Monday, January 18, 2010

The Other Modern: St. Pierre de Chaillot, Paris

There are an infinity of different stylistic shades within the various "other modern" styles that one finds hiding in plain sight in much of modern architectural history. Some of the most interesting can be found among the churches of Paris. I found these images in a splendid little book entitled Eglises parisiennes du XXe siècle which covers the French capital's wealth of modern ecclesiastical architecture. A fair number of them are dull modernistic slabs or eclectic misfires, but some have a truly wonderful simplicity and subtlety to them, such as the one shown above, St. Pierre de Chaillot, which makes the most of its dramatic massing and its concentrated use of ornament. Some might call this art deco, though Fr. Symondson has suggested a better term might be "jazz moderne," though here it is overlaid over a reinterpreted but clearly recognizable sacred (in this instance, Romanesque) framework. There are a number of other examples in this style and in a more Byzantinizing mode that are also to be found in Paris; I hope to cover them at some point in the future.

The rear of St. Pierre, more idiosyncratic and functional in its massing, nonetheless has a certain irregular majesty as well.

Today, when one has to make the most of limited decoration, such intelligent use of shape and outline is essential to creating interest within the framework of otherwise necessarily rather plain structures. The use of a smooth finish--which looks almost like stucco in the rendering, though I believe it is stone in reality--is also worth noting. Stone facings might have been a reasonable option in 1931 when the building was begun. But today plain stucco with traces of stonework neatly avoid the difficulty posed when stone or brick is used with minimal ornamentation. There is always the feeling that something is missing, while the simplicity of stucco and its purity of form tends to deflect that expectation and instead focus the eye on the few moments of sculpture and ornament possible on a limited budget today.

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