Friday, 28 August 2015

A riot of colour - Prague's Jerusalem Synagogue


Jeruzalemska is a side street in Prague's Nove Mesto, or New Town. It is also home to the Jerusalem or Jubilee Synagogue which stands out from the rest of the street due to its vibrant blue, pink and yellow exterior and its Moorish architectural style. 

I last stood outside this building more than 12 years ago, disappointed to find it closed and without signs of life. This was far from the case yesterday when I had to join a small queue of tourists wanting to enter and there was a steady flow of visitors whilst I was inside. However, I have to say that I didn't take much notice of the other visitors because once through the lobby where there is a small entrance fee, I was overwhelmed by the bright colours with deep reds, blues and yellows, even more vibrant than those on the exterior. Everywhere I looked there were flourishes, curves and geometric designs that surprise and delight. And this isn't just limited to the walls and ceilings - there are also beautiful stained glass windows, patterned ceramic tiles and bright coloured pillars supporting the organ.

Apart from the visual impact, the first thing to strike me was that it must have been a confident and optimistic Jewish community to have commissioned and built this synagogue at the beginning of the 20th century. The Society for the Construction of a New Temple was founded in 1898 following the demolition of the the Ziegner, Great Court and New synagogues as part of the clearance of the former Jewish quarter in Josefov. A site was acquired in 1899 and a series of designs considered including a Neo-Romanesque building designed by Alois Richter and Joseph Linhart's Neo-Gothic proposal.  The preferred Moorish design was that of Wilhelm Stiassny which was approved in 1904. He was responsible for over 180 buildings including synagogues in Malacky, Jablonec and Nisou and the Central Jewish Cemetery in Vienna. He was also the founder and president of the Society for the Preservation and Conservation of Jewish Art and Historical Monuments.



The building was realised by Alois Richter from 1905-6 at the Society's expense and the dedication took place on 16th September 1906 during the festival of Simchat Torah. It has a basilica type triple-nave with two traverse wings whilst the main facade has a large Islamic-style arch and a rosette window with a central Magen David. The window is surrounded with a Biblical quotation from the Book of Malachi "Have we not one father, did not one God create us?". Placing this quotation very prominently on the facade of a large and brightly coloured building may have been another sign of a confident community but could also have been a plea for acceptance for a community caught between competing Czech and German nationalisms. Furthermore the memory of the antisemitic violence of 1899 and 1900 following the Hilsner affair and the revival of the blood libel would still have been fresh.

The synagogue is filled with light filtered through beautiful stained glass windows whilst the aron ha-kodesh, where the Torah scrolls are kept, is decorated with a vine leaf motif and the tablets of the Ten Commandments. There is an organ at the upper level at the rear of the women's gallery. The inclusion of an organ was something that began in the nineteenth century and which provoked strong debate and objections with some Jews viewing this as the Christianisation of services. A rabbinical conference in Leipzig in 1869 considered this matter and afterwards organs were introduced in many synagogues in German speaking areas. 



The synagogue survived the Second World War reasonably intact as it had been used as a store during the long occupation of Czechoslovakia. Most of the community did not survive the war and together with the restrictions placed on organised religion under the Communist authorities and regular  outbursts of star sponsored anti-semitism, there was little Jewish life until the fall of the regime in 1989. In 1992, the community began renovating the building, initially restoring the stained glass windows with funding from the Czech Government, Prague City Hall and from its own resources. Further restoration commenced on the interior walls and furnishings in 2004 and other works still continue.  Visitors are welcome during the summer and there are occasional concerts and exhibitions. The current exhibition focuses on the history of the Prague Jews.

It's taken me 12 years to come back to Prague to see inside this wonderful building. I won't leave it so long until the next time.




Sunday, 23 August 2015

Picture Post 47 - Terraced apartment building in Rue Vavin, Paris


Rue Vavin is a pleasant street of cafes and stylish shops in Paris' 6th arrondissement. It is also home to one of architect Henri Sauvage's most famous works - the white tiled tiered building at number 26. Completed in 1912,  it is one of two tiered buildings he designed and managed to have built - the other being at 13 Rue des Amiraux in the 18th. Number 26 stands out from the rest of the street with its crisp white ceramic tiles and contrasting blue detail - a striking site in the summer sunshine. 

