Jacques Greber, Urbaniste et Architecte

By Gordon, David; Gournay, Isabelle | Urban History Review, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Jacques Greber, Urbaniste et Architecte


Gordon, David, Gournay, Isabelle, Urban History Review


Jacques Greber (1882-1962) was born into an artistic family in Paris, and admitted in architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1901. [1] He was a fine student, winning several prizes during the arduous training at the Ecole. On his graduation in 1909, he missed the Rome Prize for architecture, which changed the direction of his career. Instead of spending years in Rome studying classical architecture, he left for the United States, where American architects who had trained at the Ecole immediately engaged his talents to design jardins a la francaise for the large houses they built in New England.

Greber quickly developed a reputation as a landscape architect and collaborated with Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia on mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, and Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Greber's work with Trumbauer helped him win his first major commissions in urban design, the 1917 Fairmount Parkway in Philadelphia (figure 1), a diagonal avenue cut through William Penn's 1682 grid plan from the Art Museum to City Hall. [2] While completing the parkway, Greber was commissioned by the French government to make a systematic study of American construction practice. Characteristically, he expanded the study to include architecture, housing, landscape architecture, and urban design. It became his influential book L'Architecture aux Etats --Unis, [3] which is the subject of Professor Isabelle Gournay's paper in this issue.

Greber returned to France in 1919. The book and his winning plan for the Paris fortifications secured his reputation as one of France's leading urban designers. He was appointed to the faculty of the Institute of Urbanism in Paris, and took a leading role in the reconstruction and expansion of French cities between the wars. Greber prepared plans for Lille (1923), Belfort (1925), Marseilles (1930-7), Abbeville (1932), and Rouen (1940), among many others. He designed two Parisian garden suburbs, numerous gardens and parks, and helped plan the 1937 World's Fair, which is the subject of Dr. Daniel Udovicki-Selb's paper. Greber also maintained his North American connections as consultant to Philadelphia and to the 1939 New York World's Fair, and lecturer at the Universite de Montreal, [4] At this time, he prepared the plan for a Montreal garden suburb, which is the subject of Dr. Leon Ploegaert's paper.

As a landscape architect, Greber designed formal gardens across Europe, won competitions for public parks, and designed six American war cemeteries in France, including those for Bellau Woods and the Argonne. During the 1920s, his architecture changed from his Beaux-Arts training, seen in the Rodin Museum (1926-9, with Paul Cret), [5] to a classically proportioned Modern style, most notably in the Ecole de plein air at Roubaix, 1926 (figure 2) and the Esso Building at La Defense (1962, with his son, Pierre Greber). [6] Greber's multidisciplinary expertise was recognized by election as an officer of the Legion of Honour and presidency of the French societies for planning and landscape architecture during his career.

In the post--World War II period, Greber's most prominent commission was the plan for Canada's capital (figure 3), described by David Gordon's article. However, he also completed plans for the reconstruction of Rouen, Ville de Quebec (with Edouard Fiset), and the Montreal region, which is the subject of Jose M'Bala's paper.

When Jacques Greber died in 1962, La Vie Urbaine mourned him as "le plus grand des urbanistes francais." [7] Yet within two decades he was practically forgotten in France, despite his prodigious output as an architect, planner, landscape architect, and educator over a career spanning a half-century. …

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