Article published in "La Science et la Vie" of May 1925
The chief architect of the exhibition, Mr. Ch. Plumet, had foreseen, in the general plan he drew up two or three years ago, four monumental towers thirty metres high, intended to create a certain order in the exhibition and to rise above the multitude of pavilions. Each of them is named after one of our greatest wines. These towers are built of reinforced concrete and seem to be trying to raise their powerful mass to the sky for eternity. However, this is not the case, and these heavy buildings will disappear in a few months, along with the rest of the exhibition. One may therefore wonder whether the use of concrete was strictly necessary and whether it will not be as difficult to demolish them as it was to build them. But wasn't this a modern exhibition, and isn't reinforced concrete a modern material par excellence?
Each of the four wine towers has a corbel on the upper floor - a sort of flowery loggia - inside which regional restaurants have been set up, where French chefs show visitors the most renowned varieties of our culinary art.
Speaking of the corbels, let's talk about the construction technique. Four concrete brackets have been provided under each balcony; one may wonder whether their role is not purely decorative, since reinforced concrete is made precisely to avoid all the supporting masses that are necessary in masonry.
Huge reinforced concrete consoles supporting a 3 m. 50 corbels have the same effect as the hercules of the fairground lifting pasteboard weights. The reinforcement of the concrete is the core of the resistance and allows for the most audacious overhangs. In this respect, the Czechoslovakian pavilion is a rather good example.
In addition to the dining rooms in the upper part of the towers, other rooms were provided for various festivities. An auditorium was installed in one of the towers. A giant orchestra can be heard there, consisting of a set of high-powered loudspeakers to which automatic musical instruments are attached.
The various sound generators making up this orchestra were chosen and selected after amplification tests, so as to obtain the minimum of deformation.
Organ pipes, trumpets, bugles and bells provide the most varied sounds, from the highest to the lowest.
Many pieces of modern music, including an inaugural symphony, have been specially written by some of the most renowned modern musicians.
The amplification system can be separated from the automatic orchestra and used for public announcements, speeches and concerts of modern music. The loudspeakers used can be heard on the esplanade des Invalides, the Alexandre-III bridge and as far as the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées.
Article from the magazine "La construction moderne", August 2, 1925
The group of pavilions built on the part of the Esplanade des Invalides located behind the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres pavilion coming from the Alexandre-III Bridge is dominated by the "Four Great Regional Towers" which visitors can see from all over the Exhibition; this is their official name given in the catalogue. They are best known as the "Plumet Towers", because they are the work of the Exhibition's sympathetic chief architect.
The work of Mr. Plumet is well known, as he built tenement houses and private mansions of a very pleasant modern taste, of a rational construction, of a simple and happy decoration, always having an essentially practical distribution.
Some people thought that these towers were too massive, too colossal and did not correspond to the usual conception of this architect; these criticisms were mainly formulated by people who did not know the real purpose of these towers, which are enormous luminous lanterns intended to provide important illumination for the Exposition.
If we examine, on the contrary, the obligations to which the architect had to submit, we can see that Mr. Plumet succeeded in making interesting constructions. Since it was a question of lanterns, it was essential to have high and large glass-filled openings to allow for a nice, somewhat discreet illumination in the evening, without overpowering the luminous effects of the Esplanade Pavilions, and to dominate this transparent lantern effect by a more brilliant crown at a great height to complete the exhibition. In order to create these large lanterns, it was necessary to create a large, very high room without horizontal divisions that would have hindered the lighting that had to be equally intense over the entire large surface of the window panes. The architect used the crown of these buildings and their elevated position to set up restaurants with balconies because they offered a magnificent view of the entire exhibition and because these restaurants, always brilliantly lit, could increase the luminous effect of the towers and form a real, brighter frieze. Finally, he surmounted this crown with lines of bulbs that gave the effect of bright pearls standing out at great height against the dark sky.
Reinforced cement was the only material that could be used, and M. Pinel was able to provide a simple and tasteful sculptural decoration.
