LA “CASA PRIMAVERA”: The “Art Deco” and its influence on the constructions of Caracas at the beginning of the last century.
Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is in a beautiful valley surrounded by the mountain El Ávila, which allows it to have a privileged climate and geography.
Venezuelan oil exploitation in the first decades of the last century produced a rapid growth of this capital, to receive the peasants and inhabitants of the interior of the country; and, also, the professionals, employees and managers of the companies that would accompany such activity.
The above, together with the new economic reality, generated that urban planning was foreseen and executed with intensity, having participated for it, brilliant Venezuelan architects and engineers, recent graduates of the best national universities or the world, who were accompanied, in addition, by important builders who arrived as immigrants after the two world wars.
This happened in parallel to the effort to disseminate the new technological contributions, constructive and artistic, which prevailed in European metropolises, such as, Paris, where, in the first decades of the last century, important International Fairs were organized to promote the exchange of knowledge and practices and favor the commercial flow.
In 1925, in the City of Light, the “International Exhibition on Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts” was held in the “Grand Palais”, in which, each invited nation, presented a characteristic pavilion, and, where, shone above the rest, one of those presented by France, called “Primavera Pavilion” , designed by Henry Savauge and George Wybbo, circular in plan, with a dome and two huge columns, to represent its dynamic strength.
Now, and considering that the essential requirement to participate in the Paris Fair, was that of new inspiration and a real originality, and the total prohibition of copying previous styles (Roman, Greek, etc.), as had happened so far, the state of the art, finds in it the opportunity to create an amalgam of pragmatic and ornamental avant-garde, through the formation of the so-called “art deco”.
The “Spring Pavilion,” then generated the emergence of its own, unpublished and unique style: the so-called “art-deco”, which was intended to impose itself as an innovative trend and different from everything that had previously existed.
This movement of the interwar period, which represented the development of capitalism in the first decades of the twentieth century, using new, experimental, and revolutionary materials, such as iron, laminate, and tempered glass, combines elements of Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism.
However, one of the most decisive aspects of the formation of this new style was that of the influence of African and Egyptian art, by the discovery of the “Tomb of Tutankhamun” in 1922, which is particularly seen in the work “The Ladies of Avignon” by Picasso, where the fascination with African masks and the Egyptian work of perspective prevails.
The “Spring Pavilion,” thus collects the most characteristic architectural, constructive, and ornamental elements of this new trend, also called by some critics, although few, “domesticated cubism”, due to the elongated use of lines, the presence of geometric figures in the interiors and decorations, and the establishment of curved forms. Everything, together with the desire for luxury, brightness, the use of crystals (as an example we have that the ceilings of the Pavilion were made with “Lalique” glass), its upholstery, lamps, etc.
Meanwhile, in our capital, the greenery and beauty of the territory, inspired the enthusiastic urban planners; in particular, those in charge of the areas surrounding the Hill El Ávila, so that squares and fountains were built, as well as urbanizations for the upper and upper middle classes, and large urban spaces, to decorate the houses that were characterizing the lifestyle of the Caracas people.
Caracas was not exempt from the influence of new trends in art. On the contrary, it was recipiendary in different areas of such innovations. Many of the houses, for example, of Urbanizations such as La Florida, La Alta Florida or La Castellana, were built under the parameters of the new “art deco” movement.
In the Urbanization Las Delicias de La Florida, especially in the one located there “Casa Primavera”, we have a clear testimonio of the use of “art deco”, to also evidence the succession of changes that occurred to the rural environment of the early twentieth century in our country.
Already the name “Casa Primavera”, reflects its remembrance with the “Spring Pavilion” of the “Printemps” (“Spring”) department stores in Paris.
The “Casa Primavera”, built in 1937, located, as we indicated, in the Las Delicias Urbanization of La Florida, which was developed from 1927, is inspired by the forms, stained glass, pavements, gardens, and even furniture of the beginning of the last century. This, with the passage of the years and the deterioration of the area where it is located, was abandoned for a long time, and its destination was that of the possible demolition or its use for the provision of the mechanical service for cars. Nothing more terrible for its possible maintenance into the future!
The “Casa Primavera” for its part, in addition to its name, is inspired by the very shape of the “Spring Pavilion”, where the curved line and the presence of columns prevail. Inside, the stairs in the form of a circle stand out, with a huge chandelier made of beautiful crystals, its very ornate trellises, as well as its windows with fogged designs. All this, together with the geometric shapes of its gardens and internal spaces; and, above all, to the incorporation of pieces of art, decorative and lamps, lead to identify it as an iconic element of Caracas “art deco”.
