Capturing the sky

Opposite: The sculptural Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, designed by Herzog & de Meuron.

R comme reflet La règle, ici, pour que le roman s’invente : qu’un mot en reflète un autre et qu’il en brouille le contour. De billard à pillard1, le reflet trace la route.

1. Dans Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres, on apprend que c’est la transformation d’une première phrase, «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard» en cette autre «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard», qui a produit le roman Impressions d’Afrique.

R as in reflection A ground rule for constructing the novel: each word always has to reflect another, blurring the contours. From billard to pillard,1 the mirror effect paves the way.

1. In Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of My Books, we learn that the novel Impressions of Africa is based on the transformation of the opening phrase“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard” into this other one“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard.”

Since they can’t build stairways to heaven, contemporary architects are finding playful ways to reflect the sky in their buildings’ facades.

Architecture is a heavy, solid discipline that has forever dreamed of lightness and loftiness; of inhabiting the clouds and living on air, and turning virgin forests into palaces. Alas, reality is harsh and walls bring their weight to bear. Failing the construction of celestial ziggurats, architects have set about capturing the sky. Using increasingly sophisticated materials, they are transforming their facades into a kind of trap. Clouds, sunshine and downpours of rain appear in succession on panels of anodized aluminum and polished steel, on metallic claddings or sheets of glass reflecting sky blue. The weather changes and the building follows suit. A building not only reflects the sky, but wears it like a decor. The sheet of gray metal in September turns golden in summer, shimmering and changing hues a hundred times a day. Sensitive, shifting, nearly animal-like, it fascinates the beholder.

Materials of light

Materials of light We’re leaps and bounds away from the 1960s and ’70s buildings with flashy curtain walls. Architects suspended them from steel structures like giant mirrors. Tinted blue, bronze, pink, they reflected the surrounding landscape more than the sky, mimicking the world without any originality. Those facades were soon associated with real estate development, fit only for financial districts. Since then, architects have grasped that if they really work with materials, play with the surfaces, give them thickness, bevel them, perforate them all over, they can turn the sky into a performance arena with their buildings part of the show. Examples? In Hamburg, the Elbphilharmonie by Herzog & de Meuron is immersed in the sky blue it captivates and showcases. In Paris, Jean Nouvel, who once dreamed of an Endless Tower at La Défense in the west of Paris, draped his Philharmonie’s facade with a mesh netting, which not only reflects the sunshine but also ripples with a stylized flight of birds inspired by Braque’s stained glass windows in Varengeville. Francis Soler’s magnificent circular EDF buildings in Saclay are clad in a lacework of steel and air. In the past, church spires pointed skyward, while cupolas reproduced the heavens. Today, facades have seized the sky as embellishmentintoxicating architecture altogether.

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