In Paris In The Twenties
Erno Goldfinger


Erno Goldfinger

©Monica Pidgeon

My family was a family of lawyers, doctors, business people. None of them were interested in architecture. But in 1917, when my father came back from the war, in Budapest, he commissioned a wonderful architect to design a house for him, on a plot which we had already on a mountain overlooking the Danube. And in order to interest my father and mother, who had no interest in architecture, he bought them a book called 'Das Englische Haus' by Muthesius. My mother wasn't very interested in it. My father was busy otherwise. It somehow became the centre of my interest. And since 1917 to this very day, I have the three volumes of Muthesius' book which is the most authoritative history of the English house. I didn't know much what architecture was. I was fifteen years old and war ended and I was sent to Switzer- land to school. And then in 1920 I was sent to Paris. I still didn't know any- thing about architecture, but I desperately wanted to be an architect. I was fascinated with those drawings I had seen, and was fascinated by Dee Englische Haus. Paris was quite different from what it is now. It was surrounded by the fortifi— cations, the femous 'fortifs', and the zone, the 'zone non edificondi' with slums on it. The Boulevard Haussmann was not pierced yet. Somewhere between the Boulevard des Italians and the Boulevard Haussmann there were still slums. The Quais of the Seine — they're fabulous - they were all masons' yards. The stone of Paris was floated down the Seine from Burgundy. And on these Quais, the Quai d'Ursay and across the River, were these big masons' yards; and the white Percheron horses, sometimes as many as twenty-four, pulled the stone blocks to the sites. And on the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, were floating baths, Les Bains Daligny, which existed for a long time later on. Higher up, opposite Notre Dame, were drunkards, maths drinkers, down—and-outs who sheltered under the bridges. The romantic idea of loving—couples promenading on the Quais is, of course, absolute hoo—ey. The next problem was how to become an architect. In the end, somebody knew somehow a M. Jossely, a Prix de Rome, an architect from Toulouse who had an atelier near the Beaux Arts - a Beaux Arts atelier near the Beaux Arts - 15 rue de Buci. There's a big market there now, but at that time there was no market but there were still little shops and all sorts of other establishments. But in No. 15, on the third floor, was the atelier of M. Jossely, where I presented myself, little knowing what ordeals that entailed. Jossely was not only Chef d'Ateliar of the Atelier Jossely, but he was also Professor of History of Architecture, which we called Archaeology, at the Beaux Arts. But he didn't profess archaeology, he didn't profess history of architecture, he professed urbanism, town-planning, this new-fangled new thing which he based on the doctrines of Raymond Unwin. The book of Raymond Unwin was translated through the auspices of Jossely, by an American pupil who was an 'ancien' in our atelier, and was the bible of Josssly's teaching. And what was rather amusing, there were three or four people who were constant listeners to Jossely's words, and that was Uan Eesteren from Amsterdam, Pinot who later became Professor of Town Planning in Dalas University in Indo China, and myself. The Beaux Arts is organised in a curious way. It's the most democratic school I've ever seen. It consists of the ataliers on one hand, and the theoretical teaching at the Beaux Arts itself. The ateliers are run entirely by the students who hire a professor. There are perhaps fifteen or twenty of these ateliers, of which three were actually in the Beaux Arts. But that was of no significance. The Beaux Arts was organised in such a way that there were competitions to get in and throughout the years you were in the Beaux Arts. The years were not limited except that you had to present two projects every year irrespective of whether they were accepted or not accepted, and you had to finish all your projects, a certain number of 'valeurs' they called them, before you were thirty years of ago. well here I was. I was what is a 'nouveau'. A 'nouveau' is a fag, like in English public schools is a fag. All the wrath of the older boys is visited on him. There were 'brimades', just wanton bullying, and there were punishments which consisted, for instance, of being undressed and painted various colours and various parts of you stuck together with glue, when you did something wrong. So there was the atelier, and then the theoretical teaching. The theoretical teaching at the Beaux Arts was done by professors from the Sorbonne, from the Ecole Polytechnique, from Ponts et Chaussées, from all the finest.teaching people, professors at the Sorbonne who taught you mathematics, statics, descriptive geometry, and stereotomy. Now stereotomy is a French invention of the 18th century, the 'coupe des pierres', the cutting of stones, the cutting of wood, which we learned, that I found the most Fascinating study I've ever undertaken. Then you had to pass exams in history, chemistry and physics, mathematics, this was at the Beaux Arts, it was all done under supervision. Then there was the atelier for the projects in the 'admission'. The 'admission' consisted of roughly of what the French call 'premier bachaut', 'baccalaureat'. I failed once, and the second time I got in. Some people fail as many times as twenty times. I had a colleague who was still there from before the 1914 war. In between, he was a soldier. But he was still trying to get in. But I got in on a project of cata- combs - entrance to the catacombs in the Doric style. Nobody ever learned Greek Doric. I had a book in my pocket with the Greek Doric columns, by chance. 'Admission' was twelve hours; and I sort of scraped through; and got my historic paper was Mahomet of which I knew a lot because I had travelled from Budapest to Paris, I stopped in Munich and I bought the Koran, by chance, by fluke. And I got a very good mark in history, and got into the second class where we had to have eight 'valeurs', eight 'mentions'. I never failed any project. You made a sketch, you deposited the sketch, and then you had two months to work it out at the atelier.


Vers Une Architecture By Le Corbusier Saugnier, 1923

©Ernö Goldfinger

well, here is 'Uers une Architecture' written, as you see, by Le Corbusier Saunier. Neither Le Corbusier nor Saunier was the author's real name. His real name was Edouard Jeanneret. But well before this book, which had such an enormous effect on me, we read practically compulsorily Guadet which was a theory of architecture written around 1910. I was fascinated with medieval architecture and when I had some money I bought Viollet le Duc's ten volumes of the Dictionary of Medieval Architecture. At the Beaux Arts our bible was Vignola's book on architecture. we had a rather beautiful Italian edition. Then there was a very‘special’which I liked very much, two volumes of Andre Choisy, and this was my classical education. But then appeared something quite different from what we had before. Here was Le Corbusier advocating aeroplanes and motorcars and whatnots, and this was of course a terrific revelation for me. But in Corbusier'e book 'Uers une Architecture' I found a lot of illustrations which I knew already. They came mostly from Andre Choisy's book. His ideas of proportions were all worked out by Choisy. The Golden Section and the Root 2 proportion, and the 2:3 prooortion, were all there in black and white in Choisy, which later on culminated in the 50's and 60's in Le Modulor. So there I was in the Beaux Arts. I had finished my 'seconde classe', and had two 'valeurs' in 'premiere classe', and there came out this absolutely staggering book, unreadable but fabulous, 'Vers une Architecture'. So all these things which we were doing weren't really architecture, so said Corbueier. we are going‘towards’an architecture; that's all it is. Not a new architecture, not an old architecture, but‘towerds’architecture, 'Uers une Architecture' — So there we want, we went to the art school in the rue Jacob. Corbusier lived in the rue Jacob at that time. I knew Pierre Jeannsrst, his cousin who was his partner. So we went to ask Corbusier to teach us architecture. We said we were going to found - there were ten of us — we were going to found an Atelier ls Corbusier in the Beaux Arts, a Beaux Arts atelier. we were all very keen to finish the Beaux Arts. Le Corbusisr put us off, he said he wouldn't teach architecture, but he recommended us to go to his master who taught him all he knew about concrete, about building and about architecture. And his name was Auguste Perret.

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