Art Deco / Art Nouveau: the 1930s in Paris
The Art Nouveau explosion – a celebration of curved forms, decorative details and floral motifs – gave way around 1925 to the Art Deco movement which was characterised by simple lines and geometric motifs. In Paris, examples of the Art Deco style can be found in all kinds of spaces throughout the city.
A stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, the Palais de Chaillot and the Palais de Tokyo, vestiges of the international expositions, are majestic examples of this style, as is their close neighbour, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. A number of other theatres and cinemas also boast typical 1930s architecture, including the Folies Bergère and the Louxor and Grand Rex cinemas, the latter being listed as a historic monument.
The department stores Printemps Haussmann and Galeries Lafayette with their magnificent glass domes are also worth a visit.
Some sports facilities in Paris are housed in splendid Art Deco style buildings, including the Butte-aux-Cailles, Georges-Vallerey and Molitorswimming pools.
Not forgetting the Palais de la Porte Dorée museum space and various Metro stations including Vaneau. As well as public buildings, Art Deco also finds its way into private residences. Visitors to the 16th arrondissement can admire a number of key buildings of the period, including the Maison La Roche, known as the Fondation Le Corbusier, and the many buildings designed by the architect Mallet-Stevens in the street named after him.
Further west, the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt has an impressive array of 1930s buildings presenting a panorama of styles from the period. To make exploration easier, a number of walking tours have been created in the area. For those interested to learn more, a visit to the Musée des Années 30 is a must. The three independent walking tours proposed by the municipality reveal a wealth of emblematic buildings lining the streets of Boulogne-Billancourt. Note that these walking tours are also available in audioguide form.
The northern suburbs boast some impressive buildings, including the ultramodern Blanc Mesnil town hall, shaped like an ocean liner, and the Cité 212 housing estate designed by Germain Dorel (also in Blanc-Mesnil), not forgetting Le Bourget Airport, an Art Deco gem designed by the architect Georges Labro.
In the south, Gentilly train station, built in 1933 by Louis Brachet who was nicknamed the railway architect, is a building in the purest Art Deco tradition.
To the east, Nogent-sur-Marne and Le Perreux-sur-Marne in the mid-nineteenth century became popular leisure destinations where labourers, artists and writers from Paris would go to enjoy the guinguettes (open-air drinking establishments) and regattas. The elegant façades of the Art Deco style bourgeois houses and holiday villas designed by the architects Gérard Tissoire and Georges Nachbaur still grace the banks of the Marne.
The town of Vincennes, known for its chateau and medieval keep, also has many Art Deco treasures. Smart apartment buildings, houses and villas line the streets Maréchal Maunoury, Louis Besquel and Emilie Gérard, while the Neo-Renaissance town hall boasts a remarkable Art Deco interior.
In the twentieth century, France was completely transformed. Social housing was introduced and high-rise apartment blocks were erected in various parts of Paris and the surrounding region. Even though many of these buildings are primarily functional, some surprising architectural creations are worthy of a stage set. We take a look at some iconic examples not to miss.
In Noisy-le-Grand are two housing projects that never fail to astonish passing visitors: the Espaces d’Abraxas and the Arènes de Picasso, both by Manuel Núñez Yanowsky. Spectacular constructions that transformed the urban landscape and still fascinate contemporary architecture enthusiasts to this day.
Further info on the Espaces d’Abraxas and Arènes de Picasso
Further info on Noisy-le-Grand, a town designed by Bofill and Nunez
Another remarkable development is Les Coutillières in Pantin, a distinctive, long, blue and pink serpentine apartment building that snakes its way over 1.5 kilometres, and the Cité de l’Abreuvoir (Bobigny), with its round and three-sided tower blocks designed by the architect Emile Aillaud in the 1950s and 1960s. All are astonishing projects both for their form and multicoloured exteriors.
In the south-eastern suburb of Créteil, round tower blocks with petal-shaped balconies reminiscent of cauliflowers immediately catch the visitor’s eye. The Choux de Créteil development, designed by Gérard Grandval, was built in the 1970s, bringing an unusual aspect to this part of town.
In the same period, Jean Renaudie and Renée Gailhoustet transformed the centre of Ivry-sur-Seine with Les Étoiles, a terraced complex of star shapes and jutting angles that reinvented social housing. No right angles here! This innovative concrete structure softened by overhanging greenery pioneered the concept of environmentally-friendly public-sector architecture.
The inner suburb of Nanterre is home to the astonishing Tours Nuages. Designed by Émile Aillaud, they have been a feature of the town’s skyline since the 1970s and 1980s. Covered in pastel-coloured mosaics, they are prime examples of twentieth-century social housing and are unquestionably worth the trip!
The garden city concept: architecture and nature
Originating in the UK, the concept of the garden city flourished in France from the 1920s onwards. The idea is simple: build housing surrounded by greenery, like a green town-within-a-town.
