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Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer and Richard Meier in Paris

The trio is not physically in Paris right now but what they built is. Many architects, more or less famous, worked in Paris and gave the city ones of its finest and amazing buildings (and I am not talking about Baron Haussmann here). Gehry, Niemeyer and Meier are world wide known architects, and they are still involved in diverse projects at the four corners of the earth. I am not an architect (although I have already drawn several sketches of Sama-style buildings and facilities), but architecture and design are two very close worlds.

In 1994, when the American Center (now La Cinémathèque Française) opened 51 rue de Bercy in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, it was the first time I saw such a deconstructive building. Well, not really the first time, at that time I was playing Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (Electronic Arts) on PC, and Gehry’s building reminded me the house in the videogame… More seriously, I was both baffled and amazed. It looked like a sculptural object with square irregular geometry, limestones wrapping around the building and insertion of glass and metal. This building inspired my first ‘DeCon’chair in the mid-90s. I also like the design of the Gehry Tower in Hanover (Germany), the Dancing House in Prague (Czech Republic) and the must-see must-visit Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain). Last year, Bernard Arnault, president of the luxury goods group Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy (LVMH) unveiled plans for the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation. The museum will house permanent and temporary exhibitions of contemporary and classical art; the building designed by Frank Gehry and nicknamed ‘The Cloud‘ is very promising; it is due to open by 2010.

The famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer turned 100 on Dec. 15 last year and he is still developing bold designs. With urban planner Lucio Costa, he created in the 50s the capital of Brazil, Brasilia. I could list the cathedral and the National Congress of Brasilia, the theater in Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, and Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba (Brazil, 2002) amongst many other amazing buildings, as architectural ‘chef d’oeuvre‘. In 1965 he created the headquarters of the French Communist Party, 2 Place du Colonel Fabien in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. During his stay in France (escaping military dictatorship in Brazil) he also built La Maison de la Culture in Le Havre (1972), la Bourse du Travail in Bobigny (1980) and the headquarters of L’Humanité newspaper in Saint-Denis (1989). Curves and reinforced concrete are Niemeyer’s signature style and trademark. And for ten years now, each time I see it, the headquarters of the French Communist Party is a place I secretly (well, not anymore I guess…) and strongly dream to samaze one day…

To (very) briefly describe their signature style, Gehry’s is about deconstructive buildings, Niemeyer about curves and reinforced concrete, and Richard Meier is about white (aluminum, metallic walls) and glass (light), with a pinch of Art Deco style. In 1992, he designed Canal+ Television headquarters, 85-89 Quai André Citroën in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. Canal+ (part of Vivendi Universal) sold the building in 2003 (apparently for more than 110 millions euros) but Le Grand Journal, one of the best Canal+ show, is still broadcasted from the building. Here is a description of the building from Meier website, I couldn’t describe it better: ‘Conceptually, Canal+ depends on a series of delicately tessellated membranes. Of primary importance is the combination of clear, translucent, and opaque white glass that make up the curtain wall on the river facade, in conjunction with the projecting, lightweight aluminum brise-soleils along its entire length’. Then the first time I saw the Getty Center in Los Angeles, I quickly recognized with no hesitation, Meier’s architecture style.

There are many other architects I respect and of whom I appreciate the work, I could mention two famous french architects like Le Corbusier and Robert Mallet-Stevens; his work clearly inspired Jacques Tati for the architecture of the Arpel Villa in Mon Oncle or the modern city in Playtime (read my article about Tati: JacquesTati: timeless comedy and satire with Mr Hulot). La Cinémathèque Française founded in 1936 by Henri Langlois, Georges Franju, Jean Mitry and Paul-Auguste Harlé, was aimed (and still is today) to collect, preserve and restore films. The Cinémathèque is currently holding a retrospective of Howard Hawks‘ films: Fazil, 20th Century, Only angels have wings starring Cary Grant (and Jean Arthur), and of course Scarface (Scarface: first and second impact and From Scarface to Smokin’ Aces: the art of the gun scene).

Back to the movies; the circle of what inspires me is now complete.

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