La Poste du Louvre’s austere façades are emblematic of an architectural rationalism unique to France. Julien Guadet, student of the famed Henri Labrouste, designed the building. As a studio director at École des Beaux-Arts for more than thirty years, Guadet was the author of Elements and Theory of Architecture which served as a bible for architects for more than half a century. His two most celebrated students, who consider themselves his faithful disciples, are Tony Garnier of Lyon, and the Parisian Auguste Perret – both figures not to be ignored in the history of French architecture!
Behind its rather neutral façades, the building’s interior is surprisingly spacious; it is made up of two large parallel metallic naves measuring 130 meters long and twelve and sixteen meters wide. Such measurements were exceptional for the time. Running along the contour of the building, they envelope the building’s interior courtyard. The building itself brings to mind the work of Hector Horeau, who was known for his work with iron and glass.
The design immediately makes you think of the grand Exposition Universelle, but also of the first large French department stores dating from the late 1800s. From a technical point of view, La Poste Centrale is much more impressive. It predates the department store Printemps, which was directly inspired by La Poste, by more than ten years. However, Printemps’ interior structure has since disappeared, but La Poste Centrale remains.
La Poste Centrale is therefore an illustrative work belonging to a style that continually diverged from its original principles, eventually causing metal to give way to reinforced concrete in the twentieth century.
The building’s design is no less emblematic than the architectural statement being made. Built in the wake of France’s military defeat in 1870, the building expresses the country’s desire to hold its head up high after humiliation and political strife. It responded to imperial excesses by affirming a belief in modernity through austere expression and technological boldness. In short, La Poste Centrale declared its modern character.
Its creation was one of the first decisions made by the French Third Republic: the opening of Louvre Street was accompanied by the construction of La Poste Centrale. The building symbolized the new regime’s wish to overcome its political conflicts in favor of developing industry in light of the rise of Germany and England. This path ultimately led to the impressive World’s Fair of 1878 which was a crowning achievement of the use of iron in architecture.
There is a less flattering aspect of the building, but it does not make La Poste Centrale’s historic and artistic value any less than that of the Opéra de Paris or the Basilica of Montmartre. Until now, the building had not been well understood by most specialists – undoubtedly because it sacrificed decor in favor of structure (even though the detail of the metal structures, elegantly designed, prove otherwise to any attentive viewer).
It is imperative to demand La Poste Centrale’s classification as a historic monument due to its position as a major monument in the history of the art of the French Third Republic, and it is necessary for current plans to respect the building’s layout.
The owner only sees the site as a real-estate opportunity, using purely speculative reasoning. It is time to make him understand that stakes of cultural heritage are great enough to encourage him to scale down his ambitions through preserving the building’s integrity and ensuring that the necessary renovations enhance, rather than debase, the building’s character.
Which criteria should be used to deem a structure worthy of preservation and protection?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.
Original article, originally published in French, here.