Ablaze in the Paris night, the Maison de la Publicité broadcasts information along the Champs Elysées. The slender building is a pure media machine. The diagonally braced steel grid of the facade acts as the support structure for graphic material; inside, advertising agencies in rental offices produce logos, signage, and sales pitches, and a vast hall hosts public media events. The building itself is a collage: the graphic cladding produced inside, installed by a rooftop crane, constantly updates the exterior. The photomontage uses a picture of Paris at night to envision the architectures nocturnal transformation. The facade's dynamic assemblage of signs and cultural expressions represents an early fascination with media and the architecture it might inspire.
Gallery label from Cut 'n' Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City, July 10–December 1, 2013.
Oscar Nitzchke's Maison de Publicité was among the first architectural expressions of new forces in twentieth-century culture: advertising and the media. Nitzchke, of Hungarian descent, moved to Paris from Switzerland in 1920. After studying briefly at the École des Beaux-Arts, he worked in Le Corbusier's office before entering the Atelier de Bois, a progressive studio established by Auguste Perret in 1924. There he met the American architect Paul Nelson, with whom he would often work through the end of the 1930s. The Maison de Publicité Project, which Nitzchke initiated, is his most important work of the prewar period. He designed it for a hypothetical site on the Champs Elysées, modern metropolitan Paris's bustling boulevard of cinemas and cafés. The full eighteen-meter width of the facade was to be open at street level, so that passersby could move freely into a double-height hall for media events. Massive concrete columns would support a block of advertising offices above. Beyond the hall, boulevardières could linger in an open-air courtyard or wander into an ovoid theater beyond, which was to play newsreels continuously. This architectural expression of the power of the media in contemporary life was most compellingly wrought in the building's facade: in front of the glass-block windows of the advertising agencies was to hang a steel lattice that in turn would support images, logos, and other illuminated messages (to be fabricated in the building's tenth-floor workshop). Space here would be rented out, so that the images and messages would be in a constant state of flux, like the traffic on the boulevard below. As Kenneth Frampton has written of the Maison de Publicité, "Had it been built, it would have introduced a subtle rupture into the continuity of the Haussmannian avenue, replacing the ordonnance of the Second Empire with a pyrotechnic, kaleidoscopic field dynamically resplendent day and night."
Publication excerpt from an essay by Terence Riley, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 80.