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What Haussmann gave to Paris

2012-02-18

1.jpgAs soon as you walk at least some boulevards in Paris, you will certainly be impressed by the fasades of pale sandstone buildings of Haussmanian style.On the first sight they give the impression that they are all the same, but Paris is a harmonious whole which consists of many various details. When you start to notice the details of Haussmanian buildings, you will find out that in spite of the fact that the style is the same, the details like gates, balconies, windows, decorative stone statues, and doorknockers have thousands of variations, they are endless. 

It is easy to mix up the Haussmanian style with the „Art deco“ style. Haussmanian style was introduced in 1853 and the „Art Deco“ style started to be used in Parisian architecture around the year 1930.The topic of the transition from the Haussmanian style to the „new art“ style is described in details in an interesting way by Hugues Bothier in his Bachelor’s thesis of his architecture studies at „Ecole d’architecture Paris Val de Seine“. I have taken the liberty in choosing from his work some interesting typical features of Haussmanian Paris.
 
In 17th century it becomes a fashionable tendency to leave the castles and settle in the town, and so in the big French cities, such as Paris, Nancy, Toulouse, or Caen, are built the bourgeois houses, called in French „hôtels particuliers“.
 
Who was Haussmann and what did he mean for the Parisian architecture? In 1848, after 17 years spent in England, Napoleon III returns to France in order to candidate in the elections. From the years spent abroad he brought a lot of inspirations for improvements in France. In order to be able to start to apply the urban im2.jpgprovements of the capital, he hired George Eugène Haussmann as a prefect of Seine (1853 – 1870), who was responsible for creating a new space in Paris.The new roads started to be built, a sewage system and water supply were constructed.
 
The period of Haussmanian architecture does not finish with the end of the Napoleon III empire and the abdication of Haussmann in 1870. Some architects continued to build this kind of buildings till 1940-50.
 
Haussmannian buildings of each quarter have the same number of floors and the same main features of fasades. When constructing the buildings different social levels had to be considered – aristocracy, workers, bourgeoasie. Haussmann decided to create 3 types of buildings on the sides of the wide streets - „avenues“. His buildings were grouped in so called „îlots“ - „little islands“, different types were not mixed.
 
The richness of the people living in the houses had to be visible from the fasade according to the following signs :
1st class: big stone medals decorating the building
2nd class: no exceptional feature, long balconies so called „filants“ - „running“ (from metal, initially in geometric shapes, later with flower decorative motives)
3rd class: plane fasades often without balconies
 
A classical building consisted from the base, including the ground-floor wi3.jpgth entresol, above which were four other floors and also the fifth one under the roof (for the „chambres des bonnes“ - small rooms under the roof for servants).
On many buildings you can notice that balconies are only on the 2nd and 5th floors. Those floors had the most expensive apartments of the building. Another typical item of the Haussmannian style is the angle of buildings on wide avenues. The shape of the building angle, called also „iron“ was a solution for facilitating the visibility at the road crossings since the automobile traffic was becoming more and more heavy from 1880. The cut side of the building was gradually rounding up.
 
Later the Haussmanian style was changing to the „new art“ style, called also „decorative art“, or „art deco“. Discrete building decorations were getting more and more visible, on some buildings we can see dense horizontal and vertical stone decoration : clusters of grapes, stone decorations, various head statues, baskets with fruits or animals heads. But people did not appreciate the exaggerated richness of this decoration and that was also the end of the art deco style which was called also „style nouille – noodle style“.
 
Decorations are always double also in Haussmannian style and in the art deco style, and we can see them either on sides of the balconies or on the sides of the entrance of the building.
 
An interesting detail that you can easily notice while walking in Paris is that in Haussmanian style the door or gates are through two levels: ground-floor and entresol, so that the carriages with horses could get through to the inside yards. When the cars started to be used, the gates almost 5 metres high started to be useless.4.jpg And so the modifications were done and part of the gates was built in. However, you still can see it on the Parisian buildings; the gates go through two floors, but in reality only the lower part of the gate is used for opening. At „new art“ style the gates were not that high anymore.
 
The beauty of Paris is in its sand-stone white whole which consists of numerous different details.
 
Maria Dopjerova-Danthine, Paristep