Volume 40, Issue 6 June 2005
The Farnady Files
In My Next Life, I’ll Take Paris
by Dez Farnady
When my second chance comes in the next life, I know what I plan on doing. I want to come back to the glass business. But not here in the good old U.S. of A; no, I want to come back as a glass man in Paris.
I just returned from a week in Paris, and while I have been there several times in the past, this was my first visit in several decades. The purpose of the trip was a sightseeing vacation. Since my last visit, my awareness of the glass in my surroundings has changed a great deal, so my perspective of Paris was not the same as it had been.
The City of Lights
Paris is an ancient city of old houses, monuments, churches and all sorts of antique and architectural treasures. This Paris is surrounded on the outskirts by an industrial world capital that is just as ugly as all the rest of them. The high-rise curtainwall office buildings, industrial parks and tenement apartments are all outside what is actually called the Boulevard Peripherique that surrounds the older portion of the city. A week is a short time in a city such as this, so we never went outside the Peripherique. We saw the sights using public transport and our feet— remember those?—they come without wheels, as permanent attachments with very limited mileage capacity. But we pushed them to the limit anyway.
Starting with the 11th century, we looked at 30-foot diameter rose windows of the Notre Dame Cathedral. They look like two great blue flowers in bloom. We then proceeded across the street to a much newer place—Sainte-Chapelle was only built in the 13th century. It also has a rose window that’s not as large, but its “little” leaded glass sidelites, some of them original, go up 50 feet on either side of the rose and all around the chapel.
This was only a start.
A few blocks away on the right bank of the Seine is the Grand Palais, built more than 100 years ago. It has a couple of acres of glass roof worthy of comparison with the Grand Slam Canyon skylight, built by Super Sky not nearly so many years ago, that covers the Circus-Circus roller coaster in Las Vegas. If you go across the Seine to the Impressionist Museum called the D’Orsay, you’ll find a skylight big enough to cover the railroad station that used to be there until the French figured out they had more art than trains.
Back on the other side of the river is the greatest art museum in the world, the Grand Louvre. You start in the courtyard with the 105-foot wide by 69-foot tall glass pyramid designed by architect I.M Pei sitting over the main lobby of the underground gallery entrance. Inside, there are windows, glass doors, skylights and glass cabinets galore.
If you wish to see more modern glass, the Pompidou Center will provide an overwhelming experience with an exterior skin of plumbing outside its glass walls. This architectural wonder, built in 1977, is already in more need of repairs than the 1,000-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral. Its five-story exterior escalators going up through an all bent-glass tube probably cost enough to make a couple of glass bending companies’ bottom line look like it was Christmas.
In my second life here I will have plenty of glass work opportunities. There are the glass canopies you see everywhere above apartment houses and hotel entrances. The heavy glass doors with patch hardware decorate every store from the high-rent district of the fashion houses on the Champs Elysee to the bistros and cafes of the Latin Quarter and the Montmartre. Laminated panels with patch hardware are used for security in the neighborhoods where the exterior windows are too close to street level.
There are skylights of all types and sizes everywhere. And in a country where you get your first cell phone when you can first say “Mama,” they still have public phone booths on the streets and, believe it or not, they are all made of glass. Even the guard stands in front of public buildings are not the historic outhouse looking little shacks but glass boxes that look more like an all glass shower enclosure than a guard shelter.
There is enough glass here for several lifetimes. And if I should ever run out of the high-priced work, I can make a fortune for the next thousand years just doing hack-outs on the literally millions of ancient putty glazed wood sash windows everywhere.
Dez Farnady serves as general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, Calif. His column appears monthly.
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