European Architecture Series
Hector Guimard

Biography of French Art Nouveau Architect.

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Hector Guimard (1867-1942)


Guimard's Architecture
Castel Beranger
Paris Metro Entrances
Hotel Guimard
Other Famous 19th Century Architects

For a short guide to terms
see: Architecture Glossary.


One of the greatest architects of the fin de siecle, the designer and engineer Hector Guimard is best known as an outstanding exponent of Art Nouveau in France. Along with Victor Horta in Belgium, and Antoni Gaudi in Spain, Guimard is seen as a key figure in late 19th century architecture and a pioneer of modern design at the turn of the century. Influenced by the innovative theories of Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79), John Ruskin (1819-1900), William Morris (1834-96), and the English Arts and Crafts movement, he created works that are known for the application of modern constructive techniques and innovative materials, such as iron, steel and glass as well as prefabricated elements. An exceptional example is the Castel Beranger (1897-98) in Paris, a high-quality apartment complex, whose most original aspect was its interior design and decoration, which approaches the style of Horta but with a more exuberant ornamentation. Other notable works of architecture by Guimard include the Humbert de Romans auditorium (1902; destroyed), with its metal framework roof; Coilliot house (1898); La Bluette (1898); Castel Henriette (1899); Nozal Hotel (1905); and Castel d’Orgeval (1905). Of course, Guimard is most famous for his work for his revolutionary entrances to the Paris Metro, with their flowing Art Nouveau forms of plant and animal shapes perfectly interwoven in the structures. Although, like Horta, Guimard's reputation declined during the rise of modernist 20th century architecture, it blossomed again in the 1960s as historians and art critics reevaluated his decorative work, most of which was completed during a 15-year period (c.1898-1913).



Guimard's Architecture

Born in Lyon, Guimard attended the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, (1882-85), where he absorbed the theories of the great medievalist restorer and designer Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. In 1885 he continued his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, after which, in 1889, he was appointed a professor at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. In the same year he designed the Pavilion of Electricity at the World Fair in Paris. In 1894 he met the influential Belgian Art Nouveau architect Paul Hankar (1859-1901), and in 1895 he met Victor Horta, and was greatly inspired by a visit to Horta's Art Nouveau-style Hotel Tassel in Brussels.

In understanding Guimard and his approach to architecture, it is worth recalling that Art Nouveau came to have a different meaning in France than in (say) Belgium, Austria or Italy. France's academic conventionality and technical-engineering tradition had no intention of assimilating the new figurative culture whole, and instead it was accepted more as a form of decorative art than architecture. This is one reason why Guimard wanted to be seen as an "architecte d'art" - an expert in the techniques of all the arts. He saw "decoration" as the true essence of a building. Thus in the works Guimard created for the buildings of the Parisian middle class, and the Metro stations, he presents an architectural art that used the curved line and ornamental decoration to delight the public.

Castel Beranger

In 1894-8, following his discovery of Horta's Tassel Hotel, Guimard made radical changes to the style of Gothic architecture which he had planned for Castel Beranger - a residential complex with 36 luxury units - making it dynamic through the use of projections and indentations. The structure is embellished by the highly innovative matching of materials like hammered iron, brick, stone and ceramics, while a refined naturalistic decoration fills the interior with exuberant, curvilinear plant motifs.

The Castel Beranger building - one of the first Art Noveau structures outside Belgium - brought Guimard huge attention, and numerous commissions. He continued working in the Art Nouveau style, emphasizing its features of harmony and continuity, in both the exteriors and interiors of his buildings.

Paris Metro Entrances

In 1896, Adrien Bernard, president of the French Metro, commissioned Guimard to design several surface stations, such as those at Bastille, Porte Dauphine, Abbesses and Chatelet, to name but four. Guimard's amazing metal Art Nouveau designs (c.1899-1901), with their flowing lines and floral shapes, shocked Parisians, who thought his use of iron far too Germanic. As a result, most of his Metro station entrances, including all of the large ones, were later demolished.

Hotel Guimard

In 1909-12, as a wedding present for his new American wife, he designed a luxury residence known today as Hotel Guimard. Constructed on a narrow, triangular plot, its exterior load-bearing walls were unable to support any great weight, and therefore the interior rooms were innovatively designed to minimize structural stress. Guimard designed most of the interior objects and fixtures himself (including numerous Art Nouveau fabrics) as well as a number of unique items of furniture, which were considered to be integral parts of the structure. In fact, for his buildings, Guimard created a wide range of decorative designs in stained glass, ceramic panels, wrought iron, wallpaper and other materials.

In 1928, Guimard built his last known work, the apartments on Rue Greuze, in Paris. Ten years later, with war on the horizon, he left France along with his Jewish-born wife, and emigrated to New York, when he died - largely forgotten - in 1942.

Other Famous 19th Century Architects

Richard Upjohn (1802-78)
Gothic/Romanesque Revival architect.

James Renwick (1818-95)
American Gothic Revival architect.

Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95)
Designed the plinth for the Statue of Liberty.

William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907)
Founder of the Chicago School of high-rise architecture.

Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86)
Romanesque Revival architect.

Cass Gilbert (1859-1934)
American Pioneer of Beaux-Arts architecture.

Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908)
Jugendstil architect, founder member of Vienna Secession.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
Prairie School architect.

Peter Behrens (1868-1940)
Highly influential German industrial architect.

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