The “Casa Primavera”, designed for 254 m² per floor, also feels the influence that the “Spring Pavilion” had on its construction, as it still preserves many of its decorative elements, such as the canopy that marks the entrance to the building, luminaires of the time, windows, hardware, and interior architectural elements.
This is how, in 2012, we had the opportunity from PDVSA La Estancia, cultural management entity of the Venezuelan oil company, which I had the privilege of founding and presiding, to promote that it was destined to a cultural center of international character, destined to the dissemination of Venezuelan culture, in the style of the “French Alliance”, the “Instituto Cervantes de España” or the “Istituto della Cultura Italiana”, among others, in order to encourage, as we always did, the public use and social inclusion of heritage assets. To do this, its original housing function had to be modified, through important reinforcement works.
In this sense, we set out above all to avoid its destruction, by requesting, processing diligently and achieving its recognition of modern architectural heritage by the Institute of Cultural Heritage. And immediately, we proceeded to plan, project, and execute its rehabilitation.
Our Project of Integral Rehabilitation of the Casa Primavera, consisted of the complete restoration of the property and all its elements and involved:
1.-Adjustments, restorations, and reconstructions necessary for the structural reinforcement of the property.
2.-The sanitary, electrical, and mechanical installations for new uses of an administrative and cultural, social, and educational nature.
3.- The selection and placement of security systems.
4.- The design of landscaping with planting of new species and design of new gardens.
5.-The valorizations of architectural, decorative, and archaeological elements identified during the rehabilitation process.
6.- The musealization of the witnesses and preserved decorations of the house.
7.- The identification, curatorship, restoration and musealization of the collection of luminaires and pieces of blacksmithing that are part of the artistic values of the property.
8.- The restoration of the pavements of the two areas (social and study) of the House.
9.- The musealization of the route of the different areas of the House, including the garden, storage area and services.
The experience of the rehabilitation of each of the details of the House was unprecedented. The initial archaeology of its land and built spaces allowed to obtain testimonies of the way of life of this, which reflected, that of that social stratum of the city. Now, as an example, I can count, the hard work of restoration of the moldings, canopies, window frames, very characteristic for their material and shape of the “art deco” style, in which their stuccos were left, one by one, fraying, as if it had been the fabric and unweaving of a filigree, until its replacement by others of identical characteristics, and keep the volumes and ornamental reliefs intact.
The House is conformed, as was typical of the indicated modern movement, by blocks of glass, vitrolite, raked concrete, glass and chrome metal. All of which, like the lamps, was duly restored, following step by step the highest rules of knowledge.
However, current technology allowed the best reinforcement of its structure, without altering in any way its characteristic shape, where geometric lines and curves prevail, leaving in the different spaces, witnesses of the work done with its due musealization, to allow the study of the development of a correct work.
The double height of the ceilings was maintained, its wide spiral staircase was given shine, restoring the handrails and metals, as well as the beautiful mural located on the front wall.
As always, we accompany our work, with the Preliminary Diagnosis of the area, to identify the need to put into true social use of the surrounding square (the “Plaza Las Delicias”), which we carried out, of course, with the participation of the communities, who contributed their experiences and opinions on coexistence and life in it. A complete work was carried out to integrate the Plaza and the House, as part of the route of the “Boulevard de Sabana Grande”, icon of Caracas modernity and the rehabilitation work of PDVSA La Estancia.
The revaluation of the “Casa Primavera”, extols the condition of modern heritage of an entire city, Caracas, which, despite its accelerated growth, contains a compendium of buildings, cultural assets, spaces, and complexes, in which the intention of making it a cosmopolitan and living metropolis is reflected.
The modern heritage of Caracas is an important and characteristic element of our city, whose valorization is the only way to avoid its destruction and replacement by improvised buildings and goods, whose construction does not respond to a true urban planning, “inclusive, secure, resilient and sustainable” , as required by the United Nations Sustainable Goals; and, in particular, the one identified with the number 11, but to simple specific economic interests, generally alien to the good life of the collectivity.
It is now up to the authorities, but more than that, to the community of “Las Delicias” and the entire area of “Sabana Grande” and “La Florida”, to promote the maintenance of the “Casa Primavera”, prevent its destruction; and, above all, its destiny towards a use that can distort its patrimonial character, because it is necessary that future generations can find pieces of recent history that transmit elements of their own identity.