Hector Guimard (10 March 1867 – 20 May 1942) was a French architect and designer, and a prominent figure of the Art Nouveau style. He achieved early fame with his design for the Castel Beranger, the first Art Nouveau apartment building in Paris, which was selected in an 1899 competition as one of the best new building facades in the city. He is best known for the glass and iron edicules or canopies, with ornamental Art Nouveau curves, which he designed to cover the entrances of the first stations of the Paris Metro.
Between 1890 and 1930, Guimard designed and built some fifty buildings, in addition to one hundred and forty-one subway entrances for Paris Metro, as well as numerous pieces of furniture and other decorative works. However, in the 1910s Art Nouveau went out of fashion and by the 1960s most of his works had been demolished, and only two of his original Metro edicules were still in place. Guimard’s critical reputation revived in the 1960s, in part due to subsequent acquisitions of his work by Museum of Modern Art, and art historians have noted the originality and importance of his architectural and decorative works.
He showed his work at the Paris Salons of April 1894 and 1895, which earned him a prize of a funded voyage first to England and Scotland, and then, in the summer of 1895, to the Netherlands and Belgium. In Brussels in the summer of 1895, he met the Belgian architect Victor Horta, one of the founders of Art Nouveau, and saw the sinuous vegetal and floral lines of the Hotel Tassel, one of the earliest Art Nouveau houses. Guimard arranged for Horta to have an exhibition of his designs at the January 1896 Paris Salon, and Guimard’s own style and career began to change.
Early career (1888–1898)
The Castel Béranger (1895–1898)
A skilled publicist, Guimard very effectively used the new building to advertise his work. He had his own apartment and office in the building. He organized conferences and press articles, set up an exhibition of his drawings in the salons of Le Figaro, and wrote a monograph on the building. In 1899 he entered it into the first Paris competition for the best new building facades, and in March 1899 it was selected one of the six winners, a fact which he proudly had inscribed on the facade of the building.
Facade of the Castel Béranger
Villa Berthe (1896)
Mature career (1898–1914)
The following year, 1899, while he continued to teach regularly at the school of decorative arts in Paris, and continued construction of the Maison Coilliot, he began three new houses; The Modern Castel or Villa Canivet in Garches was Guimard’s reinvention of a medieval castle. La Bluette in Hermanville-sur-Mer was Guimard’s update of traditional Norman architecture. and the Castel Henriette, in Sevres. The Castel Henriette was the most inventive. It was located on a small site, almost circular, and was crowned with a tall, slender watchtower. To create more open interior space, Guimard moved the stairwell to the side of the building. The interior was lit by large windows, and featured ensembles of furniture all designed by Guimard. The building had an unhappy history. The watchtower fell in 1903, apparently after being struck by lightning. Guimard was summoned back and redesigned the house, adding new balconies and terrace. However, by the 1960s, the building was considered out of fashion, and it was rarely occupied. It served as a movie set before it was finally demolished, despite appeals by preservationists. Some of the furniture is now found in museums.
In 1898 Guimard embarked upon another ambitious project, the construction of a concert hall, the Salle Humbert-de-Romans, located at 60 Rue Saint Didier (16th arrondissement). It was built as the centrepiece of a conservatory of Christian music intended for orphans, proposed by a Dominican monk, Father Levy. Guimard made an ambitious and non-traditional plan using soaring levels of iron and glass, inspired by an early idea of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. An organ manufacturer, in consultation with Camille Saint-Saëns, donated a grand organ. The Salle was completed in 1901, but a scandal involving Father Levy and the orphans broke out. Father Levy was exiled by the Pope to Constantinople, the foundation was dissolved, and the concert hall was used only for meetings and conferences. It closed in 1904 and was demolished in 1905. The grand organ moved to the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Pual in Clichy, where it can be found today.
The Maison Coilliot in Lille (1898–1900)
Villa La Bluette in Hermanville-sur-Mer, Calvados (1899–1900)
Castel Henriette, Sevres (1899-1900)
Castel Henriette after the removal of the watchtower
The Salle Humbert-de-Romans (1898–1901)
Colored postcard of the interior of the Salle-Humbert-de-Romans
Paris Metro entrances
To simplify the manufacture, Guimard made two designs of edicules, called Type A and B. Both were made of cast iron frames, with cream-colored walls and glass roofs to protect against rain. The A type was simpler and more cubic, while the B was rounded and more dynamic in form, and is sometimes compared with a dragonfly. Only two of the original A types were made and neither still exists. Only one B type, restored, remains in its original location, at Porte Dauphine.
