Palais de la Découverte, Technical Monumentality and Ovoid Forms

Palais de la Découverte
Paul Nelson, Oscar Nitzchke, Frantz Jourdain
Paris, France
48° 51′ 58,18″ N, 2° 18′ 45,19″ E

During the 1937 Paris Universal Exhibition, three adopted French architects proposed a highly technical building, the Palais de la Découverte (Palace of Discovery), far removed from the new theories of modern architecture.

Two Architects situated between structural classicism and avant-gardism

Paul Nelson (1895-1979) followed the same architectural education as Oscar Nitzchke (1900-1991). They studied fine arts in Paris, then following the advice of Le Corbusier entered the workshop of the Palais de bois, directed by Auguste Perret. Later the two architects emancipated themselves from Perret’s teachings. Paul Nelson, very inspired by the precepts of Buckminster Fuller, gradually abandoned orthogonal rigor and moved towards another form of standardization. The project of the suspended house (1936-1938) made up of a transparent metal envelope wanted in this sense to show the advantages of the metal construction and the steel frame. Thereafter Nitzchke and Nelson will have the same approach to raise the architecture of international style between France and the United States.
In 1937 the two architects who had joined forces with Frantz Jourdain (1847-1935) unveiled the project of the Palais de la Découverte. The group is made up of French architects by adoption and are nourished by a diverse and evolving architectural culture. The designed project is thus at the antipodes of their modern teaching which they followed with Perret and Le Corbusier. The project of the competition for the Palais de la Découverte at the Grand Palais was dedicated to the 1937 Paris Universal Exhibition.

A Constructivist Megastructure

The building was supposed to be a place of education and knowledge related to the sciences, for that the architects thought of a technical monumentality inspired by the megastructures of the “inventor” Buckminster Fuller. They take a model of constructivist architecture by arranging the building around a central mast. A concrete ring is suspended by tie rods from an inclined ovoid concrete shell. These unusual ovoid forms will be a great subject of experimentation in Paul Nelson’s career. The Palais de la découverte will not be retained but the advanced ideas and the technical and architectural audacity will hold the attention. The group of architects was commissioned to produce a study for a major science museum in the city, using the drawings produced for the competition, and the idea of a stretched ovoid form supporting the roof. The spaces in the exterior envelope were dedicated to the various exhibition needs, almost like a maze. The project will remain unrealised, but is graphically and technically far ahead of its time, taking advantage of the different backgrounds of the architects and their respective international influences.

Paul Nelson Oscar Nitzchke Frantz Jourdain Palais de la Découverte Paris
Plan at Ground Level
Paul Nelson Oscar Nitzchke Frantz Jourdain Palais de la Découverte Paris
Plan of upper level and exhibits
Paul Nelson Oscar Nitzchke Frantz Jourdain Palais de la Découverte Paris
Longitudinal Section

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