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Death of architecte Paul Chemetov

By 20 June 2024No Comments

The architect Paul Chemetov, born in Paris in 1928, died on Sunday 16 June 2024 at the age of 95. An erudite, prolific and committed architect, he worked for the social cause through his many projects in the Paris suburbs. Nicknamed the “pope of social housing” by architect Edith Girard, he built more than 7,000 units, notably in Vigneux-sur-Seine, Romainville, La Courneuve, Pantin, Villejuif and Bagnolet.

Paul Chemetov © Editions Arléa

In 1981, at the request of French President François Mitterrand, he undertook the construction of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, a project he described as titanic and timeless. The building bears witness to the architect’s desire to combine modernity with respect for the historicity of the site. The two monumental arches of glass, steel, stainless steel and Charente stone are inspired by the old neoclassical octrois, eighteenth-century buildings that bear witness to a tax system linked to trade, reminding finance officials of one of their oldest missions.

The concept of ‘repair’ is at the heart of his work. He sees it as the reversible transformation of a place to adapt its function to a contemporary need. In Chartres, in 2007, he transformed the Hôtel des Postes into a media library, adding a contemporary signature to the building’s flamboyant Gothic style with the bay windows on the top floor and the use of concrete and steel. In 1994, he worked with Borja Huidobro on the renovation of the Grande Galerie de l’évolution at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. The architects created a double level of floors in the central section and created an “active sky” on the glass roof, on which projected images scroll.

As a master builder of public buildings in several French cities, he endeavours to link architecture with the urban fabric, and places the user at the centre of the project; his construction of the Saint-Ouen ice-skating rink complex meets this dual requirement: he reconciles traffic and parking requirements with the need to liven up the district through a car park and ice-skating rink complex. The architect designed a building raised on metal beams, reminiscent of the industrial architecture of warehouses and the Parisian aerial metro.

Alongside his many projects, Paul Chemetov is a respected teacher and theoretician. His fervent defence of fair, beautiful and innovative architecture was rewarded in 1980 with the Grand Prix National d’Architecture and a medal of honour from the Académie d’Architecture.

Bercy, view of the Colbert building © Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances

Saint-Ouen ice rink, view of the north-west façade © Paul Chemetov, adagp

Pauline Leroux