Sauvage was interested in improving the living conditions of ordinary people and wanted to design affordable, well-lit and well ventilated social housing. This is why the building's facade gradually retreats, each level having a terrace, affording outdoor space to the residents and the opportunity to take fresh air without having to go down to the street. It also provides opportunities for tiny gardens and several of the apartments have plants growing on the terraces.  Sauvage's designs were a response to the over-crowded and unhealthy living conditions of the urban poor and in line with his commitments to the Societe des lodgements hygeniques a bon marche - a company established to promote sanitary and affordable housing - something we are still struggling with today. He also worked closely with the City Council's Office of Affordable Housing (HBM) in order to implement his ideas.


He further developed his ideas of healthy living with the building in Rue des Amiraux, a pyramid style building which has a swimming pool in the centre. However, Sauvage cannot take credit for the pool - he originally wanted to place a cinema there but the HBM insisted that the pool, known as the Piscine des Amiraux be provided for residents instead. The building has been renovated and is now listed. It has also been used for filming, in particular for the award winning film Le Fabuleux destine d'Amelie Poulain, better know in the UK as Amelie. The apartments here were completed in 1925 and the piscine in 1930. 26 Rue Vavin also has a film pedigree and was used for the 1972 film - Last Tango In Paris.

Although there were plans and proposals for further terraced buildings, none were realised and in later years, ironically there were issues of poor lighting in some of the apartments. Despite this, Sauvage's ideas have clearly had an impact on social housing architecture and policy in the 20th century whilst his ideas about access to light and air fit well with those of some of the British public health pioneers of the same period, including Dr. Salter and the pioneers of the Peckham Experiment in London. 

Sauvage worked in a number of styles and designed homes for the wealthy as well as social housing. One of the most successful French architects of the first half of the 20th Century, his other works include Villa Majorelle, an art nouveau classic in Nancy, built for the furniture designer Louis Majorelle, a 1933 re-working of the iconic La Samaritaine department store and an hotel in Monterey, Mexico.




Friday, 21 August 2015

Villa La Roche - Le Corbusier's design for a Swiss art collector



My recent Paris trip had a bit of a Le Corbusier theme to it. I began by seeing one of his early works, Villa Planeix on Boulevard Massena in the 13th arrondissement which was completed in 1928. I followed this up by  visiting one of his even earlier works - Villa Roche in Square du Docteur Blanche in the glitzy 16th, completed in 1925. The Villa is open to the public six days per week and visitors are free to wander the interior alone and even to take photographs. To complete, I managed to visit the Le Corbusier: Mesures de L'Homme exhibition at the Pompidou Centre

Tucked away behind a gate and along a gravel drive, Villa Roche is not visible from the street and is announced only by a simple plaque on the front gate. However, as one progresses along the gravel path, the Villa gradually reveals itself, first with the stilt-mounted gently curved facade and tiny box balcony and then, as visitors reach the house, the view of the double heighted window above the atrium and of the covered roof terrace. And then you go inside!

The house was built between 1923 and 1925, commissioned by Swiss banker and avant-garde art collector Raoul la Roche with a brief to design a home and a space to display his collection. Le Corbusier and La Roche had much in common. Both were Swiss born but chose to live in France. Both had a love of modern art and both were involved in the production of the artistic journal L'esprit Nouveau. Their friendship lasted into later life and indeed Le Corbusier wrote a dedication in a copy of his book L'Atelier de la Recherche Patiente, saying that Villa Roche had sealed their friendship and proved that their aims were "…clearly identified, innovative and creative…".



Le Corbusier acquired two plots of land on which to build the villa, as well as a second project - a villa for his brother, Albert Jeanneret which now houses the archive of the Le Corbusier Foundation. 

Wandering through the Villa la Roche, the first thing that visitors see is the ground to roof atrium, which has the possibility of views from the ground floor, at mezzanine level and from the upper level too. The space is flooded with natural light from the window that runs the entire height of the upper floor. There is also a small balcony at the mezzanine level which affords views down into the atrium and over to the bridge that crosses this space. The balcony is echoed with a similar protrusion on the exterior of the building and is a feature that can seen in many of the architect's works.

