Paris is famed for many things; its patisserie, its distinctive golden light, the accordionists absentmindedly playing La Marseillaise on every other street corner, adding to the rose-tinted romance of the whole charade. It’s not a city best known for its Brutalist architecture – but then with Haussmann’s wide boulevards and elaborate balconies to admire at will, who spends their time searching for great graphic blocks of rugged concrete and angular forms?
Except that Paris’ Brutalist buildings are, as is the case of Brutalism the world over, an important and uniquely charming part of the French city’s storied history. In support of this argument, Robin Wilson and Nigel Green have this week launched a Brutalist Paris Map, a plotted guide to such structures all around the City of Lights. These buildings have an important role to play in the trajectory of architecture, they explain: “Post-war Brutalist architecture, as defined by critic Reyner Banham in 1955, aligns itself with the material honesty of the earlier work of Le Corbusier and August Perret, and incorporates within it both the French term le béton brut (raw concrete) and the expressionistic tendencies of art brut. Many of the Parisian Brutalists experimented with the structural and aesthetic properties of concrete, as the most affordable construction material available in the period of post war reconstruction. However, the expressions of Brutalism are diverse, often using unusual combinations of building materials and producing a remarkable range of architectural forms and spaces.”
The map locates more than 40 examples of Brutalist architecture in Paris: including works by architects from Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer to Marcel Breuer, and the Maison du Brésil, the Communist Party Headquarters and UNESCO Headquarters. While the decades since these buildings were first erected have seen impassioned debate about whether they are better classified as icons or eyesores, a new school of thinking seems to be leaning towards the former, celebrating the diverse signatures of Brutalism on their own merit. A welcome belle-laide counterpoint, surely, to the city’s otherwise achingly lovely skylines.
Brutalist Paris Map, by Blue Crow Media, in collaboration with Robin Wilson and Nigel Green of Photolanguage, is out now.