At the turn of the 20th century, architects, like painters, pondered over the meaning of the contemporary world, reflecting on their role as builders. The situation of architecture at the time, flourishing both in the fields of town planning and construction, was nevertheless sharply criticised for its concepts. Joséphin Péladan wrote in the catalogue of the second Rose+Croix salon in 1893: “Architecture! Since this art was killed in 1789, only restorations or projects for fairy-tale palaces are acceptable.” It is against this background of the profession’s existential doubt that, in 1896, the Le Barc de Bouteville gallery organised an exhibition entitled “Impressions d’architectes” in which F. Garas, G. Guillemonat, E. Herscher, C. Imbert, H. Provensal and H. Sauvage took part. These idealistic architects abandoned the third dimension in favour of a landscaped pictorial representation. Alongside religious references, they took literature and music as their sources of inspiration for praising Thought and Harmony.
The late 19th century and early 20th century were conducive to the development of both occult sciences and religious questioning in a world that was changing. Architects, like all artists in society, frequented the same circles as writers, musicians and poets. Scientific questioning was also very important, especially the initiatives of the scientist Camille Flammarion who popularised the subject of the cosmos. Gaston Redon, an architect by training and brother of the painter Odilon Redon, liked to represent landscapes not unlike fantasy worlds, which questioned ideas about life and death. Richard Burgsthal, painter, musician and son of an architect, took inspiration from the music of Wagner to create fanciful worlds where the structured landscape was somewhere between a theatre set and a design for stained glass. Eugène Grasset, a teacher of drawing, used the landscape as a subject for studying stylised forms. Finally, the architect and restorer Louis Boitte reminded us, a little earlier, of the charm of the landscape, an integral part of the human environment, before buildings are introduced.
Paris on the Nile: architecture and urban planning in Cairo from 1869 to 1914
The splendours of the Egyptian past hold a perpetual attraction for travellers and archaeologists, but the growth of Cairo in the 19th century also provided a source of interest for entrepreneurs and architects. The latter brought over the Haussmann model that had fascinated the Viceroy of Egypt on his visit to Paris for the 1867 Universal Exposition, then in July 1869, just months before the inauguration of the Suez Canal. The young engineer Gustave Eiffel, in search of commissions, travelled along the construction sites on the Isthmus in April 1865. In the wake of the Franco-Prussian conflict, the Islamophile Ambroise Baudry tried his luck in Egypt where he led a distinguished career up until his return to France in 1886. In Cairo, the twilight of the Ottoman Empire took on an air of the golden era of architecture, riding on the back of the private enterprise so conducive to eclecticism, and design competitions, a system inaugurated with the Egyptian National Museum in 1895 and which encouraged the Fine Arts style. Raoul Brandon was one of these many French citizens to capitalise on Cairo’s real estate boom. On a trip there in 1902, he was tasked with constructing new stores for the Austrian-Hungarian brand Orosdi-Back. The activity at his office in Cairo was prolific, driven by the creation of new districts, and was only brought to a halt by the outbreak of the First World War.