Thursday, March 26, 2009

Then and Now: Rue Norvins, Montmartre, Paris

c. 1950-2009

Original photo: "CAP-1105A." Collection CAP/Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 18 Mar. 2009.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Some thoughts on Montmartre, Paris


There is perhaps no neighborhood of Paris that is as legendary as Montmartre. Formerly an autonomous town on a hilltop overlooking the city, the neighborhood, at least in its built form, still retains much of its village charm. The working class quarter had a violent coming-of-age when it played a pivotal role as a center of socialist resistance during the bloody Paris Commune of 1871. In the decades that followed, Montmartre became the epicenter of gritty Parisian bohemia, home to cafés and cabarets notorious for their debauchery, including the Chat Noir and the Moulin Rouge. Then there were the scores of artists that followed - giants like Renoir, Monet, van Gogh, Derain, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso. By the eve of the Great War, the slopes of Montmartre had obtained an undeniably monumental place in the pantheon of Parisian mythology.

And then came the foreigners, beginning with the trickle of American sailors looking for a good time after the war, a trickle which grew steadily alongside the burgeoning international tourism industry. Today's Montmartre would be shockingly unrecognizable to the workers, whores, and artists who lived there a century ago. All year round, the streets are packed with crowds of tourists and the conmen and thugs after their money. In its main square, la place du Tertre (pictured at top), painters and caricature artists peddle largely generic and touristy ware. Among the café tables adjoining the square, curiously coustumed waiters serve some of the city's most expensive café expressos.

All told, Montmartre is hardly more than a shell of its former self.
Bohemia came and went, and took with it its sordid and electric mystery, whose legend nonetheless continues to draw thousands to the mount that has loomed over Paris for centuries. In a way, Montmartre merely traded its licentious vulgarity for vulgarity of another kind - tourist kitsch. Nonetheless, this does nothing to reduce the huge sense of loss to be felt. I don't believe that Paris should be left for only Parisians to enjoy, nor that neighborhoods should not change. Yet I cannot help but feel that there is something deeply sad about the whole affair, and that this is in some sense, one of the most tragic stories of Paris' 20th century history.

Original photo: "RV-317344." 1909. Collection Maurice Branger/Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 18 Mar. 2009.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Then and Now: la place de Cambronne, Paris

c. 1900-2009

Original photo: "ND-3453 Res." Collection ND/Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 17 Mar. 2009.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Then and Now: 16 boulevard des Italiens, Paris

c. 1938 - 2009

The former headquarters of the Banque nationale pour le commerce et l'industrie, designed by Joseph Marrast and Charles Letrosne, was built between 1927-1930 in a staid and monumental style of Art Deco fitting for the showpiece of a major bank on the eve of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, the BNCI survived, later evolved into the Banque nationale de Paris, and in 2000 became the gargantuan BNP-Paribas, currently the Eurozone's largest bank. BNP-Paribas continues to hold offices in the building, as well as the one on the left side of the photo.

Paris' tradition of architectural continuity and uniformity proved to be unfortunately stifling with regard to Art Deco. Never quite free to deviate from established norms of massing, height, and color, its architects were unable to exhibit the same creativity that flourished in the United States, which to a large extent makes American Deco as beloved as it is today.

Sources: Structurae. "Siège de BNP-Paribas (1930)." Nicolas Janberg ICS.
Original Photo: "Paris - BNCI." Collection LAPI/Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 15 Mar. 2009.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Then and Now: Corner of rue des Abbesses and rue Ravignan, Paris


Apologies for the recent hiatus, regular posting resumes with this very first Then and Now from Montmartre. From what I've gathered, the Hotel du Bouquet de Montmartre only ceased to exist very recently (the old sign is still visible on Google Street View), and is currently being renovated for residences.

Original photo: " RV-88483." 1948. Collection Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 14 Mar. 2009.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Granada as viewed from the Alcazaba

Presented without further comment. Feel free to enlarge.

And lastly, my attempt at a miniature effect.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Then and Now: la gare Montparnasse, Paris

c. 1950s-2009

The gare Montparnasse was completed in 1852 at the foot of the rue de Rennes on the site of the original gare de l'Ouest, whose capacity had been far surpassed by growing rail traffic. Nonetheless, its builders once again underestimated the amazing growth of the railroad that was to take place in the coming decades, and the station remained inadequate for much of its life, even after an expansion in the 1930s.

The three decades immediately after WWII in France was an era of gargantuan urban renewal projects, spurred by unprecedented cooperation among architects, planners, and state and city development agencies. In the early 50s, ambitious redevelopment plans were quickly put forth for the Montparnasse area calling for a new railway station flanked by multiple housing and office towers to be built above its tracks. After years of revisions, demolition and construction work began in 1961 and lasted through 1975 with the completion of the infamous Tour Montparnasse.

The former railway station has been receded several hundred meters southward and is no longer visible in the original view, replaced by the Galeries LaFayette shopping center and the Tour Montparnasse.

Not as obvious but equally striking are the more utilitarian elements that have been added to Paris' streetscapes; long gone are days when the street consisted of little more than the sidewalk and unpainted roadway. Just about every Parisian sidewalk today is protected by metal fences, bollards, or both. Larger avenues now boast pedestrian islands, bus lanes and bike lanes, and the number of pedestrian crossings seems to have substantially increased. The sidewalks themselves are now home to bus shelters, billboards, neighborhood maps, traffic signage, and plenty of green trash receptacles. In sum, it's become near-impossible to confuse contemporary views with those of old postcard Paris.

Source: Lefebvre, Virginie. Paris-Ville Moderne: Maine-Montparnasse et la Défense, 1950-1975. Paris: Editions Norma, 2003.
Original Photo: "CAP-7676A." Collection CAP/Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 2 Mar. 2009.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Street Lamps of Barcelona

As if its cosmpolitan vigor, wonderful climate, and rich architectural heritage weren't enough, Barcelona boasts an unparalleled collection of historic street lamps, without which the city's beauty wouldn't be quite the same.

Their design is nothing to be scoffed at. The lampposts of the Plaça Reial, pictured at top, were in fact the first official commission of Antoni Gaudí, who quickly went on to become the shining star of Catalan Modernism and one of Barcelona's most celebrated figures.

Some lampposts provide not only lighting, but seating too.

The exceptional design of Barcelona's street furniture certainly enriches the city's majestic public realm - its grand avenues, main streets, parks, and squares. Who could forget the monumental lamps that line the Passeig de Lluís Companys (above), or the Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona's own Champs-Elysées (below).

Interestingly, the city's fondness for unique street lighting lasts to this day, and many of its contemporary street lights seem to have preserved this spirit. For example, take the raw sculptural poles along the Grand Via de Carlos III.

Links and sources:
A quick summary of Gaudí: