André Lurçat Maubeuge 7

Architecture Misfit #23: André Lurçat

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André Lurçat
[1894 – 1970]

André Lurçat was born three years after Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris and died five years after Le Corbusier’s final swim. Lurçat was not only a French modernist architect active over the same period, but also a landscape architect, furniture designer, urban planner and founding member of CIAM. His and Le Corbusier’s careers were mostly parallel until the late 1920s when they diverged as much as it is possible for the careers of two architects to diverge.

Lurçat was born in Bruyères, studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, and worked in the office of Robert Mallet-StevensIn the twenties, Lurçat was in the loop and counted amongst the movers and shakers. His architectural ideas were very much a product of that time and that means they were generally pretty good. Here’s his 1925 Maison pour M. Bomsel in Versailles. It still exists.

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[1920’s Versailles was a bit of an architectural hotspot. Here’s Auguste Perret’s 1924 Maison Cassandre. It still exists.]

 

 

 

This is Lurçat’s 1926 Casa Guggenbuhl in Paris,

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his 1926-7 Casa Froriep de Salis in Boulogne,

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and a Parisian double house with the two names of Maison Double de Frank Townshend and Villa Seurat, on Villa Seurat, after the painter.

Villa Seurat

Adrian Yekkes’ blog tells us Lurçat was responsible for nos. 3 and 4 Villa Seurat which were his own home, as well as 5, 8, 9 and 11. [Auguste Perret and Ze’ev Rechter did 7a. No. 6 is also interesting.] Let’s take a walk. It’s quite the enclave. No. 3 is Lurçat’s house with the bowed facade and his office must have been 4 across the road with the plants. Here we also see no. 5. 

3,4,5 Villa Seurat

No. 11 is the one with the sun reflecting.

No. 11 Villa Seurat

Of the same period was Lurçat’s Housing in Villeneuve-Saint-George. This was featured in the Russian Constructivist journal SA issue 6 in 1927. The plans show a concern for housing many people with dignity and without wasted resources.

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In 1929, André Lurçat was one of the three architects Charles de Beistégui asked for a proposal to remodel his apartment on the Champs-Elysées. Never knew that.

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Lurçat’s 1929 Hotel Nord-Sud in Calvi, Corsica is relatively well known as it was included in Johnson and Hitchcock’s 1932 book The International Style which, as we know, was a hit and miss affair. The hotel is very much the artificial object juxtaposed with Nature which, depending on what you want to believe, is either some contrived Modernist aesthetic or precisely what to expect when you build an artificial object on a piece of rugged landscape.

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Note how the dining room offers a different experience by not facing the water. The library has little daylighting or views, presumably for the same reason.

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It’s still a hotel.

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Here’s Lurçat’s 1930 proposal for a vertical city, six years after LC’s La Ville Radieuse, but the solar orientation makes it very much in line with the theme of the 1930 CIAM conference which was rational lot development (in terms of sunlight penetration and health).

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This next project is the Karl-Marx Middle School, in Villejuif from 1931-1933. Not enclosing the ground level [a.k.a. “raising the building”] is normally an expensive way to shelter and entrance but, with school buildings, the additional covered outdoor space at ground level makes sense since open area isn’t sacrificed to create sheltered area.  

The building is still there, and still a middle school.

Along with Adolf Loos, Richard Neutra, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and others, he demonstrated a family residence at the Vienna Werkbund exhibition of 1932,

That’s not a very accurate description – it’s aims were somewhat greater.

produced his best-known Villa Hefferlin at Ville-d’Avray,

This looks rather lovely and a nice residential solution to a narrow plot, and a very elegant French take on Rationalism. Check out the plan. Those are nice rooms.

Lurçat was always on the edge of greater recognition. His buildings aimed higher than most and some are rather good solutions to the problems he set out to solve. What happened? Why we don’t know more about André Lurçat?

then went to Moscow to work for the Soviet government from 1934 to 1937.

