The term Art Deco was first coined by Le Corbusier, who used the headline 1925 Expo: Arts Déco for articles in his journal L’Esprit nouveau. He was referring to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Thus, the style is usually said to have begun in 1925, although it was widely used in France several years before that. Its popularity waned after World War II.
As an art deco lover and knowing the style’s history, I’ve always wondered how my apartment building came to be. It’s a beautiful example of middle class Art Deco supposedly dating from 1953. I figured it meant it was on the tail end of art deco’s popularity, but it still seemed odd that there be no sign of 1950s architectural styles inside or out. I was also puzzled as to its excellent construction – post-WWII buildings in France are usually less substantial. Our walls are solid blocks of metre-thick stone; after the war, stone was rarely used in new construction, especially not in apartment buildings.
Due to the water damage in August, I needed to get my hands on our règlement de copropriété, building regulations. These are drawn up for all new shared residences. Our original regulations date from 1953, which is why everyone believes the building dates from that year. Usually you can order your règlement de copropriété from the syndic that manages your building. In the case of syndics in Nice, however, they have a reputation for never delivering, and ours was no exception.
Coming from a family background in construction and civil engineering, I knew how to get around that obstacle, and went to public architectural records for my part of the city. There I discovered that while I could get a modification to our regulations that was submitted in 2003, our original regulations were no longer held there. All buildings dating from before 1956 now have their regulations stored at the archives départementales. I phoned them, and they gave me their email address for the request. Two weeks after I sent my email, I received our regulations, scanned as a PDF. That was Friday. At first, I looked through them quickly, most curious about the plumbing issue directly related to my water damage. Relief – the pipes and septic tank that had caused the problem were indeed communs, meaning, supposed to be managed by the syndic, building management, not me. I’ll eventually be reimbursed for my troubles.
Today I finally had time to read through all twenty typewritten pages. Our building’s stylistic oddities now make perfect sense: it was originally privately owned and managed, so didn’t require a règlement. The land it’s built on was purchased in 1940, and construction began shortly thereafter, with the building finished in 1941. After the war, it was sold twice: first in 1947, and again in 1953. Our 1953 regulations also contain some fun throwbacks to 1950s usages:
il ne pourra être cassé du bois ou du charbon dans les appartements
“There shall be no wood chopped or coal broken inside apartments”
on ne pourra faire dans les vestibules, escaliers, paliers, aucun travail de ménage tels que brossage et battage de tapis, literie, habits et meubles, cirage de chaussures, etc. On ne pourra casser ou fendre du bois…
“In entryways, stairwells, and hallways, no housework shall be done: brushing and beating carpets, bedding, clothes and furniture, shoe-shining, etc. Breaking up and chopping wood is forbidden.”
les tapis ne pourront être secoués que conformément au règlement municipal et de police
“Carpets may only be shaken according to city and police regulations”
It’s great to know our building’s true age, dating from 1940, and more of its history now. My own apartment’s characteristics make more sense, and we can now say that it is indeed genuine Art Deco from the height of the style’s popularity.