At the time of their construction, the reinforced cement towers had the appearance of large dungeons intended to provide a serious defence against the sneak attacks of the Exhibition's enemies; since then they have taken on a peaceful and truly perfect appearance, they finish off the long galleries which limit a large part of the Esplanade, and in the evening they provide all the luminous effect that was desired. We must add that, in front of the brilliance of the Towers and the Exhibition, the enemies have fallen into the shadow of oblivion and all proclaim today the true success obtained by this great artistic event.
These four towers are devoted to the products of the principal regions of France, and as they house restaurants it may be said that these products are represented solely by famous wines and renowned liqueurs. They are absolutely similar with four staircases and two lifts going up to the upper floors, but their interior decoration differs, applied to absolutely identical building elements. These are the Towers: 1° of the Bordeaux Region and the South-West with the Bordeaux Restaurant; 2° of the Ile-de-France with the Paris Restaurant; 3° of Champagne and Alsace with the Champagne Restaurant; 4° of Burgundy and Franche-Comté with the Burgundy Restaurant.
The photograph we are publishing gives enough of an idea of the appearance of one of these Towers that it is unnecessary to dwell on the description of the exterior, suffice it to say that the four octagonal turrets placed at the corners naturally receive the staircases and the lifts or lifts going up to the upper floors. It is thirty metres high and is white with balconies, bow windows and tinted pergolas. The large bow windows are bordered by long flower boxes. It is preceded by two entrances surmounted by shrubs with a large vestibule continuing the external galleries to the long exhibition buildings that border the Esplanade; the facade of the two entrances and the vestibule is crowned by large flower boxes. The large ground floor hall is accessed through three large double doors with four sets of transoms and glass. This large room has 17 metres of sides and a ceiling height of 16 metres. The corners are occupied by three small panels rising to the ceiling and intended to light the high stairwells and lifts.
We feel we should mention in particular the ground floor room of the Tower of the Bordeaux Region and South-West France, located quite naturally to the south-west of the Esplanade des Invalides. It is curious for its questionable decoration. On entering, visitors are struck by the decoration, which looks exactly like "the last page of a major daily newspaper", i.e. a page of advertisements. The wine Machin is next to the delicious cognac of the Maison Chose, etc. This decoration (sic) is largely completed by the cut sides of the staircases which are decorated, over a height of about 12 metres, with lines of advertisements set against a dark grey background. It would certainly take half an hour to copy just the names that are spread out on these cut surfaces in very tight lines, one reads exactly
Bitter S..., Confiserie Duchesse d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux, Cognac, etc., etc., etc... This new decoration is completed by that of the windows of the entrance doors competing with the advertisements placed higher up, on twelve doors are displayed frosted panels advertising aperitifs, digestifs, etc. The stained glass windows themselves could not escape this strange invasion, their centres are occupied by several rectangular panels on which the names of famous wines are displayed. The recessed ceiling is surrounded by large bands with pretty letters of about sixty centimetres in height, highlighting the names of famous drinks; here a small remark, these last advertisements are not read very well because one has to turn one's head completely upside down to be able to read the letters placed horizontally at such a height.
Naturally, we also wanted to include some truly decorative panels in this new decoration, and as it was difficult to make them stand out against such a mass of advertising lines, they were executed, not in grisaille, but almost in a... wax tone. It is a far cry from the grisaille of the old Court of Auditors. These four panels, each occupying one side of the room, are placed above the lines of the entrance doors. Three of them are executed in an excessively modern note, for something new, it is excessively new!