In the rooms accessible to the public, it is possible to see some items of furniture although most of the original furnishings shown in photographs from the 1920's are either not displayed or long gone. The original furnishings included a collaboration between Le Corbusier and designer Charlotte Perriand. This resulted in three chrome plated tubular steel chairs - one for conversation, one for relaxing and a third - a chaise longue recliner - for sleeping. Perriand was inspired by Le Corbusier's approach to architecture and went on to design furniture for some of his other projects including the Swiss Pavilion at the Cite Universitaire and the Paris Salvation Army headquarters.



One of the highlights of a visit is the art gallery, with its long, narrow and curved structure, beautiful black table and elegant glass and wood cupboards. However the star of the show is the steep and narrow ramp that leads to the upper level which originally housed the owner's library. I love its dramatic sweep and the contrasting brown colouring set against the whiteness of most of the house - both interior and exterior. The whiteness is also relieved by splashes of pale blue on some of the walls and the green tint of the glass cupboard doors. 

By 1927, Le Corbusier had firmed up his architectural philosophy - Five Points towards a New Architecture. Although Villa La Roche precedes this, the elements of his philosophy are played out through this building. First the pilots (or stilts) which allow full implementation of the principle of open plan with residents and guests able to roam freely including underneath the house. He extolled the virtues of reinforced concrete and its contribution to his theory of open plan saying "Reinforced concrete has given us pilotis. The house is in the air far above the ground; the garden runs under the house; it is also on the house, on the roof".

His second point relates to the long horizontal window on the facade. Of this point he wrote that "The window is one of the essential elements of the house. Progress brings liberation. Concrete is revolutionising the history of the window". The third point refers to the roof garden and says that it redefines the traditional roof as a suspended garden at the top of the building. His fourth point returns to open plan and maintains that this approach liberates the internal space making each level and its spatial distribution entirely independent. The fifth and final point refers to an open facade which allows the windows to run uninterrupted from one end to the other.

Clearly all of these elements can be seen in Villa La Roche and were then further defined in his later works. Of course, as with any architectural project, the real measure of success is how well the client responds to the finished product. La Roche wrote to Le Corbusier that "By entrusting you with the construction of my house, I knew that you would produce something wonderful; my hopes have been far surpassed. My independent way of life meant that I left you alone to create this project, and given the result I praise myself for having done so". Can't get better than that. 






Saturday, 15 August 2015

Carlton Cinema, Essex Road - Ancient Egypt in North London


Over the years I have passed this lovely building many times - usually on the top deck of the 38 bus. Today I finally got around to photographing it. The former Carlton Cinema on Essex Road in Islington, North London is set slightly back from the road. It comes as a surprise to those approaching it from the south as it is suddenly revealed in its art deco, Egyptian inspired glory. The Egyptian iconography includes beautiful lotus flowers and buds at the mid level as well as brightly coloured ceramic tiles bearing other references to exotic vegetation. The interior was designed in a more neo-classical style.

This period's enthusiasm for ancient Egypt can be seen in a number of places across London including the former Carreras cigarette factory in Hampstead Road (1928) which not only featured Egyptian motifs on the building but was opened with great "Egyptian style" fanfare. The owner hired the cast of Aida in full costume, had the road around the factory closed, covered in sand and staged chariot races there. All this for a cigarette factory!



Completed and opened in 1930, the Carlton was one of a number of cinemas and theatres whose design was inspired by Howard Carter's discovery of Tutenkhamun's tomb in 1922. The building is the work of George Coles who also designed the iconic Troxy cinema on Commercial Road in the East End. With just one screen, the Carlton opened with 2,226 seats arranged across stalls and balcony levels. The first screening was Welcome Danger starring Harold Lloyd. There was also a cafe for the use of its customers and an organ for use at its variety presentations or I assume for when silent movies were screened - the first "talkie" only having been released in 1927. On a less grand scale I am very fond of one of the Electric Lane entrance to the Brixton Reliance Arcade which dates from 1924. This influence can be seen in other parts of the world too, especially the magnificent  Louxor Cinema in Paris.

