Wednesday 18 January 2012

Challenge 7: Curious figures on the Avenue Daumesnil

Reader Karen was walking along the coulée verte, the disused railway line in the 12th arrondissement, and spotted a building that caught her attention. She sent me a picture, simply stating that she “would love to know more about this building”.

The building will probably be familiar to anyone who has taken the same walk as it certainly stands out in its prosaic residential surroundings. It would probably be one of the most photographed items on that particular walk, but just what is it, and what is the story behind it?

Despite looking vaguely art-deco in form, the structure was actually designed by architects Manolo Nunez-Yanowski and Miriam Teitelbaum in 1991, and houses the Commissariat de Police du 12ème arrondissement (the local police station).

Although the curves of the building are merely derivative, what makes it really noticeable are of course the sculptured human forms jutting out from the balconies on the top floor. Sometimes labelled caryatids in descriptions of the building, these are actually telamons or atlantes, as the figure is most definitely male! In fact, the figure is based on Michelangelo’s dying slave sculpture which can be found today in the Louvre.

Manolo Nunez-Yanowski is very much a postmodern architect, and unsurprisingly worked with Ricardo Bofill on several projects. Indeed, two of their most well-known creations can be seen alongside each other in the town of Noisy le Grand to the east of Paris. The Arènes de Picasso for Nunez-Yanowski  (sometimes known as the camembert), and Le Palacio for Bofill.

Nunez-Yanowski is something of a renaissance man, having studied history and archeology, then art, before finally qualifying as an architect, so it is perhaps no surprise that he should choose to feature sculptures by Michelangelo on this building. What is more of a surprise is that this building should be used as a police station. Indeed, the upper levels of the building incorporate apartments for police officers, with these – somewhat camp – figures acting as dividers between the balconies of these apartments.

The sculptures certainly do not give the building a very intimidating air, but then the intention probably was to make the commissariat seem more convivial. It is not known what the police officers who live and work here think about the building though!

Challenge me!
Seen something in Paris that has caught your eye but remains a mystery, or ever wondered about obscure people or events in the city's past? Challenge me to find the answers!


Karen F. Rose said...

Adam you solved the mystery for me surrounding this building!
What a well researched and detailed response to "my challenge" and with pictures no less of views I could not see from my walk. Thank you. I never ever imagined it's use would be as a police station.
Your blog is fascinating to read. You are my guide to a Paris I might not have a chance to experience.

Tim said...

A curious building and one which reminded me of BBC Broadcasting House in London... at least until I compared the two and realised that, no, they have absolutely nothing in common!

It must be a bit disconcerting for people on the fourth floor to have to look out at the thighs and rears of those over-theatrical atlantes every day!

Adam said...

Tim: especially if you are the archetypal macho policeman!

Kiki said...

You're the bestest.... :))))
I particularly subscribe to your last para about a possibly of making the police force looking more human. We all can do with a bit of that - your words in God's ear!
Wonderful news - very, very highly appreciated! I wondered many a times myself.
I love the two comments so far and subscribe to them too! Aaah, the joys of looking at a God's bottoms when going out on the balcony.... lol

PeterParis said...

You are the best to find this kind of mystery! Interesting and complete as usual!!

Anonymous said...

The most fascinating is to know what was this neighborhood "l'ilot chalon" before its total reconstruction in late 80's/early 90's....
You can't imagine how much Paris has been gentrified in 30 years...

Anonymous said...

Random link - this building features in Olympos by Dan Simmons... Which is why I looked it up.

Anonymous said...

yup i was reading the simmonds book too.

su said...

I went to Paris 2 years ago and did indeed wonder about this beauty. Thanks!

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