France’s first garden city was built in Suresnes, with the first stone being laid in 1921. Designed by the architect Félix Dumail, the Cité-jardin de Suresnes, the largest garden city in Europe, would serve as a model for the fifteen or so garden cities that subsequently sprang up in the Greater Paris area.
Among those worth seeing are the Cité-jardin de la Butte-Rouge in Châtenay-Malabry, a mixture of brick and concrete constructions, the English-style Cité-jardin Paul-Bert in Drancy, the picturesque Cité-jardin de Stains and the Cité-jardin du Moulin Vert in the upper part of Vitry-sur-Seine. There is also Félix Dumail’sCité-jardin du Pré-Saint-Gervais and the Cité-jardin de Champigny-sur-Marne with its remarkable architecture.
Neighbourhoods in transformation
Explore the new, fast-changing districts of Greater Paris
La Défense – a dynamic architectural showcase
La Défense, Europe’s largest business district, offers a fascinating panorama of the architecture of recent decades. The district’s avant-garde architectural style was pioneered by the CNIT, built in 1958. This was followed by the Grande Arche in 1989 (by Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen), France’s tallest skyscraper the Tour First, the Tour Carpe Diem and the Cœur Défense building.
A recent addition is the Paris La Défense Arena, a multipurpose complex designed by Christian de Portzamparc with capacity for up to 40,000 people. It combines a state-of-the-art entertainment venue and an ultramodern sports stadium all under one roof. In terms of records, the Paris La Défense Arena is the biggest modular venue in Europe.
A cultural future for the Île Seguin in Boulogne-Billancourt
Following the closure of the Renault plant 25 years ago, this former automotive industry hub is being developed into the new cultural eco-neighbourhood of Greater Paris. Île Seguin – Rives de Seine is an 11-hectare site that will consist of cultural facilities, accommodation, offices, green spaces and sports facilities.
The music and dance spaceLa Seine Musicale was the first building to open its doors in 2017. This impressive ship-like architectural creation was designed by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines. It is topped by a glass egg-shaped structure housing the auditorium and includes a hanging garden and a huge rotating sail-like structure covered with photovoltaic panels that follows the path of the sun. Opposite the Île Seguin, the new Trapèze eco-neighbourhood harbours the Tour Horizons by Jean Nouvel, reaching a height of 88 metres. With this building, designed like a three-stage rocket, the French architect has reinvented the concept of the skyscraper.
Rosa Parks, a neighbourhood in flux
In the north of Paris, a new neighbourhood started to emerge in late 2015, between the Canal Saint-Denis and Porte d'Aubervilliers: Rosa Parks. The nerve centre of this eco-neighbourhood is the former Macdonald warehouse, built in the late 1960s. This huge edifice now comprises housing, offices, facilities and shops. With its 617-metre façade, it is one of the longest buildings in the French capital.
The Rosa Parks neighbourhood is distinguished by the quality of its contemporary architecture, which offers a blend of different aesthetic styles. Some fifteen architects worked on the new neighbourhood, including such big names as Christian de Portzamparc, Kengo Kum and Dietmar Feichtinger, known for the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir footbridge over the Seine.
Paris Rive Gauche – a town within the city
Stretching from the Gare d'Austerlitz to the Boulevard Périphérique, the Paris Rive Gauche development includes a number of historic sites in the southern part of the city. This vast project was started almost three decades ago and is still ongoing, with new buildings going up on a regular basis. The first phase of this ambitious redevelopment to be completed was the new national library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, designed by Dominique Perrault.
A collection of impressive architectural creations has since sprung up around this imposing building in the shape of open books. Many of the world’s leading architects have left their stamp here, including Norman Foster, Paul Chemetov, Wilmotte & Associés, Christian de Portzamparc and Ricardo Bofill. Alongside the new buildings and redeveloped industrial sites, the neighbourhood‘s existing architecture is also far from ordinary.
Strolling through the streets, you might stumble upon the Planeix house designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, built in 1924, be surprised by the curious silhouette of the two Frigos buildings housing creative workshops or the astonishing Masséna fire station and barracks, a brutalist-style construction dating back to the 1970s.
Oscar Niemeyer or the beauty of curves
Follow in the footsteps of the celebrated Brazilian architect who has bestowed a few exceptional buildings on Greater Paris. To begin, head for the Place du Colonel-Fabien where a curvaceous building immediately draws the eye. It is the French Communist Party Headquarters (1980). Further north, a stone’s throw from the famous Basilique de Saint-Denis, don’t miss the former head office of the L’Humanité newspaper, built in 1987. In Bobigny, you can admire the Bourse Départementale du Travail (1978) and to the east, Fontenay-sous-Bois also boasts several office buildings designed by Niemeyer.