Back to the Carlton. The ABC chain acquired it in 1935 and changed its name to the ABC Islington. It closed as a cinema in August 1972, its last screening being Mutiny on the Buses with Reg Varney - somehow appropriate what with my travels on the number 38 and everything. It was then acquired by the Mecca Bingo chain and operated as a bingo hall until 2007 when it closed and stood empty for several years. For some time it was left to crumble and suffered from vandalism to the extent that it was placed on the English Heritage at risk register in 2011. 




There are few sources of funding to save and restore large buildings like this and a number of them only survive due to being acquired by religious organisations. The evangelical Resurrection Manifestation church purchased the Carlton for around £5 million in 2013 and submitted proposals to Islington Council to use the building as a church but also to establish a two screen cinema and to build a two storey extension with private flats to fund a major renovation. The plans were rejected and although the cinema is clearly being used for religious purposes any other proposals appear to have been dropped. During the period of semi-dereliction, the building was squatted and there are allegations that the church carried out a violent eviction - something which they deny. 

The Carlton is an iconic building in this part of London. It is a reminder of the glory days of cinema and adds colour to the landscape. The facade remains in need of repair with some of the faience work crumbling. I have not been able to find any recent images of the interior so am unclear about its condition but there are reports of parts of the ceiling being in danger of collapse. Its a shame that the building can't be used for wider cultural or educational activity but at least its still standing.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Ladybird By Design - books for children and a step back in time

Ladybird By Design, the exhibition currently showing at the House of Illustration in Kings Cross brings back many childhood memories for me. I was an odd child, interested in books, maps, history, the world and things that seemed very exotic and inaccessible to a child growing up in a small seaside town in the North-East of England. I don't remember there being many books in our house and we were not regular library users, which is odd given my later career path. However I do remember having a small number of Ladybird books which were probably purchased in the town's branch of WH Smith and which were treasured possessions to the extent that I remember taking them to school to show my teacher and her being a little surprised to find me reading Warwick the Kingmaker!


Ladybird publishing celebrates its centenary this year. I must admit I was surprised to learn that the company is still with us and still producing children's books. The iconic ladybird logo was registered in 1915 by Loughborough printers Wills and Hepworth who experimented with producing illustrated books with an educational focus for young children but the fifties and sixties were the golden age of Ladybird publishing for children. Produced to a winning and at the time ground breaking formula, the books featured one page of text followed by a full page illustration, no matter what the subject. Editorial director, Douglas Keen recognised the importance of layout and illustrations and commissioned leading artists and illustrators for the many series published by Ladybird.

Keen was the reason for much of Ladybird's success during its golden age. He first worked for Wills and Hepworth as a salesman in 1936 and returned to the company in 1946 after spending six years in the RAF as part of a mobile radar unit during the Second World War. Traveling widely as a company rep he spoke to teachers and booksellers to discover what kind of books British children wanted and identified a need for well illustrated, easy to read factual books. Convincing his employers that this was worth pursuing through producing a prototype books on birds, illustrated by his mother-in-law and producing the text himself, he laid the foundations of a phenomenally successful series of books.

As well as producing interesting non-fiction for children, Keen oversaw the production of the Key Words reading scheme series, which may seem old fashioned now, but which was used to teach many children to read from the late 1940's until the mid 1970's, not just in the UK but overseas as well. One of my friends from the Far East reports learning to read with this series under the direction of parents and starting school already literate. I am not one of those many children taught to read with this scheme. I was damned to the boredom of the Janet and John series and its dire text. I can still remember some of the text from those books - "Look John look, the dog has the ball, the ball goes up up up". Tedious in the extreme and I often wondered why the ball never came down down down, but I did learn to read as did thousands of other children with schemes such as these. 

It is easy to underestimate how revolutionary these books were. Children's publishing today is bright, colourful and exciting but until the early 1960's many books for this age group were fairly dull with dense text and limited, often poor quality illustrations. I remember ploughing my way through a copy of the Water Babies at age 10 or 11. Not a picture in the book and very long passages without obvious places to pause - it was a miracle I got to the end of it, especially as most of it was read after lights out by holding the corner of the curtain open with one hand to let light in whilst holding the book with the other.

