Fantaisies Architecturales by Henri Mayeux

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An entire book of architectural caprices is just the thing I like to see, so it’s a shame that most of the examples in Fantaisies Architecturales (1890) by Henri Mayeux are little more than sketches. Mayeux was an architect and a professor of decorative arts whose previous book had been a guide to the composition of decoration and its historical use. Fantaisies Architecturales applies a similar approach to architectural styles, offering a variety of historical pastiches as well as suggestions suited to stage designs and more contemporary buildings.

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Mayeux’s inventiveness is considerable but he shares with many of the architects of 19th-century expositions a reluctance or inability to imagine anything that breaks with the styles of the past. Étienne-Louis Boullée’s colossal plan for a cenotaph for Isaac Newton (proposed in 1784) remains astonishing because its design is so unprecedented. The construction of the vast internal sphere may have exceeded the engineering limits of the time but the unadorned abstraction of the design is closer to the architecture of the 20th century than anything from the 19th. The Eiffel Tower had been built a couple of years before Mayeux’s book was published but it wasn’t until the Exposition Universelle of 1900 that Paris saw any other buildings that could complement its architectural novelty.

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Angkor in Paris, 1931

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Searching for old photos of the Boi de Vincennes turned up some startling images from another exposition that I’d not come across before. The Paris Colonial Exposition filled a corner of the city’s largest park with a variety of exhibits and pavilions intended by the government of the day to show the colonial enterprise in a positive light. Among the replicas of buildings from overseas there was this spectacular reconstruction in plaster of the temple at Angkor Wat, built to represent the French presence in Indochina. No one would dream of creating such an exposition today, of course, and the idea was controversial at the time. To their credit, the authorities did allow the Communist Party to stage their own exhibit showing the damaging and exploitative nature of colonialism.

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Politics aside, I’m fascinated by the idea of a full-scale Cambodian temple materialising in the heart of Paris. The Exposition Universelle of 1900 had its share of replicas: the Swiss exhibit was a miniature mountainside populated with a chalet, cows and milkmaids, while one bank of the Seine was taken over by Albert Robida’s reconstruction of medieval Paris. Neither of those seem as surprising as this resurrection of Angkor, especially in the spotlit night shots. I’ve been wondering what the Surrealists would have made of this and the juxtapositions presented by the other reconstructions. André Breton was a member of the Communist Party at the time (they expelled him in 1933) so I’d expect from his point of view at least the exposition would have been dismissed as bourgeois propaganda.

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Among the many web pages with photos of the exposition this Flickr set of Dutch tourist pictures is particularly good. Traces of the pavilions still remain, including some of the Nagas from the avenue leading to the temple.

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Balloon parade

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Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (1983) by The Rain Parade.

Another minor piece of album-cover detective work. A couple of years ago I was looking for dirigible pictures for a steampunk book I was working on, and in the searching came across the original of the photo used on the cover of the Rain Parade’s neo-psychedelic debut album. I didn’t want pictures of round balloons, however, and since I was ripping through a number of websites I neglected to bookmark the page. I’ve still not seen the photo since—which I recall was in a landscape ratio with more balloons to the left—but I’m fairly sure I’ve identified the event as being the balloon race that took place in the Boi de Vincennes, Paris, in October 1900.

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The significance of the cover photo for this blog is that the balloon race in question was one of the Olympic Games competitions being held that year in tandem with the Exposition Universelle, an event which has been fairly thoroughly explored in earlier postings. Needless to say, balloon racing was later discontinued as an Olympic sport. The picture above shows another view of the “Parc Aérostatique”, while from the map below one can determine that the people in the foreground of the album cover photo are standing on the velodrome parapet.

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The picture below from L’Illustration magazine might have made a better cover shot for Emergency Third Rail Power Trip if it was suitably cropped and coloured. If I turn up the errant photo at a later date I’ll post it here. As for the album itself, it was reissued on CD in 1992 together with its follow-up, Explosions In The Glass Palace, a mini-album that remains the pinnacle of the Rain Parade’s studio recordings.

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Balloons in the Grand Palais

The world of the future

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Pages from the Official Souvenir Program for the Seattle World’s Fair, 1962. Very typical corporate design by RT Matthiesen and Associates but not bad for all that. The pages give an overview of the exposition, punctuated by ads from its sponsors, while the text sets forth the purpose of the event to give a taste of life in the new Space Age. NASA’s Project Mercury missions were ongoing during the time the fair was being planned so the ethos of the event was very much tied to the obsessions of the time, obsessions fuelled by Cold War competition, and a desire for an automated future. The technocratic side of things is very much in evidence in the booklet which trots out the usual utopian vision of life in “Century 21” as being one of short working-hours, a great deal of leisure, personal air-cars, and revolving houses. My childhood encyclopaedias were filled with this sort of thing which has only given me a lifelong suspicion of any kind of wild futurology, positive or negative. Those books were also filled with pictures of monorails, and the Seattle exposition had a monorail all of its own which I’m pleased to see is still running today.

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Space Needle USA

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That observation tower again. Previous posts here have exhausted the Paris Exposition Universelle as a subject so it’s time to look elsewhere, and the Century 21 Exposition which was held in Seattle in 1962 seems as good a place to start as any. If you’re interested in old expositions then it’s always good to find a decent site devoted to them, and the site for the Seattle event is particularly useful. Space Needle USA is one of the many pieces of documentary ephemera available to browse and download, a 76-page commemorative booklet by Howard Mansfield devoted to the design and building of the tower:

The Space Needle, a modernistic totem of the Seattle World’s Fair, was conceived by Eddie Carlson as a doodle in 1959 and given form by architects John Graham Jr., Victor Steinbrueck, and John Ridley. When King County declined to fund the project, five private investors, Bagley Wright, Ned Skinner, Norton Clapp, John Graham Jr., and Howard S. Wright, took over and built the 605-foot tower in less than a year.

Good to see some of the alternative designs, one of which isn’t so different to one of the designs proposed in the 19th century for a London tower that would rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

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