Le Style Guimard: designing for modernity

Liverman, Astrid Marguerite Bybee, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Maciuika, John V., Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This paper will argue that the architecture of Hector Guimard demonstrates structural innovation, rational treatment of materials, and abstracted stylistic exploration that bridge the nineteenth century to the modernism of the twentieth century. Following a scandal over the design of the Paris Métropolitain in 1904, Guimard's fall from critical favor was the negative construct of the media unreflective of the innovation apparent in his architecture through the end of his active career in 1930. This critical silence set the precedent for lost decades during which Guimard was largely denied his role as participant in the development of modern architecture. A close study of Guimard's career between 1891 and 1904, concentrating on the specific Parisian context as well as the architect's ideological agenda, can bring new information and perspectives that broaden our understanding of Guimard as an architect.

The impact of Viollet-le-Duc on Guimard's evolution, as well his development beyond the teachings of his predecessor, is the subject of Chapter One. Chapter Two analyzes the theoretical motivation behind Guimard's architecture as expressed in contemporary journals and personal correspondence. In order to disseminate his ideas, Guimard's also marketed himself aggressively, a theme investigated in Chapter Three.

Guimard viewed his creative efforts in the context of a battle against an eclecticism no longer relevant to the modern age. He believed that the architect was responsible for leading the other arts toward a new style reflective of the new conditions of modern age. Guimard considered himself to be the only contemporary designer to address legitimately the incorporation of industry and standardization into the realm of art, components essential to the architect's continued domination of cultural developments. As the hallmark of a twentieth-century approach to consumerism, marketing enabled Guimard to demonstrate his forward thinking, although his nineteenth-century naiveté of market forces ultimately limited his success. Guimard's commercial ventures largely failed, partially on account of the architect's fierce individualism, a characteristic of most Art Nouveau artists that was at odds with their desire to create a new style. A style cannot be created by one individual, no matter how talented. Guimard embodied many of the contradictions inherent to modernity as well as to Art Nouveau as an international artistic movement.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Guimard, Hector -- 1867-1942
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