Over time Ladybird developed a wide ranging list with series on historical figures, travel, machines, people's jobs, Bible stories, achievements, fairy tales retold, science and of course animals. The natural history books were particularly charming and designed to promote a love of natural history amongst children. I particularly liked the "What to look for.." series with one each for winter, spring, summer and autumn. This series was illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe a well known hand much respected painter of birds and animals. A further wildlife series was published in 1972, with a focus on conservation included "Disappearing Mammals" and "What on earth are we doing" amongst the titles. Disappearing Mammals commented that "Man has no right to rob future generations of the interest, inspiration and beauty that can be had from contacts with animals". It is fashionable in some circles to sneer at publishing from this period as old fashioned or as having a narrow view of the world. Some of these books stand up rather well to this kind of criticism when closely examined.

However, the travel books are perhaps not so able to stand up to this kind of scrutiny. The Flight series included six titles - Australia, Canada, USA, India, Africa and the Holy Land. I was the proud owner of at least three of these - India, the Holy Land and Africa. This series featured Alison and John, a brother and sister who appear to have been frequent flyers with their businessman father. Published in the early 1960's this kind of travel must have seemed enormously exciting for most British children and something few could aspire to. These children were well behaved and quite serious - John took notes in his notebook, Alison did drawings of where they had been and at least in the case of the Holy Land title, was constantly armed with her Bible from which she would read about the places they visited. The father was very engaging, asking the children lots of questions and explaining key moments in the history of the places visited.


This series has received particular criticism. The family see the world from a very white and very British point of view. The depiction of local people in the books in a number of cases would not be acceptable today - a theme further developed in the way women are dealt with in other series. Over time this began to change, especially during the late 1970's and beyond but by that time the bubble had burst, children's publishing had changed and the Ladybird approach had become old fashioned.

Despite this very British approach, the books were translated into a number of languages and were successful overseas. The books have been translated into up to 70 different languages as diverse as Arabic, Chinese, Icelandic, Malay, Swedish, Welsh and Zulu. At least some were translated into Esperanto - the international language created by I.L Zamenhof in 1887 (and which never took off) whilst others were produced using ITA - the initial teaching alphabet which was a method of teaching reading popular in the 1960's. 

Marketing was a key element to the success of the books with Ladybird being one of the first lists to produce its own point of sale and promotions material. The exhibition at the House of Illustration includes a letter from a bookseller asking for more such material and a different range of books to display having sold out his previous stock.

Things change. The world moves on and Ladybird has developed and modernised its approach whilst keeping some of the key features of its early success.  I recently re-purchased a couple of titles that I once owned - Flight Four - India and Flight Six - The Holy Land. I spotted them on Amazon for a couple of quid each and couldn't resist having another luck. Dated yes, innocent seeming certainly, but they still carry a certain charm and innocence and it is not difficult to see how children of the pre internet, i-Phone, modern picture book and Harry Potter age would be drawn to them.

The exhibition runs until 25th September and the gallery shop is selling old and new ladybird titles as well as postcards, posters produced for the exhibition as well as the new book by Lawrence Zeegan Ladybird By Design.


Friday, 7 August 2015

An early Le Corbusier, a former cinema and a chance discovery - More Paris Modernism

Paris surely has one of the largest collections of modernist buildings of any city in Europe if not the world. Each time I am there I discover further examples of this architectural style, many of them in the less central arrondissements. My visit last weekend was no exception. 

216 Boulevard Raspail, 1934, Bruno Elkouken
The apartment building at 216 Boulevard Raspail is a stunner. Built between 1932 and 1934 for Helena Rubinstein to the designs of the Jewish, Polish born architect Bruno Elkouken, it originally included a cinema and artists' studios as well as apartments. Rubinstein retained one of the top floor apartments for herself. The cinema, Studio Raspail, closed in 1982 but the main entrance still retains the name. 