That’ll be it then. We should have guessed from the plan of Hotel Nord-Sud. Now we look at it closely, is not unlike a communal house in that it lacks a living room, and has a communal dining room and bathrooms. The memory and reputation of André Lurçat then, went much the same way as Hannes Meyer’s did in 1933. Lurçat left the Soviet Union in 1937, the same year Frank Lloyd Wright addressed the First Soviet Council of Architects at the height of  Stalin’s Great Terror.

Lurçat is known for advancing the cause of modernism in landscape architecture; he took a position, contrary to the proponents of Existenzminimum, that all social housing must include gardens.

In retrospect, we can see this interest in the 1925 Maison pour M. Bomsel. The garden is carefully laid out, as if it wanted to be a vegetable garden.

He is also known for his planned postwar reconstruction of the French city of Maubeuge [just north of Paris]. He was a professor at the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1945 to 1947, and a member of the board of architecture of the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Development.

There’s an unsurprising gap between 1937 when Lurçat returned from the Soviet Union and the 1945 masterplan. Lurçat did no work for the 1940-1944 Vichy government. Lurçat’s appointment to the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Development shows a desire to be of use.

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There are many other photos of the reconstructed Maubeuge on the town’s tourism website. It’s the type of low-rise, high-density housing Europe needed.

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Lurçat’s next known work is a house for himself in 1948 in Sceaux, about midway between Paris and Orly.

It’s adjacent to one he designed for a neighbour, Jules Leduc. Lurçat never let go of the importance of gardens.

I’m reminded of Cesare Cattaneo’s 1939 Casa d’affitto a Cernobbio. It makes me think Lurçat, like the Italians, found no reason to abandon Rationalism as a way of building. 

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Here’s his 1958 L’église st Pierre st Paul in Maubeuge.

• • •

There’s more to André Lurçat than I’ve been able to mention. A full chronology is here, listed by location and date and with links. I’ve recompiled it below. Between the masterplan work which continued at least until 1958, and 1970 when he died, Lurçat’s prodigious output is mostly municipal, comprising schools, social centres, municipal gymnasiums, sports stadiums and social housing. At least ten projects were completed posthumously.

  • If he is remembered at all, Lurçat is usually remembered for that part of his career that parallelled Le Corbusier’s, even though the buildings aren’t indicative of his long-term concerns or even his output as a whole.
  • Everything Lurçat did after 1932 was, and continues to be, redacted according to the socially-cleansed architectural criteria put forth by Johnson and Hitchcock.

It’s clear to me now. What Lurçat and all the other misfit architects identified on this blog have in common are 1) a sense of social responsibility coupled with 2) a professional and personal integrity. No – I don’t believe these qualities make Lurçat or any of the others all that exceptional but, when compared with those architects around whom the history and mythology of architecture are constructed, yes – they do.

A few years before Lurçat died, the Greek junta (1967-1974) banned him, along with civil liberties, political parties, strikes, labor unions, the music of composer Mikas Theodorakis, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, The Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Eugene Lonesco, Sartre, Chekhov, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, free press, new math and the letter Z. All in all, it’s not bad company.

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A school in Maubeuge is named after Lurçat. I’m glad.

• • •

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André Lurçat

for believing that being an architect
meant doing the right thing
for the people of your country

misfits’ salutes you!

• • •

CHRONOLOGIQUE CHRONOLOGY

5 thoughts on “Architecture Misfit #23: André Lurçat

  1. Mark Eleven

    Had the good fortune to study the Karl Marx School while in Paris in ’78 and later to see the Ernst May seidlungs while working in Munich. Also talked to Hans Blumenfeld who worked with May about those days. Pretty exciting era for architecture.

    Reply
  2. Eugene

    Enjoy your vacation Graham!

    First pic at the top, of Maubeuge, shows strong influence by Neues Frankfurt, even though built after WW II. Which makes me wonder when you are going to write something on Ernst May, Martin Elsaesser and their collaborators?

    Reply

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