Auguste Perret was a founding father of modern architecture in Europe. An exhibition at the Palais d’Iéna, one of Perret’s own buildings, presents eight of his masterpieces in a highly didactic and well-presented exhibition.
With a career that spanned the first half of the twentieth century, Auguste Perret was hugely influential in the transformation of architectural production related to the changing building technology and the changing society of the era.
Perret is a remarkable figure because his architecture is fundamentally more in continuity than in rupture with the French tradition. His architecture is one of well-ordered compositions with a refined sense of massing and a true sensibility to detail.
Perret also carried the tradition of design based in a deep understanding of building technology and the practical aspects of the craft of architecture. Perret and his brother, Gustave, would in fact act as both designer and contractor. This is what led Perret to spearhead technological innovation in building, most notably new advances in the use of reinforced concrete.
The exhibition at the Palais d’Iéna, organized by the institution that occupies the building, the Conseil Économique, Social et Environnemental, in association with the Fondazione Prada, presents eight of Perret’s masterpieces through beautiful large-scale wood models, original drawings from the Perret studio, and period photographs.
The projects span from the Rue Franklin Building (1903) to the Église Saint-Joseph (1951) and include one of my very favorite buildings in Paris, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1913).
Another reason to visit this exhibition is the opportunity to visit the Palais d’Iéna itself, designed by Perret and included among the buildings in the show, which houses an operating government institution and is therefore usually closed to the public. Unfortunately the hypostyle hall is somewhat obscured by the displays themselves. But visitors have an unencumbered view of the spectacular concrete staircase that forms the sculptural centerpiece of the building.
Perret was tremendously influential with the generation of architects that emerged in the 1920s and 1930s in what became known as the Modern movement. But today it is apparent that his approach to design makes his legacy a living and enduring one.
Auguste Perret huit chefs d’oeuvres at Palais d’Iéna, 9 place d’Iéna, 75016 Paris, until February 19, 2014 http://www.expositionperret.fr/