Friday, 23 September 2011

The homes of Auguste Perret: Rue Franklin

I have written previously of the works of architect Auguste Perret (particularly his Mobilier National building), but not as yet of his two creations that also became his offices and homes. As these buildings are separated by 30 years (and around 500 metres!), it is also interesting to note how tastes and techniques changed in this period.

His first self-designed home, on the Rue Franklin in the 16th arrondissement, is also a building that is considered to be one of the seminal constructions of modern architecture. It was built in 1903 when Perret was only 29, and although it owes much to his upbringing and the comparitive success and wealth of his family, it also clearly showed the genius of the family's oldest son.

The Perret family, mother, father and five children, were evidently very close, choosing to live and work together throughout their lives. The father - Claude Marie Perret - was a stonemason and later a builder, and was determined to bring up his three sons to learn the trade.

Whilst working for the family firm, Auguste also continued his studies, eventually choosing to specialise in reinforced concrete (although he would never gain a full diploma in architecture). Together they were able to form a company called 'Entreprise Perret et Fils', which was capable not only of construction, but also of designing buildings and of providing the materials.

For this particular project
on the Rue Franklin, the Perret family owned the land. Situated alongside the Trocadero and opposite the Eiffel tower, it was already a very desirable location, and although it was a speculative build (apart from the family apartments and offices on the ground floor), any design would probably have quickly sold in such a spot. Nevertheless, Auguste Perret - now acting as the firm's architect -, chose something radical and previously unseen.

Throughout his life, Auguste Perret would be obsessed with making buildings as organic as possible. He saw the framework of a building as being the equivalent of a human skeleton, and although the structure he produced on the Rue Franklin could have been made with wood or iron, he was determined to test a new process - reinforced concrete.

Interestingly, Auguste Perret was one of the first architects to apply the Hennebique (our friend with the 'Concrete chateau' in Bourg la Reine) system on a residential property. Nevertheless, for this first attempt, he was very unsure about how it would age over time. The building was covered in tiles, not so much for decoration, but more because Perret believed that the concrete would be damaged by the weather and start to decay (some people today may still argue that this is the best way to treat concrete!). As he said, "one must never allow into a building any element destined solely for ornament, but rather turn to ornament all the parts necessary for its support."

The ceramics of Alexandre Bigot on the facade of the building though are one of its most remarkable features today. If you manage to crouch down to almost floor level (as I did for these photos), you can see the signature tiles, but what is particularly noticeable is the graceful restraint of the work. This was the height of Art Nouveau period, but here the ceramics are almost monochrome, and in a pattern that is repeated over almost the entire building.

The family's move to this building was however not initially a happy one. Claude Marie, the father, died in 1905, leaving Auguste at the head of the family. The building though was a success, and Auguste was delighted with the results that the reinforced concrete had given. To reflect these changes, the family company became known as 'Entreprise Perret-Architectes-Constructeurs-Beton Arme', and soon flourished.

Thirty years later, the Perret offices and Auguste's family home moved 500 metres down the road to a new building, but that's another story....

This building is located at 25a Rue Franklin in the 16th arrondissement, M°Trocadero/Passy

Read more about what makes this a great building, including some of the original plans, in this PDF document.

2 comments:

Jeff Mings said...

Merci Adam!
I enjoy your articles quite a bit. There are very many of us who love Paris, but not many write about it in interesting detail like you.

-Jeff Mings

rgsoundf said...

Truly good research, as always :) Thank you.

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