The upper floors have squared off bay windows with the facade showing some cubist features. However, the ground floor is my favourite with its rule of three canopy, glass bricks, integral lighting, and most of all, those beautiful curved rooms to each side of the entrance, one of which may once have been the cinema ticket office. The building's stylishness is further enhanced by the black stripe on the ground floor which contrasts with the cream and white of the rest of the facade.

Elkouken left Poland for Germany in 1929 and also spent time in Italy and before settling in Paris where he designed two other apartment buildings. He left for the United States in 1937, returning in 1940 to volunteer for military service. Remaining in France after the war he eventually gained citizenship and was involved in reconstruction of Dunkirk.

216 Boulevard Raspail, 1934, Bruno Elkouken
216 Boulevard Raspail, 1934, Bruno Elkouken
Elkouken was not the only Jewish architect working in the modernist style in Paris during the 1930's. Germain Debre was the son of Simon Debre, Chief Rabbi of Neuilly-sur-seine. He graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1920 having had his studies interrupted by ten years of military service, including serving during the First World War. Amongst other works, he designed the exquisite Villa Glodek in Rue Miguel Hidalgo in the 19th arrondissement. Built between 1930 and 1932, it was constructed around a reinforced concrete frame with plastered bricks and has a distinctly nautical feel with a porthole over the front door and ocean liner balconies at the upper levels.

If your French is good enough (and it will need to be much better than mine), you can read more about Debre's career here where you can see plans and images of some of his other works. Rue Hidalgo is located on the extension to line 7 of the Paris Metro - ligne 7 bis - and is a short walk from the Danube station. It is well worth a visit, not only for Villa Glodek, but also for the several tiny streets running off Hidalgo that make the area resemble a country village. Villa Claude Monet is especially beautiful and the whole area is worth spending an hour or so exploring.

Villa Glodek, 1932, Germain Debre
Boulevard Massena in the 13th arrondissement is home to two outstanding modernist buildings. I went there to see Villa Planeix at number 24-26a. Completed in 1928, it was designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret for the sculptor Antonin Planeix. The stark facade faces a busy dual carriageway but is protected from the noise of the traffic by a solid almost windowless bay feature and a protective fence that does not appear to be original. The bay is topped by an elegant balcony, partially shielded from the elements by a very neat and very small central canopy. It is difficult to get a clear photograph of the whole Villa without taking the risk of crossing the dual carriageway and standing beside the tram lines that run up the middle of the road. I decided to risk it and came away unscathed!

The Villa has a roof garden, double heighted atelier and external walkways and staircases. It was originally built on stilts in true Le Corbusier style, but Planeix asked the architects to fill up the ground floor void with two studio spaces that he could rent out. This was because the costs of construction were almost double those of the original budget. Its good to note that spiralling costs is not just a problem for those of us commissioning new buildings today. The Villa stayed in the hands of the Planeix family until 2013 when it was offered for sale. You can see some internal views here. One of Le Corbusier's earlier and lesser known works, it is one of a series of villas he designed for artists to live and work in. Better known is the villa he designed for artist Amadeo Ozenfant in Avenue Reille in the 14th arrondissement.

Villa Planeix, 1928, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret
Villa Planeix, 1928, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret
Emerging from the Porte D'Ivry metro station on my way to Villa Planeix, I came across a beautiful school built between 1933 and 1937. It appears to have retained many of its original external features including exquisite lettering over the separate entrances for boys and girls, glass bricks in the canopy - some of which are in different colours (and need a good clean!) - and ornate doors. 

The school was part of a programme of building to improve the moral and physical wellbeing of children from poor families and amongst other things emphasised hygiene as a means of improving the lives of the pupils. The architect was Edouard Crevel whilst the external sculptures were the work of Rene Letourner. There is a plaque by the entrance which serves as a heartbreaking testimony to the murder of more than 120 Jewish children deported from the 13th arrondissement between 1942 and 1944, including several pupils of this school. 

Crevel became the chief architect of the city in 1935 and amongst other things was responsible for the development of Parc de Choisy. Earlier, he had worked with Jean-Paul Decaux on producing the winning design for a tuberculosis sanatorium - the Sanatorium d'Aincourt, completed in 1933 - also in the modernist style. During the German occupation of France in the Second World War, the sanatorium was used as a concentration camp. Crevel remained in France during this period and appears to have worked on at least one project for the collaborationist Vichy government.

