Theo van Doesburg
Het Bouwbedrijf: Vol. 6, № 6
March 1929, pgs. 116-122
The mass, the opposition of the colors, the play of light give depth to certain surfaces, instill infinite values in all modulations of I don’t know what secret architecture, which is the gift of genius.
— H.A.C., in Les demières Nouvelles
The structure on the Place Kléber in Strasbourg, named “Aubette” is the remnant of a large but straggling monastic complex, dating from the thirteenth century; most of the buildings were demolished in the sixteenth century (1552). The remaining ones were adapted to military use. In 1764, in connection with the construction of new highways, the French architect Blondel was commissioned to build a structure on the Place Kléber which could serve as a model for the style of that time. Blondel, nicknamed “The Straightener,” encompassed the entire straggling complex in the enormous façade, which even now occupies nearly the full Northern side of the Place Kléber. This complex was named “Obet,” later “Aubette.” For nearly a century the building was used for military purposes, until in 1845 a café (Café Cade) was established there, to which in 1867 a concert hail was added, which served for quite a long time as a music school. In 1869 the Aubette was acquired by the city, which turned it partly into a museum in which paintings by famous masters were housed. A year later it was burned by the Germans, not a single artwork being saved. Only Blondel’s façade survived.
In 1911 the Place Kléber was to undergo an important renovation, in which no less than 46 architects would take part. However, the plans, now kept in the city archives, were never executed and thus the Aubette remained an undistinguished, neglected building, disgracing the square rather than enhancing it.
Just as the Aubette in Strasbourg was transformed in the course of time in accordance with the circumstances and the needs of the time, so the building presently has had to conform to contemporary needs. The Aubette, and primarily the right wing, has changed into an amusement center. In 1921 the developers Horn and Heitz Brothers leased the building from the city for a period of ninety years. The city stipulated, however, that no essential changes could be made in the façade, this being a Monument historique. Except for the marquee over the terrace, 53 m in length, which links the halls looking out on the square, and for the modern electric light sign on the façade, nothing on the exterior was changed. Nevertheless, the tall plate glass panes of the Five O’clock and the adjoining cafés, which are mounted in thin iron frames, give the façade a modern look. Originally, I had wanted the neon sign to run the length of the entire façade, but the city government, which is even now in litigation with the developers because the strictly horizontal, dominating marquee over the terrace does not correspond to the style of the eighteenth century, refused Its permission.
The developers — one of them, Mr. Paul Horn, is himself an architect — originally did not know what to do with the many halls. The projects designed during the first five years with the assistance of many architects-decorators were not executed. Among these there were all kinds of “modern” and “classic” style variations, with Biedermeier prevailing. On paper, the Aubette traversed all styles, from Empire to Jugendstil, and as they say, the realization was mainly prevented by the high costs and by the monetary instability of that time. Mr. Paul Horn had seen to it that the foundations were reinforced and had combined many smaller rooms into a few large ones. In short, the rough work had already been prepared when I got involved with the Aubette in September 1926. The Horn brothers invited me to come to Strasbourg and, encouraged by the possibility to realize my ideas about interior design on a grand scale and without restrictions, I accepted the commission to transform the principal halls in a modern sense, architecturally as well as aesthetically.
The first task was the design of new floor plans in accordance with the location and purpose of the various halls. These designs were approved by the city as well as by the developers without important changes. Here I operated in the most functional manner, but how could one possibly define a priori the whole life and activities in such a building before learning how they actually develop. The floor plans undeniably bore the mark of metropolitan activities, while I avoided defining function and purpose too strictly.
Theo van Doesburg inside Aubette
Sophie Tauber-Arp inside Aubette
Jean Arp inside Aubette
I set myself the task of creating a galeria, aiming at connections between the spaces, which would allow the public to come and go, without the necessity of remaining in any one of the halls for a long time. The existing arcade, which separates the right wing from the left, connecting the main entrance at the square with one of the main streets in the center, facilitated this task. This arcade gives entrance to the spaces on the ground floor: cafés, restaurants, the Five O’clock (with decorations by Mrs. Täuber-Arp), pastry shop, bar, and service quarters with elevator.
Also to the stairwell, leading to the Caveau-Dancing and the upper floors. In order to assist the public in finding their bearings I placed an information chart at the main entrance of the arcade. Every section bears a number of a definite shape and color, while this same sign is clearly visible at the entrance to each room.
Located on the ground floor are the arcade, café-brasserie, café-restaurant, tearoom, the Aubette bar and a service area. In the basement are the telephone booths, toilets, coat rooms, the American bar and the Cabaret-Dance hall, painted by Hans Arp. On the mezzanine are located: toilets, coat rooms and a billiards room. On the first floor above ground level are the Cinéma-Dancing-Cabaret,a small and a large function room, and a service area. On the level above that are located the apartments of the director and the permanent staff; also the store rooms for provisions. In the adjoining rooms are the offices, while the enormous kitchens and the cooling installations are on the mezzanine.
The principal materials used for the interiors, in accordance with modern requirements, are: concrete, iron, plate glass, aluminum, nickel, hard caoutchouc (used for the first time by me for stair banisters and bars on doors), terrazzo, rabitz, linoleum, parquet, tiles, duralumin, lincrusta, ripolin, frosted glass, rubber, leather, enamel, silver leaf etc, I avoided the use of wood as much as possible: the doors are all executed in iron and plate glass without subdivisions. The windows and doors giving onto the arcade were extended up to the ceiling, making for maximal light, transparency and orderliness. Hereby the annoying space between ceiling and window and between ceiling and door was eliminated. Continue reading