• Lucia

Passages couverts/Maison La Roche

Back to Paris in real life and on the blog. Radio Classique is playing and I'm taking you for yet another urban adventure - two, actually, and with very different vibes.

If you've happened to wander around Paris on a rainy day and didn't want to spend yet another hour sipping coffee in a café waiting for the weather to change, you might have ended up finding shelter in a covered passage - or now you're surely wishing you had.

Paris has quite a nice web of covered passages and galleries, most of them located on the right bank in the Palais Royal/Opéra area. Not only they're a good option for avoiding temporarily bad weather and for window shopping, they're also a historical experience, as they date back to the 17th-19th century, depending on which. So if you feel like getting away from the cars and narrow sidewalks, like having lunch in one of the many restaurants here that fill up with Parisians at 1 pm, or like diving deep into a very special atmosphere, I suggest you go explore this area.

The idea of building covered passageways fist appeared at the end of the 17th century, around the time when king Louis XIV and cardinal Richelieu used to live in the Palais Royal before Versailles was built. This neighborhood was then very lively with all social classes intersecting: those in power and prostitutes, intellectuals and gamblers, new bourgeois and beggars. The very first cafés started opening up here, next to theaters, boutiques and little kiosks for reading newspapers.

I love how even nowadays the Palais Royal (now serving as the seat of the Conseil d'Etat and other institutional headquarters) and his lovely garden still burst with life. It's one of those places where the tourists coming from the nearby Louvre museum meet the locals who eat their sandwich in the sun at lunch-break and the children coming to play on Buren's columns after school.

The galleries were meant to be shortcuts in order to go from one side of the neighborhood to the other without having to walk all around the royal palace. They had to respond to six criteria: being reserved to pedestrians only (no coaches); offering a shortcut between two parallel streets; being lined with shops and activities; being covered in order to shelter the walkers from the rain; being lit (first with candles, then with gaz, finally with electricity); being luxurious and elegant both in the architecture and in the products on sale. Not bad. And imagine running into one of these galleries to flee from the rain at a time where there are no sidewalks or asphalt, and anytime it rains the streets are reduced to a sequence of puddles. Damn, your fancy silk booties are covered in mud! Not a problem: at the entrance you would find someone to scrub your shoes, hoping for a tip.

As we get further from the Palais Royal heading north, the architecture changes and becomes more modern, with transparent glass vaulted ceilings, stucco decorations and beautiful mosaics.

At the beginning of the 19th century they became the perfect location for one of the most popular forms of entertainment of the time: panoramas. Also defined as "panoramic paintings", these were not necessarily simple paintings, but 360° installations often involving lights, shadows, movement and sound. The audience would stand in the middle and be surrounded by the reproduction of, say, a landscape, moving and turning to give the impression of an actual journey. Cinema before cinema.

People still go shopping in the galleries. You can find anything, from luxury shoes and hand-crafted clothes, to antique books and photo prints, art galleries, toys shops and, of course, cafes and restaurants, both French and ethnic.

Manolo Blahnik's shoes in what used to be an 18th century café

Ok, now get ready for a change in time and atmosphere. I had promised you a second tour. Here we go, 20th century, 16th district, minimalism... Le Corbusier. Yes.

There are a few of his buildings in Paris and surroundings, and one of them is the Maison La Roche. The house is named after Raoul La Roche, friend of Le Corbusier, passionate about his paintings and owner of an exceptional art collection including Picasso, Braque, Léger, Gris, Lipchitz. In 1923 he asks his architect friend to build him what will be both a personal residence and a gallery to showcase his paintings in the best way possible.

Two years later, the house is ready, falling perfectly in the series of purist villas that Le Corbusier was building around that time.

Architect, urban planner, painter and theorist, Le Corbusier was really involved in research on proletarian homes and developing residences for the laboring class, but in the end it's his bourgeois villas that will make him famous and establish him as an avant-garde architect.

In this project he employs all five of his "points on architecture", five principles making up his manifesto: pilotis (piers) replacing supporting walls; free design of the ground plan (means the house is opened to the exterior); free design of the façade; the horizontal window that cuts the whole façade lighting all rooms equally; roof garden.

I don't mean to give you a full tour of the place in all its parts, in and out. There would be a lot to say but I'd rather you go see it and feel it personally - it's what it's made for :) I just had fun capturing some details that, to me, convey the general atmosphere and palette of the house. To me, it transmitted a sense of rigor, balance and simplicity, but a rigor that is soothing, a balance that is dynamic and a simplicity where nothing is unnecessary and everything stands out. Calming, really.

It's not a Japanese painted screen, just a window with actual bamboo on the outside

Bye fiends, it's all for now. I have a lot of overdue photos from the past months, so be ready for seeing fall in the spring...

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