After declaring my love for brick on this blog, like an obsessed suitor I've now started to see it popping up all over the city. Along the Rue de Chateaudun a red chimney stack spine running up through the grey stone side of a building. Opposite, in a structure being rehabilitated, flashes of brick nudity on partially undressed walls. Walking aong one street though, I discover a fascinating trio of brick constructions which reveal much about the history of the material in Paris.
The Rue de Pontoise in Paris runs down to the Seine across the Boulevard St Germain from just adjacent to the Mutualite building. A rather insignificant street, it nevertheless offers several points of interest. The most well known structure in this passage is the Piscine Pontoise, a swimming pool designed by the architect Lucien Pollet in 1933. Whilst the brick façade is of a rather standard design, it is inside that the architect hid the jewells. Art deco tiling runs throughout the building, but what catches the eye most are the two balconies surrounding the pool, each offering individual changing units. This unusual structure gave a melancholic and slightly threatening backdrop to Kieslowski’s film "Bleu".
Behind the Piscine Pontoise you can just catch glimpses of the newly renovated Collège des Bernardins, a medieval monastry and centre of learning. The spotlessly new terracotta tiles on the roof of this building give an attractive background to the Piscine, but what really catches my eye is this magnificent brick chimney, stretching up to catch the last rays of afternoon sun.
Either side of the piscine are two more fascinating structures. On the corner of the Rue de Pontoise and the Boulevard St Germain, a building cut away from its bretheren and left to stand and guard this spot alone (see photo at the beginning of the post). From this angle, it gives a very curious perspective, appearing almost knife thin, but what interests me most is how it displays parts of the construction that were originally designed to be hidden away. Behind the classic Haussmannian façade we can now see the rear of the building and the rather shameful brick wall and bathroom windows. I’m not sure what would have originally hidden this view, but it feels almost voyeuristic to observe it today.
Flanking the piscine on the other side, a more typical later use of brick, but this time in a most unusual design. From the early decades of the 20th century, brick was the material of choice for municipal buildings, and many schools appeared sporting this element. Typically, these structures were in art deco or more modernist forms, but the school in the Rue de Pontoise is in a decorative, italianate form. The building features many elements typical of this style, such as projecting, over-hanging eaves and arch-headed windows. Even the brickwork is more ornamental than is usual, incorporating a fresque, and a wide selection of coloured bricks, ranging from deep blues to delicate pinks. It is further evidence if evidence is needed of just how flexible and multi-functional this material is.
If you are interested in brick and find yourself in this area, two other structures should be of interest. Firstly, a fantastic and imposing ‘ilot’ building behind the Maubert Mutualité market on the Boulevard St Germain. Secondly, further along the Boulevard Saint-Germain at number 57, the Ecole Supérieure des Travaux Publics.