The design style of Art Déco is a hobby for some Paris visitors. This modern style was a focus for a Chicago couple one Saturday afternoon on our tour with Walk My Steps. Our guide, Andrea, introduced us to one neighborhood of Paris in the sixteenth arrondissement that traces the eclectic, stylistic movement. We were on a “visites découvertes”, a guided walk open to the public (the company also provides private tours).
Walk My Steps is a professional way to see Paris. I appreciated the personal attention. The day before the tour, we were sent an “Alert” reminder. After the tour we were sent a short feed back form. And in a separate email, Andrea sent us us a “take-away memo”, which the places we visited, the introduction to Art Déco and what inspired this period of design. All the government-licensed guides with Walk My Steps have their specialties, and I could tell that one of Andrea’s favorites is architecture.
How the tour starts
Our guide and one of the owners were wearing their “Walk My Steps” badge. We met them on the steps of the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Architecture Museum). This appropriate location with its 1937 modern design was built on the old wing structure of the Palais de Chaillot. All along this tour we were learning quickly how old ideas and designs would be re-used over the decades for newer architectural ideas.
Moving through the Passy neighborhood and ending on Avenue Montaigne at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, we experienced the Greek and Roman neo-styling, influences from pre-First World War, learned about design in art (cubism) and electronics (radio housing) and why “modern” Art Déco becomes a design style that crosses borders and becomes international. Andrea explained the use of reinforced concrete and lightly explained structure and support. We looked at the metal outside for decorative balconies that change with each floor and why buildings became more elaborate higher up (building codes). She pointed out the use of solid colors, the resemblance to cruise ships, tall, large windows for light, the design’s relation to modern style and more. Andrea gave us lots of information, showed us illustrations, answered our questions, and we moved at a non-hurried pace for two hours.
The development of the modern architecture began already before the First World War on the fringes of Art Nouveau style. We visited the three Perret buildings from 1903, 1913 and 1937-38. This modern decoration style beyond architecture with its geometric shapes was popular between the 1920s and 1940s. The original name was shortened to Art Déco from l’Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in 1925 (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts). The style would make its last hurrah in 1937 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exposition dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life).
But modern architecture life did not end in the 1940s. It developed into other styles up and is still popular today for one good reason: it is easy to re-produce. The Art Nouveau style, for example, was too flowery and curvy, which made it difficult for reproduction making each piece unique. Which one would you rather dust?
I can see now why someone would enjoy a hobby about Art Déco. Open “Images” in your browser for any key words on Art Déco or the World’s Fairs of 1925 and 1937 or follow links to discover essential elements, and the task becomes mind-boggling but addicting. Take an Art Déco tour and open Pandora’s (or Andrea’s Walk My Steps) box.
My one recommendation is to stay close to the guide in order not to miss any information; it is all interesting. The traffic noise, except on side streets, can be distracting. A gallery of photos is below.
Walk My Steps “visites découvertes” (public visits in French and English)
Andrea at Walk My Steps
Find Walk My Steps on MeetUp http://www.meetup.com/Paris-Social-Art-History-Tours-in-english/
More on the beginnings the Art Décoratif style
Essentials of Modern and structural architecture
Read more about Auguste Perret and the history of the CESE building on rue d’Iéna (originally the Musée des Travaux Publics – Museum of Public Works)