linked to developments in building materials and advances in thinking about how to create stronger structures.

Erected in 1905, by a certain Georges Chedanne, does anything here remind you of a certain Parisian tower, built about 15 years previously?

Having said that, with the studded iron or steel girders proudly on display, we're right in the middle of the Parisian Art Nouveau explosion, and believe it or not, this exposed metal facade, with its audacious afrontery fits right in with the rest of the curiously curvy new buildings sprouting up all over the place.

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I'll mention some of the other examples later on, either in this series or elsewhere, but for now take a trip down Rue Réamur in the 2nd and see for yourself. And don't forget your camera!

* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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