Art Museum of the Americas -- Exhibit: House of the Americas Turns 100:
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Description of Pictures: House of the Americas Turns 100:
Paul Philippe Cret:
Paul Philippe Cret (1876-1945) was born in Lyon, France, to lower-middle class parents. By the age of sixteen, Cret demonstrated artistic talent and enrolled in the architectural program at the École nationale des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, winning the Prix de Paris four years later. The award provided
him with the income necessary to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the world’s leading school of architecture at the time; Cret placed first
on the school’s entrance exam and distinguished himself during his tenure there.
At the École, Cret met students from around the world and through connections found employment in the United States. In 1903 he accepted an assistant professorship at the School of Architecture of the University of Pennsylvania, among a handful of relatively new architecture schools that were making it possible for students from the United States to be academically prepared for the profession without traveling abroad. Cret played a seminal role in the development of architectural education in his adopted country (he became a U.S. citizen in 1926). Among his many students to have accomplished careers was Louis Kahn. As both an educator and a practicing architect, Cret profoundly shaped the development of grand civic architecture in the United States. Cret’s work consistently reflected his deep understanding of the forms and principles of Classical architecture, as well as of the Modern French Style, disseminated at the École des Beaux-Arts.
At the age of twenty-seven, Cret established a private practice in Philadelphia; he maintained it throughout his lifetime, including during the First World War when he served in his native country’s armed forces. Cret designed and built a wide variety of building types in his adopted country, including civic buildings, libraries, museums, monuments, bridges, parks and parkways. Among his most significant works, in addition to the Pan American Union Building, were: the Indianapolis Public Library (1913): the Detroit Institute of Arts (1927): the Hartford County Building and Courthouse (1926); the Folger Shakespeare Library (1932) and the Federal Reserve Board Building (1937), both in Washington DC; and the Main Building at the University of Texas at Austin (1937). Cret also designed the Delaware River Bridge (1926) now known as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which was at the time of its completion the world’s longest suspension bridge.
Paul Cret's Pan American Union Building: The Architecture of Dialogue:
One-hundred years ago, in 1910, the completion of the Pan American Union Building helped to establish the reputation of its young architect, Paul Cret, and constituted a major contribution to the development of a robust yet flexible architectural vocabulary for the nation’s growing civic realm. The building, the design of which was selected in a highly publicized national competition, housed a diplomatic organization (now known as the Organization of American States), voluntarily upheld by twenty-one independent nations in North and South America. How fitting, given the organization’s mission, that in the hands of Albert Kelsey & Paul P. Cret, Associated Architects, with Cret taking the lead role in the initial design, the Pan American Union Building became a casebook study in an architecture based on the concept of dialogue.
The building, widely known as the House of the Americas, presents a series of dialogues -- between function and aesthetic, artifice and nature, and perhaps most memorably, between the Classical architecture that defines much of the nation’s capital and the architectural traditions, both ancient and colonial, of Latin America. Ultimately, each of these dialogues serves as a metaphoric expression of the Organization of American States’ core values: exchange, negotiation, and cooperation.
Expressing the nature of the institution and activities it houses, the building celebrates architecture as a narrative art. As the architectural critic C. Matlack Price wrote in 1913, "There are other good buildings in Washington, but where is there one that has so much to say, that commands so much attention, that exerts such an influence? Where is there one that tells such a continuous story...?"
The Organization of American States:
This year, the Organization of American States (OAS), the world’s oldest regional organization, along with its Member States, is marking the centennial of its emblematic building, the House of the Americas. This is a momentous occasion in which we celebrate one century of work improving the lives of the peoples of the hemisphere. On April 26, 1910, leaders of the nations of the Americas came together to dedicate this building. On that day, as a symbol of good faith and solidarity, President William Howard Taft planted a “Peace Tree” in the center of our magnificent headquarters. The House of the Americas stands as the embodiment of peace and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere. The mission of the OAS is to secure a better existence for the citizens of our region by promoting democracy, human rights, justice, security, and development for the peoples of the Americas.
