Monday, April 13, 2009

Architectural Interlude

Part of the excitement of the Orangerie museum for me was the building itself. I knew that it had been renovated since the last time I visited it, but I wasn't prepared for the extent of the renovations. To my eye, the whole building was gutted and rebuilt from the inside out.

The 157 year old building is brand new on the inside.

The result is spectacular. The Nymphéas have been moved to the main floor, still in their specially constructed oval rooms, now with a very intricate ceiling arrangement to allow just the right amount of diffused natural light inside. The main staircase of the building is in the center, with a small mezzanine between floors where they've discreetly installed the gift shop.

An administrative space almost floats inside the building envelope.

Below grade is an expanded exhibition space, made up of several "rooms" that run the length of the building, but that also extend beyond the footprint. I thought it was a very successful renovation and one that makes the Orangerie a great destination and an alternative to the over-crowded Orsay museum. Our desire to view impressionist works was sated by this jewel of a museum space.

The atrium separates the museum entrance from the exhibit spaces: a bridge crosses to the Nymphéas, and a stair descends to the gift shop and the Walter-Guillaume collection below.

The orginal building was constructed in 1852 to shelter the Tuileries Garden's citrus trees over winter. Later, in 1920, it was chosen as the permament site for Claude Monet's Nymphéas. It took seven years to renovate the space and the paintings were installed in 1927. In 1965, the building was again renovated to house the permanent Walter-Guillaume collection of mostly impressionist paintings that includes works by Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Modigliani, Cézanne, Derain, Matisse, and others.

The fourth renovation of the building was completed in 2006, which resulted in the museum as it is today. I really think the concrete, glass, and brushed steel is gorgeous. More tomorrow...


  1. You make a good case for this building to be an exception. I must go and see it one day. And the paintings it houses aren't bad, either. Normally I go all purist and disapprove of façadism, but the building really wasn't much use in its previous form. I also find concrete is a very masculine medium, raved about by male architects and their fans, but responded to quite differently by women. Again, this building may prove to be an exception, mainly because the concrete is protected and can be expected to remain looking like that in the future. Aging external concrete is not a thing of beauty.

  2. Interestingly, concrete was already used in the Middle Ages. Its use can be seen in the crypt of the beautiful Romanesque abbey church (11th - 12th century) at Cruas in the Rhône Valley, north of Montélimar. Not to be missed.

  3. And the Romans were using it centuries before that too.

  4. It looks on the inside (from your photos) very much like the work of Tadao Ando, who designed the Pulitzer Foundation Museum of Modern Art in St. Louis. My sister and her husband (both architects) were absolutely wowed by the polish of the concrete... I liked it okay, but it's not my thing, either.


  5. As I mentioned privately to Susan, my affinity for concrete may come from the building where I attended architecture school. It's a concrete behemoth on the Berkeley campus called Wurster Hall.

    The architect for the Orangerie restoration was Olivier Brochet (de l’agence Brochet/Lajus/Pueyo), according to the museum's web site.


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