Paris - Ile De France
Castel Beranger, Paris 1st Art Nouveau building
Castel Beranger, winner of 'Paris' most beautiful facades' competition
Castel Beranger is one of Paris’ most emblematic buildings.
Hector Guimard, the Great Master of Art Nouveau in France, built it between 1895 and 98.
These were the Belle Epoque years and Guimard was a young ambitious and talented architect.
By then, Haussmann, the prefect of Paris during the Second Empire, had rebuilt the city.
He had indeed eradicated the insalubrious medieval houses that lined the narrow lanes and replaced them with large avenues lined with residential buildings.
You'll find some of these majestic buildings along the Grands Boulevards (among which Boulevard Haussmann!)
Architecture of quality, certainly, but too classic and strict, which had destroyed Paris’ atmosphere.
In 1898, the City of Paris decided to remedy this and launched a competition for the most beautiful and creative facades.
This was a perfect opportunity for Guimard to launch his career and introduce a new architectural style.
Art Nouveau, an innovative but controversial style
The architectural audacity of the Castel Beranger earned Guimard the 1st prize for the 16th district.
That same year, he also landed the contract to create the Metropolitain entrances, which are to this day still known as ‘Guimard Metro entrances’.
However, Castel Beranger’s style aroused much controversy.
Art Nouveau was indeed in complete breach with the long-established classical architectural codes.
Largely inspired by Nature, it indeed incorporates a wealth of decor of plants and flowers... not to everyone's taste!
Castel Beranger, a masterpiece of Art Nouveau
Guimard’s building boasts a unique architecture and decoration, where exterior and interior features are in full harmony.
This goes for sculptures, bow windows, loggia, wrought ironwork balconies, mouldings, coloured bricks inspired from the seaside resorts mansions, but also floors, carpentry, iron work, glazed ceramic, stained glass, painting, tapestry and furniture...
He also introduced some neo-Gothic architectural elements (or at least his version of neo-Gothic!)
He indeed named his building Castel instead of Hôtel (mansion) and added medieval turret-shaped towers on the facades.
However, his detractors were indignant that such an anti-conformist architecture should win the 1st prize and nicknamed the Castel Beranger Castle Dérangé and Maison des Diables (Crazy Castle - House of the Devils) to insinuate that Guimard had lost his mind.
Guimard eventually tired of the critics and moved to America, his wife’s country.
Art Nouveau was shunned during the following decades, but was fortunately recognised in its own right as a transitional art in the second half of the 20th century.
Although most of Guimard's Metro entrances were demolished, the remaining ones are today classified as historical monuments.
Castel Beranger, a historical monument
The same goes for the Castel Beranger, which was classified in 1992, almost a century after its construction!
The building was restored in 1998 and converted into a residential building with 36 flats.
A second restoration, subsidised by the Guimard Fund, took place in 2010 to replace the façade’s missing ironwork.
This was also an opportunity to recreate the 'Castel Beranger plaque' on the entrance gate.
Directions: 16th district - 14 rue La Fontaine
Metro stations Ranelagh or Jasmin on Line 9
N.B. If you like Art Nouveau, you'll love the magnificent Art Nouveau building at no29 Avenue Rapp and no3 Square Rapp that earned the architect Lavirotte the 1st prize for the most creative facades in 1901
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