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History of Hector Guimard Architect, Interior Designer, and Font Designer by Christina Acosta


OVERVIEW

H

ector Guimard was an architect, who is now the best-known representative of the French Art Nouveau style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He designed hotels, residences, furnishings, and interior architectural space, and furniture. Guimard was passionately active in Paris as a social reformer, laboring alongside legislative leaders and progressive journalists. The emergence of the Art Nouveau style toward the end of the 19th century was the result of a search for a new aesthetic not based on historical or classical models. Perhaps most remembered for the avant-garde Paris Metro enclosures designed for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, he enjoyed a relatively brief period of success. The first line of the Paris Metro (Metroapolitain) opened on July 19, 1900 without ceremony. In 1905, Guimard designed the entrance gates of the Paris Metro system in which Metropolitaines, the new Art Nouveau typestyle he designed, was incorporated. The curious, inventive Guimard design of the Paris Metro entrances was also a precursor of industrial standardization. He wished to disperse the new Art Nouveau style on a large scale. The famous entrances to the Paris Metro, based on the ornamental structures of Viollet-le-Duc, was his biggest success. Trained as an architect, Guimard looked to the forms of nature in hopes of reforming society. He sought to find a universal means of connecting people. His architecture used biological metaphors because humans react viscerally to forms that seem to undergo physical tensions and strivings. His identifiable design aesthetic can be seen in his Facade of Guimard Building, 1910 work. The heavy, earthy lines 2 | Hector Guimard

Castel Beranger of his typestyle mimic the organic Front Gate lines, shapes, and artistic feeling of his architecture and furnishings, which can be seen in his solid, but whimsical typeface. Its many curved lines and shapes directly relate to the many curves used in the Paris Metro system and Guimard’s other work, like Castel Beranger, some posters, and cafÊ signage. A consistency in the parts of letterforms can be seen in this unconventional, cheerful typestyle.

Guimard’s type design story is interesting because it is so very unusual. Guimard was first and foremost an architect who embraced the Art Nouveau style. He used his design sensibilities to design a typeface that was not only used on posters, but could be incorporated Hector Guimard into structural Poster, c. 1900 architectural designs. Metropolitaines was the only full typeface he designed, but he used a similar typeface design for the gate for Castel Beranger.


early years and career Hector Guimard was born in Lyon, France in 1867. He was a very private person and much of Guimard’s family life remains a mystery. Guimard was attracted to English architecture and was drawn to English styles where decorative arts had long been directly associated with architecture. He therefore decided to

As his style developed he began to embrace the unity of Art Nouveau, and took great care defining the interior layouts of his buildings, as well as the exterior spaces. This developed into his guiding principle of total architecture — that interiors reiterate the visual propositions of the exterior. In 1891 Guimard began teaching geometry, shadow, and perspective drawing at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris where he remained until 1900.

Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs

study abroad in Great Britain. His developing style incorporated the spirit of Art Nouveau, whether he intended it to or not. He avoided direct references to the natural world, but often incorporated the energy and forms of organic elements and vegetation. Like many other French 19th-century architects, Guimard attended the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs in Paris from 1882 to 1885. In 1884 and 1885 he received numerous medals in school for his work and the school’s Grande Prix d’Architecture. In 1885 Guimard began his studies at the École Nationale et Speciale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Guimard’s education provided him with the foundation for his developing exploration of Art Nouveau ideals. He rejected the French classicism that dominated his schooling, and instead anticipated future styles like Modernism. Guimard understood his place in the present artistic movement and continually stayed one step ahead of it.

Hotel Tassel

Early in his career he worked largely on commission and finding clients was challenging. Guimard found work through family friends, professional networks, and artist collectives. His relative obscruity was due to this inability to attract larger, more prominent projects. Guimard developed meaningful relationships with his clients, as demonstrated by his close ties with the Nozal. Early in

his career he worked largely on commission and finding clients was challenging. Guimard found work through family friends, professional networks, and artist collectives. His relative obscurity was due to this inability to attract larger, more prominent projects. Guimard developed meaningful relationships with his clients, as demonstrated by his close ties with the Nozal family, for whom he designed many hotels and other building. In spite of his Castel Beranger pride, Guimard meant for his architecture to improve living conditions and to offer a cultural identity to the poorest members of society. He managed to develop a tight network of acquaintances, however this led to a lack of socially diverse clients, which somewhat homogenized his work. Guimard often took on particularly challenging projects from his clients, those with tight spaces, narrow foundations, or corner

3 | Hector Guimard


properties that allowed him to generate creative solutions. He frequently turned down more comfortable and conventional spaces in favor of more challenging ones.

