Design Moments: Porte Dauphine Metro entrance, circa 1900

Hector Guimard’s elegant transport entrance is a thing of function and beauty

Porte Dauphine Metro, Paris: Two cast-iron pillars look like flower stalks,  a soft green support and a delicate-looking fan-shaped canopy to keep the rain off commuters.

Porte Dauphine Metro, Paris: Two cast-iron pillars look like flower stalks, a soft green support and a delicate-looking fan-shaped canopy to keep the rain off commuters.

 

Temporary Luas signs have gone up in Dublin showing where the new stations will be and they’re on the garish side of taste. The permanent signage is likely to be more restrained – though transport entrances don’t have to pared back and utilitarian, just consider the Paris metro.

In 1899 the Paris Metropolitan Company ran a competition for entrances to the underground metro system then under construction, and after a series of underwhelming submissions, artist Hector Guimard (1867-1942) was invited to submit his ideas.

The transport company would have had an idea what he might produce - Guimard had already designed the flamboyant and much talked about art nouveau Castel Bérenger apartment block in Paris. And he delivered: his entrances were fantastically flamboyant, glass and cast iron – everyday monuments to the art nouveau style.

Down to the depths

The idea was that they should be visible from a distance to tell Parisians where the entrance to this new service was, and enticing to look at, perhaps to remove any fears of heading down to the depths.

The Port Dauphine entrance was opened in December 1900, with Guimard borrowing from nature in his design. Two cast-iron pillars shaped to look like flower stalks and painted a soft green support a delicate-looking fan-shaped canopy to keep the rain off commuters. Inside, the kiosk is lined with painted panels featuring decorative curves mimicking the flourishes found in the cast-iron pillars. The signage – a simple “Metropolitan” – is written in fluid script drawn by Guimard on a smooth lava stone, in green on yellow, two of nature’s most ubiquitous colours. Those letters now seem quintessentially Parisian. In all he designed 14 metro entrances in two styles, including a simpler smaller version of the Porte Dauphine entrance that didn’t have the glass canopy.

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