Lodged between two housing blocks at the start of the 20th century (1901 and 1916), two smaller buildings gave us a hint of the hidden reality of these Hausmannian blocks. The density of the backyards, resulting of the alignments wanted by Haussmann and his successors that hides many surprises behind these so perfect facades : parcels with unusual geometry that are often incurred, the inside of the isle becoming a consequence.
These two small houses, anachronistics by their scale compared to the surrounding fabric, have left by their persistence this open breach, an irrevence to the logic and beliefs of the 19th century, where sequenced facades and public space take part, in a concomitant way in a direct connection amongst full and empty spaces, to express a Parisian boulevard of its time.
Today, with the establishment of the tramway, the boulevard was redefined and its public space renovated. Nonetheless, we can say that the design of this boulevard and its composing elements were already well settled. Between social housing or post haussmannian buildings, we see there, the composition of the public space as imagined by Haussmann : that is to say that architecture is subject “to an urban order which is beyond itself. Haussmannian facades are, from this point of view, facades of a public space before being those of individual buildings” (Eric Lapierre, Identification of a city, P53)
Even if they are buildings built during the 20th century, with other logics than those of the Haussmannian buildings, we clearly see the remaining marks with the willingness of homogeneous sequencing of facades along the boulevard.
More precisely, the buildings that frame the project, and which were built at the beginning of the century, which can be called post-Haussmannian period, where the past rigor and homogeneity are replaced by more personal interpretations : cornices, corbelled constructions, pilasters, sculptures, breakthroughs, the appearance of the Bow Windows, balconies, ..., are assembled in a clever rythm and order. Even if one can find those buildings to be overloaded, or even a little too talkative, one can only e struck by the quality of the knowledge and the know- how implemented in their construction : use of noble materials, stone cutting to form lintel, sculpture..., ironwork, brick’s pattern layout, ..., so many attentions gone nowadays in the manufacture of the buildings, which raise the question of how to build between these two buildings.
Boulevard Poniatowksi establishes itself in place of the former Thiers enclosure, one of the reasons that allowed the creation of a street of this scale.
The quality of the boulevard Poniatowski lies in its clarity : alignment of the building, wide and wooded sidewalk linked to the commercials ground
floors allowing a direct connection between public and private space, between full and empty. An urban continuity emanating from the precepts of classic urbanism largely taken up by Haussmann which made and are still making the quality of a city like Paris. Regarding our block and especially the composition of the nearby buildings, we notice a system of composition based:
- on a horizontal pace of opening, where a large window alternates with two small ones,
- and on an order of the facade divided into three parts, with a substructure composed of the ground floor and the mezzanine floor, the main body usually constitued with the third to the ninth floors and of the penthouse composed of the last level being the tenth. Even if they are different from one another in their architectural treatment (material, ornaments,...), this system of composition makes it possible to give a scale and life to a clear and homogenous boulevard. The project inserts itself in this approach of urban continuity by the resumption of the pace of the openings and of the composition in 3 orders by a volumetric deformation : -Thus the main body lifts away from the substructure by a subtle inflection overhanging the boulevard and allowing clear views at the front end of the building, announcing a breach and the entrance. The penthouse, which is set back, in correlation with the surrounding zinc roofs, expresses itself by a plan using the geometry of a triangle to erase the depth using perspective effects. -The openings are located in accordance with the rythm of the windows of the neighboring buildings and linked with the interior typology of the dwellings. We propose vertical and rectangular windows that offer the possibility to see the street as well as the sky. They are enhanced with metal shutters that bring solar protection and privacy. The architectural writing of this project is different from the nearby buildings but is a part of a common scale to this boulevard. It takes part in the formalizing of this public space in a method seeking contextuality and urbanity, because the approach of the spirit of a place can only exist in the accuracy of the relationship of the smallest part to the whole. The neighboring buildings have a strong personality. They are the testimony of the eclectism of this era, still very much influenced by the 19th century. Sculptures and ornaments come to animate these facades. Although one may wonder the meaning of all these ornaments, there remains a quality in the vibration of these facades, games of shadows and light,which give them a particularity in relation to a situation and a history, which caracterize this urban landscape. Also, our approach is not situated in a criticism of the ornament as Adolf Loos could present it in his novel “ornament and crime” : where he considers the ornament as a “complete artifice”, but rather in a poetics of the situation. Our gaze is voluntarily innocent, like a child who stops in front of a lion’s head sculpted on the porch of a building. Why a lion’s head? It does not matter, what we like here is the singular attention, the multiplication of sensations, the blurring of tracks, in order to offer an architecture with mutliple scales of reading, always keeping a part of mystery. Nothing is more frustrating than to have understood everything at first sight... The project plays on the ambiguity between material and ornament, by working with a matrixed concrete on the entire façade. By superimposing and multiplying the drawings of the neighboring buildings, the facade finds a new ornament in its own material, where a multitude of readings are possible: from a distance we only feel a vibration, from close up we begin to recognize certain patterns, then by moving, they disappear to become a vibrating material again. Through this, the building weaves subtle, sometimes mysterious links with its neighbors, avoiding the pitfalls of “pastiche” or “facadism”. This positive revaluation of the ornament creates the fertile ground of a cultural revaluation of the meticulous, of the marginal, of their aesthetics and of a poetry which emerges from it.