Most of his clients were not terribly wealthy and therefore could not afford to have Guimard design the more lavish integrated interior elements and furnishings he preferred designing. Guimard’s emphasis on interior space was influenced by a trip to Brussels in 1895 to meet architect Victor Horta, the father of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe.

Castel Beranger Interior 1896

After seeing Horta’s work (Maison du Peuple and Hotel Tassel), Guimard made changes to the original neo-Gothic decorative elements of Castel Béranger, introducing a colorful mixture

of facing materials and organically derived embellishments. Guimard built Castel Beranger, a large set of apartments, between 1895 and 1897. It was Guimard’s first highprofile project and it was regarded as a serious work of art and the debut of his professional career. Horta’s influence can be seen in Guimard’s early style and it encouraged his discovery of his own personal style and direction.

Hotel Guimard 1909

In Castel Beranger, Guimard displayed French Art Nouveau architecture that reflected the Art Nouveau ideals of harmony and continuity while incorporating his own style. Béranger displays a tension between a medieval sense of geometrical volume, and the organic “whiplash” lines Guimard saw in Brussels. He introduces a mixture of materials and

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Paris Metro Station Entrance

organically inspired embellishments, utilizing the Art Nouveau ideals of harmony and continuity. Each element of Castel Beranger was a part of the global design — floors, paneling, stained glass, fixtures, fireplaces, and door handles were all designed specifically in context with the rest of the building.

His creative development during the project was astounding and can be seen in a wide array of his decorations and furnishings in it.

Rise to Prominence Castel Beranger won Guimard awards and enabled him to become a prominent force in French architecture. The fame he derived brought him many commissions, including the Paris Metro entrances assignment in 1899. He continued working in the Art Nouveau style, especially focusing on his ideal of harmony and continuity. This devotion caused him to design the interior decoration of his buildings as well. His Cathedral Notre Dame devotion culminated during Major Restoration - Viollet-le-Duc 1909 with the Hotel Guimard 1843-1864 (his wedding present to his rich American wife) where ovoid rooms contain unique pieces of furniture, considered integral parts of the building. Between 1899 and 1914, Guimard’s Art Nouveau style blossomed. Some of the telltale signs of Guimard’s highly recognizable architectural style are his sinuous, organic lines and


the stylized, giant stalks drooping under the weight of swollen flowers (amber glass lamps).

The Paris Metro Stations In 1896, Guimard entered the competition to design Paris Métro stations. He won the commission with his avant-garde schemes, using standardized cast-iron components to facilitate manufacture, transport, and assembly because the railway company’s president was attracted to the Art Nouveau style. Paris was not the first city to implement an underground system since London already had one, but the approaching Paris Exposition of 1900 accelerated the need for an efficient and attractive mass transportation system. Guimard employed some structural innovations in the Metro Gargoyles on system, along with an extraordinary Notre Dame Cathedral and enormous concert hall, Humbert Part of 1864 Renovation de Romans auditorium (18971901; destroyed 1905) and the Hôtel Guimard (1909). These represented an important part of architectural expression of Art Nouveau in France. Constructed out of interchangeable, prefabricated cast iron and glass parts, Guimard created his metro system in opposition to the ruling taste of French classical culture. It incorporated Paris Metro Station sinuous green cast-iron Port Dauphine Entrance, 1905 tentacles erupting from the subterranean labyrinth to support a variety of barriers, pergolas, maps, hooded light fittings, and glazed canopies. The surrealistic ‘dragonfly’s wings” received mixed press at the time. Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, a French architect (1814 – 1879) was famous for his interpretive “restorations” of medieval buildings. Viollet-le-Duc was a major Gothic Revival

architect. He designed the façade for the Notre Dame and the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty. One can see the influence of Viollet-le-Duc on Guimard by viewing the façade of the Notre Dame, specifically the design of the gargoyles on its roof. Viollet-le-Duc’s Gothic style influenced a number of Art Nouveau artists such as Guimard, Gaudi, and Horta. Guimard intended that his designs for the famous entrance arch and two others were would visually enhance the underground travel experience on the new Paris subway system. Guimard’s Métro gates, installed throughout the city, effectively brought the Art Nouveau style, formerly associated with the