The Pan American Union Building Design Competition:
In 1903, the Building Committee of the International Bureau of American Republics (IBAR) advocated for the design and construction of a purpose built facility housing meeting rooms, a library, and offices. IBAR had rented space in a townhouse on Lafayette Square, in the shadow of the White House, for the proceeding five years,) Elihu Root, Secretary of State in the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, persuaded his friend Andrew Carnegie, a delegate at the first Inter-American Conference in 1890 who had recently helped finance the construction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to augment the contributions of the participating North and South American nations for the proposed IBAR headquarters. In 1907, the bureau acquired a prominent site on B Street, now Constitution Avenue, between 17th and 18th streets, Carnegie succeeded in his effort to have the architect of the new building selected by means of a competition. Despite the international nature of the building the competition was limited to architects from the United States.
The competition was opened to "specifically invited" architects who received $1,000 stipends, and those who participated in an "open competition." Among the eight invited architects were such well-known practitioners as Carrere & Hastings and Cass Gilbert. Among the fifty-seven uninvited entrants were Albert Kelsey and Paul P. Cret, Associated Architects. The five-member jury was chaired by Charles Follen McKim, principal in the firm of McKim, Mead & White, and included Secretary of State Roor.
Cret's winning design rejected the imposing colonnades and domes that were hallmarks of many of the other entries, in favor of a design that emphasized the social and diplomatic activities to be housed by making the building resemble a salle de fete, or grand private residence. The program encouraged the incorporation of "the Spanish or Latin feature of a patio." Cret's interpretation of "the Spanish or Latin feature of a patio." Cret's interpretation of this element, lushly landscaped with tropical plants and protected by a retractable roof, ultimately included a floor incorporating Mayan motifs found at Palenque in Mexico and Copan in Honduras. A fountain designed by the sculptor Gertrude Whitney depicted Quetzalcoatl, a serpent deity worshipped by the Aztecs.
The Elasticity of Classical Architecture:
Paul Cret's training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris stressed the vitality of Classical architecture. Rejecting the notion that Classicism was exclusively defined by strict fidelity to ancient precedent, the instructors at the Ecole endorsed the Modern French style as a synthesis of the Classical orders with modern technology, modern aesthetics, and the functional requirements of contemporary building types. Cret's design for the Pan American Union Building, and indeed much of his work, can be seen in contrast to the work of one of the nation's preeminent contemporaneous architecture firms, McKim, Mead & White, which emphasized the formal rigor of a building's facades at the expense, some would argue, of expressing a building's plan and use. Cret stressed a building's plan and its ability to express an instructional client's identify and practical needs, though he eschewed the widespread notion that architecture necessarily embodied a conflict between what was described at the Ecole as la beaute and l'utilite. For Cret, Classicism was capable of great elasticity, and thus sufficiently malleable to remain vital and relevant when applied to building types, and incorporating building technologies, wholly unknown to the ancients.
Throughout his career, Cret's use of Classicism evolved, from the Pan American Union Building to the stripped-down and consequently more Modernist influenced Classicism of his later work. Cret received much acclaim during his time and in 1938 was awarded the American Institute of Architect's Gold Medal for his contribution to the profession. After his death in 1946 at the age of sixty-nine, Cret's reputation would be, to some extent, overshadowed by the ascendancy of Modernist architecture in the United States during the post-World War II era. In more recent years, however, the enduring value of Cret's approach, as well as the formal refinement, narrative power, and functional efficiency of his work, and of his design for the Pan American Union Building in particular, have once again come to be widely appreciated.
Artwork pictured is ŠAMA | Art Museum of the Americas (OAS). All rights reserved.
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HOUSE_100527_028.JPG: Paul Philippe Cret
Oil painting by Arthur Elliot, 1935 after a portrait by Adolph Borie, 1914.
HOUSE_100527_036.JPG: Paul Cret, "Ten Commandments for Architects", 1940.
Don't try to please everybody; try to please yourself first of all.
Don't save time during the study of the project -- it will save time during the construction and worry too!
Don't believe you know it all; a building calls on many craftsmen; make use of them.
Don't promise your client the moon at bargain prices; there is a day when bids come in.
Don't classify commissions into those worth taking trouble and those not worth it -- people just you on both.
Don't believe architecture was invented ten years ago.
Don't repeat your story. Try to tell a better one... if you can.
Don't think a design is good when it is merely different, and, if you believe, a new one.
Don't hope for a formula to do something beautiful.
Don't worry too much about what others are doing. "The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself."
HOUSE_100527_103.JPG: Ceremonies marking the laying of the cornerstone of the Pan American Union Building, May 11, 1908.
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