Saturday, 6 November 2010

Anger in Ambroise

I took this photo in the summer of 2003. It is in the rue St Ambroise in the 11th arrondissement. At the time I lived very nearby and often walked past this apartment building, it fascinated me. One simple form - a folded surface - wall to floor to wall to roof and back to wall - repeated many times across the facade - but each one spaced apart from the next. The form itself contains a series of different spaces. And then a whole series of other spaces are created between them.

It is a deep and occupiable facade. A series of spaces rather than an edge or a surface. It is a facade of nooks and crannies and person sized hidey holes, viewing platforms, sitting spaces, planting places. It is as if each flat has pushed through the facade to create an enclosed and private balcony.

So it is a building I always admired, and photographed frequently. But I never knew who designed it, I once Googled the address to no avail. And then a few weeks ago I went to a talk at the Pavillon d'Arsenal about an architect named Roger Anger. His name meant nothing to me, but he sounded interesting - a Parisian architect who had built a lot of housing in the 50s and 60s, and then was appointed chief architect of Auroville - a utopian new city in the south of India. It was a revelation - here was the apartment building in the rue St Ambroise, and another building I had always found interesting on the rue des Pyrenees - because it looks totally different depending on which direction you approach it from. The talk was given by an Indian architect Anupama Kundoo, who worked with Anger for several years. She said that one of his chief concerns was to find ways to counteract what he called 'the dictatorship of the curtain wall'. He was critical of the vast and smooth surfaces that enveloped a lot of modern architecture - above all because these surfaces don't operate at a human scale. Buildings become vast and solid impenetrable blocks, humans tiny and powerless next to them. He thought buildings should always work with the human scale.

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