Metropolitaines Typeface Used on Paris Metro Stations

luxury market, into mainstream Paris. The stations, which were modular and conceived for mass-production, were in production until 1913. One can see by the organic nature, fluidity, and style of Guimard’s architecture and furnishings, that they influenced his Metropolitaines typestyle. Guimard’s background is significantly different that the career path taken by most typo signers who spend their entire career immersed in type and graphic design. Guimard designed three types of metro station: a basic open one with steps and railings; another with enclosed and covered steps; and a third with complete pavilions. The first type, of which about 90 survive, was fashioned in various forms. The most interesting of these consist of railings with decorated ‘shields’ 5 | Hector Guimard


incorporating the letter M and an iron arch over the entrance which supports an enameled sign flanked by ‘stalks’ blossoming into lamps. Architecture, Guimard believed, ought to address each individual’s needs within society in a moral and spiritual sense as well as a practical sense. This required not just logic but also harmony and feeling, which spurs the imagination to understanding. These values played a role in the reception and appropriation of Guimard’s work at a time of of ever-increasing mixing and transformation on a municipal, national, and international level. His architecture sought to connect across political lines that were moving rapidly in the buildup to two world wars. More than 120 million individuals of every ethnic, economic, and religious background used his structures for the Paris Métropolitain each year. Mingled with laborers commuting to their jobs - who were the intended beneficiaries of the subway - were visitors from many nations and believers in many creeds. The transit infrastructure united them in a continuously metamorphosing population. Hector Guimard was for the most part an architect, furniture, and interior designer that also came up with a famous typeface. This makes him an interesting type designer to study. He is considered the architect that started the Art Nouveau movement in Paris around 1900. He is credited with designing the entrance gates for the Paris subway. In addition, he designed building, like the Castel Berger, and the font used mostly for the Paris subway station entrances, some posters, and café signage. Guimard’s architecture struck observers as oneiric, even erotic, and suggestive of 6 | Hector Guimard

Castel Beranger 1896

the mind’s subconscious mysteries. In Guimard’s work structure and ornament are closely integrated or even combined. His works celebrated engineering that could improve the lives of all citizens. Although a gifted architect and pioneer in the Art Nouveau movement, Guimard struggled to maintain prominence. Castel Beranger 1896

The movement’s eventual sharp decline in continental Europe didn’t help matters either. With the arrival of Modernism, the Art Nouveau style and buildings became expendable as artistic tastes changed, often regarded as vulgar and exhibitionist. Ultimately, a large number of buildings designed by Guimard have been demolished, as was the case with many innovative buildings that didn’t follow the convention of later styles.

Art Nouveau Style The history of graphic design and it’s development in the 20th century is deeply rooted in the English Arts and Crafts movement around 1890, which later influenced the Castel Beranger Settee Guimard Design, c. 1896 short period of Art Nouveau. The Art Nouveau movement was most prominent in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain from 1890 until about 1905. The Art Nouveau style is characterized by a heavy influence from nature — flowing lines, aggressive curves and organic shapes. Designers during this period believed in unified


design, in which artists and architects should see projects as a whole and have a hand in the design of everything from the structure to furnishings. The Art Nouveau style in France’s main Castel Beranger Desk Guimard Design, c. 1896 clientele were middle-class shop owners and small manufacturers. They represented “new money”, as opposed to large wealthy families or state-funded endeavors. Therefore, Art Nouveau was considered a more personal, social design style, and was frequently employed in cafes, music halls, and residential complexes. Between 1899 and 1914 Guimard’s style matured to full-blooded Art Nouveau. Guimard’s art objects have the same formal continuity as his buildings, harmoniously uniting practical function with linear design. His inimitable style suggests plants and organic matter, while remaining abstract. A sense of movement can be seen in stone as well as wood carvings. Guimard showed emotions and let them flow through his work. His draftsmanship was aggressive and almost violent, but his refinements were careful and somewhat feminine. He was at first regarded as an obstinate rebel, prideful and flaunting of his innovations, although later in life he adopted a more mature, sober style. The periods of his life were greatly evident in his work — early work was brash and experimental, while later works became more comfortable and elegant. His later work continued to show evidence of attempts to refine and renew his style, always searching for a way to stay relevant.

