Auguste Perret (1874-1954) was an architect, especially known for reinforced concrete constructions. He may also be particularly known for the reconstruction of Le Havre, heavily bombed during WWII, much discussed, criticized, but finally, in 2005, declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, "being a 20th century outstanding example of renewed city architecture", and today appreciated – by many, if not by all.
Perret was hoping to be responsible for the rebuilding of the new “Palais Chaillot”, overlooking the Eiffel Tower, but got as a consolation the responsibility to build its immediate neighbour which stood ready in a first phase in 1939, originally a museum for public works and buildings, but today the home of the French Economic, Social and Environment Council and the International Chamber of Commerce (CCI). It’s referred to as the “Palais d’Iéna”, situated at Place d’Iéna, behind the statue of Washington. This is also where at present you can visit an exhibition of Auguste Perret’s works. This makes it possible to see this building also from the inside, including the large meeting room.
You can see a number drawings, models… and also read some correspondence, e.g. the one he had with one of his former employees, Le Corbusier, clearly influenced by Perret.
It may be difficult to give a clear classification of Perret’s style, going from late “art nouveau” influence, via “art déco” “to “art moderne” and stretching over some 50 years. The real permanent sign seems to be the use of concrete as a basic element.
In Paris there are, in addition to the above-mentioned “Palais d’Iéna”, a number of other buildings by him to be seen. The first one which drew attention to his name – in 1904 - was this building, rue Franklin (on which I already wrote a long time ago). Here you can still see a lot of ceramic decorative elements on the facade - still some “art nouveau” influence. (Recently, I even managed to get a view of the entrance, inside).
The “Théatre des Champs Elysées”, avenue Montaigne, stood ready in 1913 and seems to be clearly “art déco”. It was certainly considered as very much avant-garde. This was also emphasized by the first years of activity of this theatre, mostly used for music and ballets, with works by Debussy, Fauré, Saint-Saëns, Berlioz… soon followed by Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” with Vaslav Nijinksy… Today, it’s the home of some leading philharmonic orchestras and offers a great variety of concerts. The building also houses two smaller theatres. (I have been there… but never with my camera.)
Perret also designed furniture and even pianos. A Pleyel piano in his design is to be seen at the exhibition. (Pleyel, one of the greatest ever piano producers, just closed their doors.)
This leads us to another “art déco” creation by Perret, the “Salle Cortot”, rue Cardinet, named after one of its professors and renowned piano performer, Alfred Cortot. This is a much more modest concert hall from 1929, seating some 400. It’s linked to the “Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris”, which has had and still has some of the world leading musicians as professors and students. With a very modest outside, it impresses especially by the ingenious interior design in a very limited space and it’s known for its remarkable acoustics. Among other performances, it offers every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 12.30 free concerts, when professors or students perform.
The last Paris building I wish to show is the “Mobilier National” from 1937. This is the seat of the organisation which takes care of and stores furniture, paintings, carpets, tapestries… which are used to decorate all French official buildings. The building is situated just behind the Gobelin Manufactory and Museum.
Here are some illustrations of Perret’s works elsewhere than in Paris – the Le Havre centre, some churches…