The first is by M. Marius de Buzon, it represents "the Colonies", it was entrusted to this artist because M. Marius de Buzon has never been to the colonies or if he has been he has forgotten to notice how African women are dressed. Those of M. de Buzon have their belly and legs hidden from the waist to the feet by a cloth which tightens them, never the loincloths or simbo of the African women are so long, because they tighten them against them in several turns and it would be impossible for them to walk if they were as long as those of M. de Buzon. European women wear long skirts but with pleats; they also have tight skirts which are then very short so that they can walk. The artist has represented a man sitting with his thigh pressed against a cactus, which is still impossible because the cactus has long, extremely fine, dangerous thorns and the natives do not go near them. M. de Buzon was, however, able to paint in his black-tinted picture almost white Negresses, and this is essentially new.
Another panel was executed by M. Despujols, it represents "Agriculture", his merit is to have been able to paint a red ox almost orange in a painting in dark grisaille. His ox is of rare value because the folds of its skin are so numerous that the development would cover at least two oxen.
The third panel is entitled "Wine", wine makes you happy, so this painting is hilarious. Its author is Mr Jean Dupas, who paints with roundness: everything is round, his painting is pushed to the extreme, it reminds us of the washes executed at the School (spheres, cylinders). If Mr. Dupas knows washes he does not know anatomy. One of our neighbours said to another: "But look, do you think these women are badly built! "Surely it must be difficult for this artist to find such extremely badly made models. This is absolutely regrettable. We have seen that this kind of work provokes rather rude reflections from the public. The women depicted have a dazed, stupefied, very curious air, they are fidgeting, they are lifting containers of an enormous weight with delicacy, the wine escapes from them like a flow of bitumen, so thick does it seem.
Finally, the fourth panel is by M. François Roganau and is entitled "Le Pin et les Landes" (The Pine and the Landes); it is very well treated and well drawn, and its author is certainly the most artistic of the painters who have decorated this room. However, one senses that the author must have been embarrassed, he must not have obeyed his usual manner in order to get closer to that of his comrades and to remain in the note of the whole.
As painting had been wanted to contribute to this decoration, sculpture was also wanted, and it is as strange and as particularly ugly. In the centre of an octagonal counter that occupies the middle of the room and on a high block of the same shape is placed the sculptural motif due to M. Alfred Janniot. Many things can be seen and it is impossible to distinguish many others, so bizarre is the execution. A naked woman represents "the Vine" and carries a basket containing grapes. This woman is placed in the middle of a pile of folds similar to those of a pile of blankets (they are undoubtedly waves), two upright horses' heads, carrot-coloured and faded with white, with enormous black and white eyes, a woman crushed under things that can only be distinguished by the arm on a black ox's head that is further below. The whole is polychrome, the main subject, the standing woman, has legs affected by "elephantiasis" which gives humans elephant legs. One cannot conceive of such an ugly material, tinted in such a horrible way, and a subject treated in such a fanciful way. We urge the author to go and listen to the reflections of visitors who look at his strange production, so that he can be sure of the effect produced by this statue, which the catalogue describes as "a pagan idol of this temple".
The general tone of this room is pale yellow with grey parts, the white sculpted ornaments are pretty, they are long strips of pine bark rising up the edges of the cut sides of the stairs and a large motif with pine cones and foliage forming the ornament of the large ceiling.
In short, it is regrettable to see one of the Plumet towers decorated in this way inside; fortunately the others have been better treated.
The South-East Tower, dedicated to the Ile-de-France, is white with a lot of dark ultramarine blue.
The cut-aways containing the staircases, lifts and lifts are of a very rich dark blue tone marked by a gold line and with golden highlights.
The four groups of three doors, each with two leaves, are painted dark blue. In contrast to the other large halls in the towers, there is an intermediate floor a few metres above the ground floor, pierced in the middle and surrounded by a grid, the ceiling above the ground floor is white with a wreath pattern and round foliage motifs with bronzed fruit in a dark blue outline. Above the four groups of doors, a large basket in the same style with bronzed fruit and baskets and a blue border completes the ensemble. The lower edge of the floor opening is marked by a line of light bulbs. The upper ceiling, 16 metres above the ground, is decorated with a large octagonal pattern formed by a double border of fruit and leaves in the same tone as the background, but surrounded by a dark blue line.