The Later Years Although a gifted architect and pioneer in the movement, Guimard struggled to maintain prominence through clients and commissions. The Art Nouveau movement’s eventual sharp decline in continental Europe didn’t help. With the arrival of Modernism, the Art Nouveau style and buildings became expendable as artistic tastes changed,

and were often regarded as vulgar and exhibitionist. Ultimately, a large number of Guimard’s buildings have been demolished, as was the case with many innovative buildings that didn’t follow the convention of later styles. Despite Guimard’s innovations and talent, the press grew tired of him, mostly due to his tiring personality, rather than his work. A large number of his Paris Métro station entrances, including all of the large pavilions such as the one at Bastille, were demolished. The only full, roofed enclosures left are the original one at Porte Dauphine and the reconstructed ones at Abbesses and Châtelet, although many of the fenced entrances remain or have been rebuilt. Guimard’s work is itself victim of inherent contradictions of the ideals of the Art Nouveau style: his best creations remained unaffordable to the general public, and his attempts at standardization of materials, parts, and measures never could keep pace with his stylistic changes. Following World War I, Art Deco rose to prominence. Guimard attempted to focus on the more technical side of his work and patented systems for rapid construction, many of which he used on his own projects. While he attempted to adopt the new ideas of Art Deco, he remained largely attached to Art Nouveau. Guimard’s fear of war and the Nazi Party’s anti-Semitism (his wife was Jewish) forced him into exile in 1938 and he fled to New York in 1938. Ultimately, Guimard ended his career amidst failure and complete indifference. He was largely forgotten when he died in 1942.

Guimard’s Rediscovery Many of Guimard’s buildings were destroyed after his death. However, he started to be rediscovered in the 1960s. Now, scholars have reconstructed his career and he has been the subject of much research. Still, one hundred years after what Le Corbusier 7 | Hector Guimard


termed the “magnificent gesture” of Art Nouveau, most of Guimard’s buildings remain inaccessible to the public.

Legacy Hector Guimard left an obscure legacy marked by a disappearance of much of his work. Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi was one of the few Art Nouveau architects to escape the fate of demolition and obscurity that befell Guimard and his contemporaries. Outside of his brief times in the spotlight, his work was largely ignored. He watched many of his own buildings fall within this lifetime. Guimard was as much a designer and engineer as he was an architect, and involved himself in every aspect of his buildings. Many argue he was a better designer than a builder, but was skilled in all forms of design.

him few followers and students during his lifetime. In spite of his craft and originality, his overbearing pride earned him only scorn rather than the support and acceptance that might have better preserved his legacy. His lettering style, drew fire from the public. They found Guimard to be too ahead of his time, his art too uncompromising and original. The abstract forms in his buildings may have even scared off potential clients. Between 1903 and 1909 was a period of doubt and soul-searching for Guimard. He Door Handle built much less, his work was less free and Designed by Guimard experimental, and his projects outside of Paris were fraught with administrative problems.

Following the war Art Deco rose to prominence. Guimard His furniture, stained glass windows, and architectural plans often attempted to focus on the more technical side of his work and survive when a building does not. Much of his documentation and patented systems for rapid construction, many used on projects of personal correspondence has been lost. his own. While he attempted to adopt the new ideas of Art Deco, he remained largely attached to Art Nouveau. He ended his career amidst failure and complete indifference. Guimard went into exile Conclusion with his wife following the Nazi party’s anti-Semitic movements, and fled to New York in 1938; he died there in 1942. Guimard believed in the principles of logic, harmony and sentiment. He believed in harmony and in the unification all the Another example of Guimard’s furnishings using his Art elements of a building, both architecture and decoration. Nouveau style is the door handle. The Metro sign at night also dramatically shows his lovely Art Nouveau style. ❦ Guimard’s sense of design showed up in the artistic Sources style of his body of work, even his typeface, Metropolitaines, Wikipedia which ties directly into his design www.wikipedia.com sensibilities. One can see how www.wikipedia.com his typeface is solid, organic, Other source capricious, and fanciful, with a Other source free flowing feel like his interior and exterior architectural spaces and furnishings. Guimard had a strong and often difficult personality. His isolationist attitude, earned 8 | Hector Guimard

Hector Guimard Booklet  

History of art nouveau architect and interior designer, Hector Guimard.