La Maison de la Publicité (The House of Advertising) is a project designed by Oscar Nitzchke in 1936. The building, a kind of media machine, presents a façade with a fine metallic structure, covered with changing advertisements, long before the first examples of high-tech architecture.
A European designer in the United States
Oscar Nitzchke (1900-1991) was a German architect who was introduced to architecture in Switzerland before completing his training in Paris in 1920. After his first two years at the Beaux-Arts (Fine Art studies) he entered Le Corbusier’s studio and began his career as an architect. Later, he explored the potentialities of Perret’s rationalist constructive logic, breaking with many currents of the time. In 1936, he proposed the project of La Maison de la Publicité in Paris to a private client, a project that was not completed. Oscar Nitzchke also worked with Paul Nelson and Frantz-Philippe Jourdain on another unrealised project, the Palais de la Découverte, whose organic forms and roofs suspended from cables inaugurated a repertoire far removed from Perret’s orthogonality.
Before the Second World War, he emigrated to the United States to work at the age of 38 with Harrison & Abromovitz in New York. He was one of the passers of the ideas of modern European architecture to the United States. It is in his third country of adoption that he finally asserted himself as an architect capable of designing ambitious and recognized projects.
Between 1949 and 1953, Nitzchke realized for Harrison and Max Abramovitz what remains his major work. He designed all the construction elements, the hall and the facade of the Alcoa headquarters in Pittsburgh. A project hailed by Marcel Lods as the first classic of metal architecture. For this thirty-story skyscraper, he broke away from the rigid standards of American curtain walls to exploit the plasticity of deep drawn aluminum and establish a clever play of light and shadow. He is also best known for his work for Wallace K. Harrison designing the United Nations headquarters in New York and the Los Angeles Opera House.
La Maison de la Publicité, the media machine
After his retirement at the age of 70, he returned to France, where exhibitions in the 80s allowed to discover the drawings of the architect’s uncompleted projects. La Maison de la Publicité project is one of them. Martial, an advertiser and owner of a plot of land on the Champs-Elysées, wanted the architect’s help in designing a building that would showcase the visual qualities of advertising. Oscar Nitzchke imagined a building that is a real media machine, forty years before the Centre Georges-Pompidou and the proposals of the high-tech architects of the 1980s. He designed a metal structure forming a grid on the facade, this second skin becomes a support for the advertising graphic material that is constantly renewed. Advertising panels, slogans, logos, neon lights form a collage that constantly updates the exterior. The night view below is a collage informing about the nocturnal transformation of the building and the visual dynamism that results from the assembly of luminous signs. The daytime billboard is transformed into a luminous newspaper at night, showing a fascination for the representation of media by architecture.
The interior consists of a conference room, offices for advertising agencies and a reception hall, as well as a roof terrace suitable for events.
In the end, the project will not see the light of day and will remain as a drawing, but in a way Nitzchke is drawing a founding project for a radically new approach to the relationship between visual communication and architecture.