School at Porte d'Ivry, 1937, Edouard Crevel
School at Porte d'Ivry, 1937, Edouard Crevel
School at Porte d'Ivry, 1937, Edouard Crevel



Villa Schempp is tucked away in Rue Gauguet, a cul-de-sac in the fourteenth arrondissement, just five minutes away from Villa Seurat, a small street full of modernist buildings that were once home to some of the last century's greatest artists such as Dali, Derain, Soutine, Orloff and Henry Miller. Villa Schempp was designed by architect Marcel Zielinski and was built between 1928 and 1931. He designed adjacent properties at numbers 5 and 7, both with large skylit workshops letting in enormous amounts of natural light and windows and balconies designed to emphasise the verticality of the building. Number 5 was built for American art dealer Theodore Schempp whilst the German artist Hans Hartung had a studio there for many years. The Russian born French artist Nicolas de Stael produced a work in response to number 7, entitled Rue Gauguet, which hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

My final modernist experience on this trip was to visit Villa La Roche, another Le Corbusier building now open to the public and part of the Fondation Le Corbusier which I will write about separately. And Paris still has many more art deco and modernist treasures waiting to be discovered on my next visit. 
Villa Schempp, 1931, Marcel Zielinksi.
Villa Schempp, 1931, Marcel Zielinksi.
Villa Schempp, 1931, Marcel Zielinksi.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Rue Cremieux - another Parisian secret


Last year I wrote a short piece about some of Paris' less well known streets and the pleasure of strolling around the city discovering its many secrets.  Last weekend I was back in the city and have a new favourite to add to my list.

Rue Cremieux is a narrow, pedestrianised street, just off Rue de Lyon and a short walk from the mainline railway station, Gare de Lyon. The area surrounding a mainline station can often be a bit seedy, the streets a bit dirty and not particularly welcoming and those around Gare de Lyon are no different which is why Rue Cremieux is so special and such a welcome diversion from the noise and traffic of its neighbours.



This quiet street is a riot of colour with almost every house painted in vibrant green, yellow, purple or pink, whilst the plainer ones have contrasting colours for the doors and shutters set against white or cream backgrounds. Several of the facades feature witty images such as a cat chasing birds or metal signs featuring cats or geese. My favourites are the green painted house at number 21 with the tree painted across the facade and the purple painted house next door at 23 with the tiny birds and faux porthole. Number 21 also has some rather nice low level railings protecting the windows at both levels.

Dating from 1885 and originally called Avenue Millaud after the banker, entrepreneur and media man Moise Polydore Millaud, the street is lined with 35 small houses, each of two storeys and all to a similar design. Flooded in the Paris floods of 1910, there is a plaque at number 8 that shows the height reached by the waters before receding. Monsieur Millaud published Le Petit Journal a Parisian penny newspaper  which ran from 1863 until 1944, featuring news, politics and serialised novels often in the detective fiction genre. The  street's current name dates from 1897 and commemorates the French politician Adolphe Cremieux who amongst other things was responsible for the 1870 decree that granted French citizenship to the Jews of Algeria.  Cremieux also played an important part during the Paris Commune, taking up the cause of the workers. When built, each of the houses had a basement kitchen and two floors of living space with an annual rent of 700 Francs (about 100 Euros or £70 at today's exchange rates), so I am not sure that many workers could have afforded that at the time. 



The street has retained its residential purpose, the only exception being a hostel - L'Hotel Particuler at number 15. Its great that Rue Cremieux has not fallen pray to some of the shady businesses that surround it and has even resisted the temptation of allowing a cafe…although a little place for the locals would, I'm sure, be very nice. Coffee, pastries and all that, but of course, one business leads to another. The street is not just home to humans. I saw two cats during my visit - a small  brown and white one trying to catch flies and "hunting" between the many plants and shrubs that sit outside each of the properties and a very large marmalade cat having a sleep outside a red door. Rue Cremieux is a little piece of peace amongst the bustle of one of the world's greatest cities.



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