Most of the posts on this blog have been about buildings I like, often little-known structures that I think deserve to be seen. It is my opinion that almost all buildings have qualities that can be appreciated, even if the overall result is unattractive or disappointing. It is rare indeed that I feel only antipathy when observing a building, but that is certainly the case with the edifice at number 21 Rue de Châteaudun, probably my least favourite building in the city.
For a building to be truly offensive, I think that it must play an everyday role in your life. Perhaps it is a poorly designed office building in which you work, or maybe a new construction built within view of your living space. Number 21 Rue de Châteaudun is a building that I often walk past, perhaps 2 or 3 times a week, and it always manages to catch my spirit and drag it down to the ground.
I am not even sure who I should be blaming for this. What I do know is that the building was originally designed by the architect Raymond Février in 1933 in an aggressive, triumphalist style. This is surprising when we consider that Février, with his brother Jules, had previously been responsible for one of Madrid's better known buildings, the classical French romanesque Edificio Metrópolis, erected in 1907.
Jules died in 1937 aged 95, but I have no information about the age of Raymond when he designed the Parisian structure. Clearly he had changed his approach though, and was now more influenced by American modernist styles. Fortunately, this was not a style of architecture that caught on amongst his peers in the city, perhaps being interrupted then influenced by the Second World War. This design, finished just 6 years before war broke out, would become deeply unfashionable after the armistice, with its hints of totalitarian swagger.
Designed apparently for the 'La Paternelle' insurance company, it is the kind of building where you could imagine a Ministry of Truth being based. It has no visible entrance, no welcoming lobby and no obvious purpose. It is easy to imagine shadowy, faceless bureaucrats lined up at desks, passing their day erasing the unpersons. Indeed, it is somewhat reminiscent of the Senate House in London (1937), inspiration for George Orwell's 1984. It is on a smaller scale, but the whitewashed walls with phallic soaring columns and sunken, dark windows are clearly of the same era. These are imposing, threatening buildings, designed to make the outsider feel excluded and the insider more powerful.
Février's is not the only name etched onto the building however, as the architects Jérôme Delaage and Fernand Tsaropoulos were to add their own 60 years later. Delaage and Tsaropoulos are responsible for most of the few high-rise blocks that have managed to make their way into the city, notably at the Square Vitruve and on the Front de Seine. Working on massive, imperial structures with little in the way of decoration, they would clearly have been pleased to be involved in the restructuration of the edifice on the Rue de Châteaudun. The building today still looks crisp and well-kept, but tellingly one of the few design features, a clock on the façade, no longer works. It is not clear how Delaage and Tsaropoulos altered the original structure, but they certainly felt that they had made sufficient changes to warrant adding their names to Février's.
Interestingly, Delaage and Tsaropoulos were recently involved in another vanity case. The residents living in one of their constructions, the Tour Espace 2000 on the Front de Seine, had voted and then paid for a change of colour of the tower. When Delaage and Tsaropoulos saw the colour change however, which they described now as being 'caca d'oie' (Goose shit) rather than the original 'brun foncé..(comme)..un bloc vertical de mégalithe noir' (dark brown, like a black standing stone), they decided to take the residents' group to court. Last summer, the two architects won their case, pocketing 30,000 Euros and the right to force back the original colour of the building. The judge concluded that the darker colour, chosen deliberately to echo Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey, was an integral part of the creation and could not be changed without the permission of the 'creators'. It is not clear whether the estate of Kubrick was consulted, but it does seem that this team of architects considers their art to be more important than the everyday experience of those who live in or around their creations.
Note: The photo of the Tour Espace 2000 in the linked page was taken in 2005, so must be the changed colour as the repainting was done in 2003. This photo seems to show the colour transformation taking place.