We thought it would be interesting to push or rather to climb to the "Restaurant de Paris" situated at the top of this Tower and we were very well received by M. Antoine, the young owner of the Restaurant du Vieux-Colombier and the Cabaret de la Pomme-de-Pin, at the Foire Saint-Germain. M. Antoine honours us with his new establishment decorated and installed by M. Laprade, the distinguished architect who built the "Studium" Pavilion of the Magasins du Louvre at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. We chose a rather late hour to make this visit, the dance hall is in full swing, the dances follow one another and we find there a society of families rather than people who have come to party. It's absolutely charming. The architect has done something very nice. Let's not forget that we are at the height of the glazed balconies, lined with outdoor planters that we see in the photograph. The room is vast, surrounded by bay windows, real bow-windows, its ceiling pierced in the middle by a large opening lined with grills. The second floor of the restaurant, located above, is surrounded by terraces with pergolas. The first room is painted entirely in dark blue, as are my ceiling and the eight square pilasters. These pilasters are surrounded at the top by a light green shelf that breaks the line and by a square light pattern with lower faces at forty-five degrees; these opaque light patterns speckled with currant patches are delightful. The edges of the pilasters are enriched with round silver rods. The lower line of the ceiling opening is lined with electric bulbs that disappear under petals of tinted glass to form large luminous flowers or under clumps of artificial wisteria. The galleries surrounding the hall are also illuminated by three groups of flowers hanging from the ceiling, made of a light bulb with thin petals of tinted glass. At each corner of the hall the three doors leading to the lifts are white and their windows are lined externally with pale blue silk (hussar blue) which contrasts with the ultramarine tone of the hall and the ceiling. On one side, three high counters with rounded corners in a silver tone complete the decoration. On the upper floor, the low ceiling is connected to the walls of the room by rounded corners, giving eight sides with four smaller ones. The ceiling is pierced in the centre by a square opening illuminated during the day by the coloured stained glass sides of a very low skylight; this opening is, however, masked by a large square light pattern formed by lines of large, long pink flowers made from a bulb reopened with several rows of pink glass petals. The walls and ceiling of this room are of a pale pink colour, contrasting happily with the overseas tone of the first floor, and these walls are lined on the long sides with two long luminous patterns of opaque glass speckled with currant-coloured plates. The balcony is curved to allow the easy housing of a frame, flowered with plants lining long planters. The owner, M. Antoine, also wants to show us another floor located under the dance hall, a floor marked on the photograph by a row of bays, it is occupied by the kitchen, the commissary, the rooms for the provisions, the cold room, the cellars, the office of the Director, etc. We note that Mr. Laprade, the architect, has created an important decorative ensemble with a completely modern layout. We can understand the success of this restaurant, which is announced from afar by the musical tunes of powerful speakers.
We then move on to the "Champagne-Alsace Tower", whose interior decoration is not yet complete, and finally to the fourth tower, that of Burgundy and Franche-Comté. The main hall also has a few too many advertisements, but much less than the one in the Bordeaux Tower. As it is
As it is the "Burgundy Tower", we are surprised that only wines from Anjou and Touraine are sold on a large central mahogany counter; those from Burgundy have, no doubt, been transported to the cellars of the "Burgundy Restaurant", situated above. We can't visit it because it's late, and it's better to go there at dinner time, but that's for another time. We are not guided by greed, but by the desire to introduce our readers to another type of restaurant.
For today we can only point out to the architects the interesting and beautiful installation of the "Restaurant de Paris", which was cited as an example of a modern restaurant. Our compliments to the architect Laprade.
For these four towers, we should also mention the stained glass windows of the large bays, which are of a marvellous design and very rich execution. While those of the Bordeaux Pavilion have been converted into signs, the others retain a completely decorative composition. Those of the "Tour de Champagne et d'Alsace" are even richer, they are of a peacock blue colour with large and wide green rays originating in ornaments formed of scales in dark purple or bright tones, they are signed : Labouret.