Paul Andreu, the tune of the thirty glorious years

Many French people have taken the escalators of Terminal 1 at Roissy at one time or another, but few can name the author. Because Paul Andreu (1938-2018) is undoubtedly better known in China, where he built extensively, than in his native country: the exhibition devoted to him by the Cité de l’architecture should correct this injustice. Raised in Bordeaux in a family of teachers, young Andreu trained as both an architect and an engineer. A brilliant student, he was admitted to Polytechnique and Normale sup, and decided for the first. In parallel with the École des Ponts et Chaussées, his application school at l’X, he enrolled at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, which then prepared students for architecture. Even before the end of his studies, the young man took up his first position as an engineer for construction work in Orly. And when he was entrusted with the design of terminal 1 of Paris-Nord, in 1967 – today Roissy-Charles de Gaulle –, he was not yet thirty years old, and had no experience. “Most of his projects evoke the notion of flight, of crossing, the link between earth and sky”, summarizes Stéphanie Quantin-Biancalani, curator of the retrospective at the Cité de l’architecture. His buildings are designed as a succession of sequences in space through a play on volumes, their height, the relationship to the body, and light. A sort of architecture of passage. The traveler’s entire journey inside the Roissy terminal is guided by his preparation for takeoff, like psychological preparation. Crossing the tubes of the central void, the only place where we see the sky, gives access to the transfer level, which takes you to the underground galleries joining the satellites, largely glazed and open to the runways, the final prologue to take-off .

architecture considered as an art

Several of his projects illustrate this notion of threshold, such as the tunnel under the sea of ​​the Osaka Maritime Museum (inaugurated in 2000), in Japan, which leads to the central room, a dome flooded with light and entirely transparent. To enter the Peking Opera (2007), the spectator must first pass through a reflecting pool, then take escalators. A fervent supporter of architecture seen as an art, Paul Andreu puts into practice a synthesis of different disciplines. For the interior design of Roissy, a working group brought together his close architectural collaborators, the designer Joseph-André Motte, who had already worked on the furniture at Orly, the consultant colorist Jacques Fillacier, the sculptor Volti, the graphic designer Adrian Frutiger and the sociologist Pierre Patarin. Inspired by a reflection on the psychology of the traveler – which can generate a state of anxiety and a feeling of self-transformation – the team imagines a color code for this conditioning of the passenger. The orange of the seats symbolizes the notion of rest, the yellow of the signs refers to the information function, the green designates the street furniture and services, while the blue indicates the car parks. The alphabet designed by Adrian Frutiger contributes to this effort at readability: these large, spaced letters can be read even when the traveler is moving. Through the career of Paul Andreu, a whole section of the economic and political history of France is taking shape. The time was then one of growth, of faith in progress – the famous “thirty glorious years”. The development of aviation reflects the rise of mass tourism and globalization, making airports the international gateways of cities. Andreu was asked by Claude Parent to work in the nuclear field, with the construction of the Cruas power station (1975-1985). We also owe him the ski jump in the Courchevel area for the 1992 Olympic Games, and the French terminal of the Channel Tunnel. Following the death of the architect of the Grande Arche de la Défense, Johan Otto von Spreckelsen, in 1987, Andreu was asked to complete the project. The arch was inaugurated by François Mitterrand on July 14, 1989, the year of the bicentenary of the French Revolution.

Osaka Maritime Museum, built between 1998 and 2000.

around fifty airports in the world

But above all, his position at Aéroports de Paris will open doors to him abroad. In the French industrial landscape, the company then had a unique position, that of a public company bringing together an architectural firm and a design office, which has up to 300 employees. Having joined the company in 1963, Andreu will sign, over almost forty years, around fifty airports, half of which are abroad. After the first oil shock, Aéroports de Paris moved towards the international market, offering its expertise to southern countries. The first project will be that of Abu Dhabi (1975-1982), followed by that of Soekarno-Hatta, in Jakarta (1977-1985), and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (1977-1984). If the first project evokes the world of the cave, the Frenchman is inspired, in Indonesia, by vernacular architecture, with a village made up of low pavilions, linked together by galleries, in the middle of richly planted gardens. In Tanzania, Andreu developed the theme of the forest: in the large reception hall, the alignments of reinforced concrete posts express the natural origins of the architecture. In 1988, he won the international competition for the Kansai airport in Japan: an important symbolic victory, given the protectionism at work in the country. “Japanese thought has been very important in its reflection, particularly with regard to the concept of Ma, around the notion of empty space, of bringing together opposites” notes Stéphanie Quantin. Inaugurated in 2000, the Osaka Maritime Museum, a half-sphere of glass and metal placed at the limit of sky and water, symbolizes the abandonment of architecture to the elements. With his projects in Korea and China, Andreu is a pioneer, establishing himself in Asia well before Jean Nouvel or Christian de Portzamparc. The Peking Opera (1999-2007) represents the consecration of his international career and his departure from Aéroports de Paris. Here too, the contract is highly symbolic, since it is one of the first Westerners to win a state project, a few years before Rem Koolhaas obtained the headquarters of Chinese central television, or Herzog and Meuron does not win the Olympic stadium in Beijing. Despite the honors – he was elected to the Academy of Fine Arts in 1996 – Andreu will be greatly damaged by the collapse of terminal 2 at Roissy in 2004, which caused four deaths and seven injuries. At the end of the trial in 2018, ADP and three of its subcontractors were sentenced to fines, with the airport group receiving the maximum penalty of 225,000 euros. The architect had died a few months earlier.


Born in Caudéran, in Gironde


Graduated from École Polytechnique


Bridge and Road Engineer


Designs terminal 1 of Roissy for Aéroports de Paris


Graduated in architecture from the School of Fine Arts, Paris


Built the Cruas power plant, in Ardèche, and the Abu Dhabi airport


Resumes the construction site of the Arche de la Défense


Wins the Kansai Airport Competition in Japan


Elected to the Academy of Fine Arts


Built the Peking Opera


Collapse of terminal 2 at Roissy


Completes the municipal city of Bordeaux


Dies in Paris

The exhibition: notebooks and models

A double donation – 69 sketchbooks and the archives of Paul Andreu – constitutes the starting point of the exhibition organized at Cité de l’architecture. Rich in 290 works, this retrospective covers 400 m2. The entirety of the sketchbooks, presented on a display case in the manner of a long graphic story, constitutes the backbone and dialogues with a set of spherical models from public and private collections. Eight thematic sections (Roissy 1, the synthesis of the arts, landscape, Japan, etc.) offer a more detailed discovery of Andreu’s achievements.

“Paul Andreu. Architecture is an art”,

Cité de l’architecture, 45 avenue du Président Wilson, Paris-16, from February 14 to June 2, 2024.

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