April 15, 2014

Art Nouveau in the 16th Arrondisement

I've been hopping on and off the metro for nearly three years now. I have admired the green iron metro signs, railings and light posts but never bothered to go beyond.

This week, I was given the opportunity to explore my hood, i.e. the chic residential Parisian neighbourhood and understand how architecture has evolved from the influence of pioneering works such as the Fondation Le Corbusier (little did I know it was in my back yard, so to speak...) and the Art Nouveau movement in France.

In fact, it was in Paris in 1895 that this burgeoning style found a home at the Maison de l’Art Nouveau – and it was here the movement found its name. Thanks to a grand exhibition at Paris’ 1900 Exposition Universelle, Art Nouveau’s popularity soon went global.

Apparently, the 16th district developed in the 19th century as a leafy residential suburb for Paris, and was annexed in 1860. It is famous for its variety of attractive and imaginatively designed houses, several of which were by Hector Guimard, designer of the famous Paris metro exits in 1900, which look like undulating plant forms. Well, I am now that bit wiser!

With its swirling forms, intertwining patterns and fluid motifs, Art Nouveau is a style synonymous with Paris, and one that perfectly sums up the city’s timeless elegance and artistic verve. In the late 19th century artists rebelled against the linear, restrictive forms of classical art, architecture and design, turning instead to nature for organic inspiration.

During our tour, we studied the functional poetry of the facades of the Hotel Mezzara and the Castel Beranger, both designed by M.Guimard, and some excellent examples of avant-garde villas by Robert Mallet-Stevens, a contemporary of Le Corbusier, in the modern style of the early 20th century.

They tell me Chez Maxim's is a veritable museum of Art Nouveau design. I have yet to check out what was once the haunt of Paris’ courtesans and remains a Paris institution.

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