Friday, July 18, 2008

Paris: 17,19 Rue de Suisse (Herzog &DeMuron)

This project is most marked by its facades. I doubt anyone would really take that much notice if it wasn’t for the surface treatments. I was not totally clear on the overall organization of the project, but I found the two exterior facades of perforated metal shutters beautifully filling space around a corner building. I knew there was another part, but couldn’t find it, and realized it was on the inside of the block. I waited around until someone came out of the door, and snuck in to get a peak. It was a quiet and intimate space, with a very different language than the facades on the outside. The sounds of dinner were emanating from each unit, and since the open space was relatively small, I quickly began to feel out of place and like a voyeur. I snapped my pictures, made a few quick drawings, and went back outside to draw the outer façade. The façade was a fascinating approach, continually offering a different treatment to the street, depending on the mood of the inhabitant or the sun. The interior units, offered a more classical façade, reminiscent of old rollup desk tops.

While sitting outside drawing, a many came up to me and asked me if liked the building. I said, parts. He proceeded to use the opportunity unleash a diatribe of what the building did not do well. A few of my favorite quotes:

“When they were installing the street façade, the worker could not turn around inside the balcony, the head of construction is quoted as saying that.”
“Since I pay by the square foot, I lose so much on the outside, I can’t even use the outdoor space it is so narrow.”
“They spent all their fucking money on the façade.”
“I’d rather have a building that is practical than beautiful.”
“Is it justifiable to spend such money on trivial things in public housing?”
“You know they spent one month lackering up the wooden façade. Who is paying for that?”

He made the case that much more attention should have been spent on the inside, making sure the little things worked, like insulation, water protection, quality kitchen equipment. He was a litter bitter for sure, but his diatribe offered a nice change to the continual praises and beautiful pictures such a project always receives in publications. He agreed, it is beautiful, but at what cost? It would have been nice to talk to others. On the surface, it is a strong project, engaging in so many levels.

He then went on to complain that one hundred architects a week go inside, visit, and take all kinds of pictures. One day, even, a teacher brought a whole group of high school kids unannounced. They would all just wait for someone to come out and then walk right in. I guess he didn’t see me, I felt a little guilty. Ah yes, the architectural voyeur. We have all been there, but it is especially difficult in the realm of housing. In some ways, it is a curse to be living in a project that is famous, you will always get people trying to catch a glimpse. The common man ranting about the home designed by the world famous architect. The architects in this case, have the designed the Birdsnest (Olympic Stadium) in Beijing (see earlier post or watch the Olympics this summer). Who judges an architect to be famous, successful, or even good?

More Info: Housing

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