Guimard also designed a simpler version, without a roof, with railings or balustrades of ornamental green-painted iron escutcheons and two high pylons with lamps and a ‘Métropolitain’ sign. The pylons were in an abstract vegetal form he invented, not resembling any particular plant, and the lettering was in a unique which Guimard invented. These were the most common type.
From the beginning, Guimard’s Metro entrances were controversial. In 1904, after complaints that the new Guimard balustrade at the Opera station was not in harmony with the architecture of the Palais Garnier opera house, the Metro authorities dismantled the entrance and replaced it with a more classical model. Garnier was sarcastic in his response in the Paris La Press of Paris on 4 October 1904. “Should we harmonise the station of Père-Lachaise with the cemetery by constructing an entrance in the form of a tomb?…Should we have a dancer with her leg raised in front of the station at place Dame-Blanche, to harmonise with the Moulin-Rouge?”
From the beginning, Guimard was also in conflict with the Metro authorities about his payments. The dispute was ended in 1903 with an agreement by which Guimard received payment, but gave up his models and manufacturing rights. Construction of new stations continued using his design without his participation. Between 1900 and 1913, a total of 167 entrances were installed, of which sixty-six still survive, mostly in locations different from their original placement.
Porte Dauphine Métro station, the only surviving entrance in its original location
Abbesses station entrance
Lamps and “Métropolitain” sign, Anvers
Bastille métro pavilion entrance (demolished in 1962)
Railing escutcheon with “M”, Quatre-Septembre
Detail of an entrance’s lamp post
Drawing of the Castel d’Orgeval by Guimard (1904)
Plan of the Castel d’Orgeval drawn by Guimard (1904)
La Sapinière (1907) around the time of its completion (today considerably modified from Guimard’s original design)
The Hôtel Guimard
Hector Guimard with his wife Adeline, around 1910
Facade of the Hôtel Guimard. The studio of his wife was behind the large windows on the top floor.
Early photo of the main facade, with original windows
Madame Guimard’s bedroom (1909)
Dining room (c. 1910). The house had a large dining room but no kitchen.
Apartments, the Hôtel Mezzara and a synagogue
Apartment building “Trémois”, Rue Millet, Paris XVI arrondissement (1909)
Detail of the Rue Agar (then Rue Moderne) apartments (1910–1912).
Detail of windows from the Rue de la Fontain apartments (1911).
Hôtel Mezzara (1910-1911), exterior view.
The interiors of the Hôtel Mezzara, with Art Nouveau stairway and glass roof.
Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue rue Pavée, Paris, 1913
Decoration of entrance of the Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue
Interior of the Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue
Late career (1914–1942)
One of the rare completed buildings still standing from this period is the office building at 10 Rue de Bretagne, begun in 1914 but not completed until after the War in 1919. The Art Nouveau style was replaced by a more functional simplicity, where the reinforced concrete structure defined the exterior of the building. The postwar shortages of iron and other materials affected the style; there was little decoration of the facade, or entrance. He concentrated his attention on the parapets which gave the building a soaring, modern profile.
Just before the First World War he had created a firm, the Sociéte général de constructions modernes, with the intention of building standardized housing at a modest price. He returned to Paris and in 1921–22, and built a small house at 3 Square Jasmin (16th arrondissement) designed to be a model for a series of standard houses, but it was not duplicated. He was unable to keep up with the rapid changes in styles and methods, and his firm was finally dissolved in July 1925.
Model façade of the mass-produced house (1921)
Cast pieces to be assembled for the mass-produced house
Instructions for the construction of the mass-produced house, drawing by Guimard (October 1920)
In 1925 he participated in the Paris Exposition of Decorative and Modern Arts, the Exposition which gave its name to Art Deco, with a proposed model of a town hall for a French village. He also designed and built a parking garage and several war memorials and funeral monuments. He continued to receive honors, particularly for his teaching at the École national des arts decoratifs. In February 1929 he was named a Chevalier in the French Legion d’honneur.
After the war, Art Deco emerged as the leading style of Parisian architecture. Guimard adapted to the new style and proved his originality and attention to the detail. His buildings display geometric decorative patterns, simplified columns emphasizing structural elements and rigid shapes; despite this they retain elements of his previous style: sinuous lines, vegetal-inspired ornaments and typical Art Nouveau iron railings.
