The Nature of Beaux-Arts

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Arch Daily features the Galvani House project in Paris. Designed by Christian Pottgiesser of architecturespossibles, the project is an addition to a standard-issue Beaux-Arts mansion. The addition’s geometric façade is intriguing, but the interiors are puzzling. Pottgiesser and his team seem to be explicitly repudiating the hyper refinement of the Beaux-Arts, which is so common in Paris as to be a form of nature unto itself. The walls of the addition are traversed by crude rock gardens. There are other rough-hewn details such as a concrete stairway that doesn’t quite connect to its upper landing.

Issue one: Assuming that the addition and the Beaux-Arts mansion are in dialogue, what sort of language are they speaking to one another? I can see how a smooth, refined contemporary space wouldn’t convey any frisson, but the crude rock garden doesn’t fit very well into any context, either in the site or in French landscape architectural traditions.

Issue two: If one wants to introduce avant-garde primitivist minimalism, which part of a house is the appropriate place–the public space or the private space? For the most part the Galvani House addition contains private spaces. From what I’ve observed, the chunky variety of minimalism works best in larger spaces. In more intimate spaces minimalism can appear cramped and barren. In the Galvani House the wide-planed wood floors and rough concrete walls have the aura of a highly burnished root cellar. It’s a space of containment rather than contemplation. That may be the point–no false consolations here–but what does this have to do with the Beaux-Arts mansion in the front?

When we say a contemporary building is in dialogue with an older building, what do we mean by that?

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