The Guimard Building and final works
Despite his success with the facade competition, his late work appeared old fashioned, particularly compared with the modernism of the Paris buildings of Robert Mallet-Stevens, August Perret, and Le Corbusier. Between 1926 and 1930 he built several residential buildings in the same neighborhood as his home in the 16th arrondissement, which still exist. These include the Hôtel Houyvet, at 2 Villa Flore and 120 Avenue Mozart, built for the industrialist Michel Antoine Paul Houyhvet. His last recorded work was La Guimardière, an apartment building on Avenue Le Nôtre, Vaucresson in the Hauts-de-Seine suburb of Paris. It was completed in about 1930, but was demolished in March–April 1969.
THe Guimard Building at Rue Henri-Heine, Paris XVI arrondissement (1926).
Detail of the Guimard Building, showing the entrance, where Art Deco and Art Nouveau elements coexist.
Apartmet building, Rue Greuze (28), (Paris XVI arrondissement)
As early as 1918 he took steps to assure that his work would be documented and would survive. He obtained space in the former orangerie of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he deposited models of his buildings and hundreds of designs. In 1936 he donated a large collection of his designs to Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1937 he received authorisation to put thirty cases of models in the cellars of the National Museum of Antiquities in Saint-Germaine-en-Laye.
Guimard served as a member of the jury judging architectural works at the 1937 Paris Exposition, where he could hardly miss the monumental pavilion of Nazi Germany and the threat it presented. His wife was Jewish, and he was alarmed by the approaching likelihood of war. In September 1938 he and his wife settled in New York City. He died on 20 May 1942 at the Hotel Adams on Fifth Avenue. He is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, about 25 miles north of New York City.
Obscurity and rediscovery
By the time of Guimard’s death, many of his buildings had already been demolished or remodeled beyond recognition. Most of his original Metro station edicules and balustrades had also been removed. The only full covering remaining at its original location at Porte Dauphine. However, many original architectural drawings by Guimard were stored in the Dept. of Drawings & Archives at Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University in New York City, and in the archives of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. 
The re-evaluation and rehabilitation of Guimard’s reputation began in the late 1960s. Portions of the Castel Beranger were declared of historic and artistic value in July 1965, and the entire building was protected in 1989. His reputation was given a major boost in 1970, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted a large exhibition of his work, including drawings he had donated himself and one of his Metro Station edicules. Other museums followed. The thirty cases of models in the cellars of the National Museum of Antiquities in Saint-Germaine-en-Laye were rediscovered and some were put on display.
In 1978 all of Guimard’s surviving Metro entrances (Eighty-eight of the original one hundred sixty-seven put in place) were declared of historic value. The city donated a few originals, and several copies, to Chicago and other cities which desired them. Reconstructed original edicules are found at Abbesses and Châtelet.
Many of his buildings have been substantially modified, and there are no intact Guimard interiors which are open to the public, though suites of his furniture can be found in the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
He is honoured in streetnames in the French towns of Châteauroux, Perpignan, Guilherand-Granges and Cournon-d’Auvergne, and by the rue Hector Guimard in Belleville, Paris.
His furniture style began to change in about 1903. He found a workshop to make his furniture, and began using finer woods, particularly pear wood, with delicate colors. He simplified he plans, and eliminated the excessive number of arms and shelves. The most notable examples of his late style are pieces made for the Hôtel Nozal (since destroyed) and now in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Other examples of the late style are from the Hotel Guimard, now in the Petit Palais and the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, and Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.
Divan for the billiards room of pharmacist Albert Roy at Gévriles (1897-90) (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)
Buffet of cherry wood, brass, and glass (1899-1900) (Bröhan Museum, Berlin)
Side chair of pear wood and leather (1900) (Bröhan Museum, Berlin)
Armoire, Hôtel Nozal (1904-1906)
Furnishings for the bedroom of Madame Guimard, Hôtel Guimard (1909–12) (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon)
Dining room in the Hotel Guimard (Petit Palais, Paris)
Dressing table from bedroom of Madame Guimard (1909-1912)
The Guimard Style
Design on wall panel of édicule, Porte Dauphine
Guimard Metro balustrade plaque (1900)
House number plaque at Castel Beranger
Balcony railing from the Hotel Guimard
Guimard doorknobs (Musée Bröhan, Berlin)
Porcelain vase (1899), (Musée Bröhan, Berlin)
Guimard flower vase (1900) (Musée D’Orsay)
Guimard window curtain (Metropolitan Museum)
Vase of Binelles (1902), Sèvres porcelain, crystallization on hard porcelain, (National Museum of Ceramics in Sèvres, France)
Much of the success of Guimard came from the small details of his designs, from door handles and balcony railings to type faces, which he crafted with special imagination and care. He invented his own style of lettering which appeared on his Metro entrances and his building plans. He insisted on calling his work “Style Guimard”, not Art Nouveau, and he was genius at publicizing it. He wrote numerous articles and gave interviews and lectures on his work, and printed a set of “Style Guimard” postcards with his pictures of his buildings, 
Guimard rejected the dominant academic Beaux-Arts style of there 1880s, calling it “cold receptacle of various past styles in which the original spirit was no longer alive enough to dwell”. His fellow students at the National School of Decorative Arts nicknamed him the “Ravachol of architecture”, after Ravachol, the Paris anarchist who bombed church buildings. Nonetheless, he was recognized for his designing skills; in 1884 he was awarded three bronze and two silver medals at the school for his work. In 1885 he received awards in all of the competitions at the school, including four bronze medallions, five silver, and the school’s Grande Prix d’Architecture.
Guimard’s early Art Nouveau work, particularly the Castel Beranger, as Guimard himself acknowledged, was strongly influenced by the work of the Belgian architect Victor Horta, especially the Hotel Tassel, which Guimard visited before he designed the Castel Beranger. Like Horta, he created original designs and ornament, inspired by his own views of nature. If the skylights favored by Victor Horta are rare in his work (the Mezzara Hotel, 1910, and the Rue Pavée Synagogue, (1913), being notable exceptions), Guimard made noteworthy experiments in space and volume. These include the Coilliot House and its disconcerting double-frontage (1898), and the Villa La Bluette, noted for its volumetric harmony (1898), and especially the Castel Henriette32 and the Castel d’Orgeval33, demonstrations of an asymmetrical “free plan”, twenty-five years before the theories of Le Corbusier. Other buildings of his, like the Hôtel Nozal (1905), employ a rational, symmetrical, square-based style inspired by Viollet-le-Duc.
Guimard employed some structural innovations, as in the concert hall Humbert-de-Romans35, where he created a complex frame to divide sound waves to produce enhanced acoustics (built 1898 and demolished in 1905), or as in the Hôtel Guimard (1909), where the ground was too narrow to have the exterior walls bear any weight, and thus the arrangement of interior spaces differs from one floor to another.
In addition to his architecture, furniture, and wrought iron work, Guimard also designed art objects, such as vases, some of which were produced by the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres outside Paris. A notable example is the Vase of Binelles (1902), made by crystallization on hard porcelain, which is now in the National Museum of Ceramics in Sèvres.
Guimard was a determined advocate of architectural standardization, from mass-producing Metro station edicules and balustrades to (less successfully) the mass production of cast iron pieces and other prefabricated building materials intended for the assembly rows of houses. entrances to the Paris Métro, based on the ornamented structures of Viollet-le-Duc. The idea was taken up – but with less success – in 1907 with a catalogue of cast iron elements applicable to buildings: Artistic Cast Iron, Guimard Style. Guimard’s art objects have the same formal continuity as his buildings, harmoniously uniting practical function with linear design, as in the Vase des Binelles, of 1903.
His stylistic vocabulary has suggestions to plants and organic matter and has been described as a form of “abstract naturalism”. Undulating and coagulating forms are found in every material from stone, wood, cast iron, glass (Mezzara hotel, 1910), fabric (Guimard hotel, 1909), paper (Castel Béranger, 1898), wrought iron (Castel Henriette, 1899), and ceramic (Coilliot House, 1898); Guimard compared it analogously to the flowing of sap running from a tree, referring to the liquid quality found in his work as the “sap of things”. Guimard’s structural forms remain only as abstract evocations of nature and never directly indicative of any particular plant, an approached outlined by the art critic and contemporary, Gustave Soulier who said about Guimard’s work:
“we do not see… clearly recognisable motifs which are only interpreted and regularised by a geometric ornamental convention. But neither is it merely withered and graceless floral or animal skeletons that Mr. Guimard draws. He is inspired by the underlying movements, by the creative process in nature that reveals to us identical formulas through its numerous manifestations. And he assimilates these principles in the formation of his ornamental contours… the floret is not an exact representation of any particular flower, Here is an art that both abbreviates and amplifies the immediate facts of Nature; it spiritualises them. We are present at the birth of the quintessence of a flower.”
Chronology of notable buildings
Castel Beranger (completed 1898)
Maison Coilliot (1898)
Castel Henriette (1898)
Abbesses (Paris Métro) (1900)
Immeuble Jassédé (1903–1905)
Immeuble Tremois (1909)
Hôtel Guimard (1909)
Synagogue de la rue Pavée à Paris (1913)