Frank Gehry Architect, Cinémathèque Française, Paris, France.

PARIS: For the better part of a decade, this city’s only Frank Gehry building has been standing abandoned, a sad monument to a failed American dream.It was planned as a new headquarters for the American Center of Paris, which was founded in 1931 and had long drawn crowds to its rambling Left Bank home as a place to discover American culture and to learn English.

But the dream of a dazzling image went sour. The new center opened in June 1994 – and closed just 19 months later.

Bad planning was one culprit. The new center absorbed almost all the £21 million raised by the sale of the old center on the Boulevard Raspail, leaving little to cover its running costs. With a minimal endowment, dwindling private donations and no U.S. government support, the organization was forced to put Gehry’s neo-Classical-style and Cubist creation up for sale.

Now, thanks to the French government, the building has begun a new life, this time as the headquarters of the Cinémathèque Française, the legendary film center that was the cradle of the New Wave movies of the 1950s and ’60s. To make this happen, the government chipped in about £11 million for the building and spent £20 million on adapting its interior.

Extensive alteration was necessary. Originally designed around exhibition spaces, artists’ studios and a state-of-the-art theater, it now has to accommodate four new movie theaters of different sizes and France’s film library. But the original atrium has survived, and two floors are still reserved for exhibitions, while its distinct exterior remains unchanged.

What makes this transformation unusual is that it was not carried out by Gehry, although he did participate in the selection of Dominique Brard of l’Atelier de l’île as the project’s architect. “It’s unique for someone else to rework a contemporary building designed by a living architect,” Brard told Libération, the Paris daily. “Above all, Gehry!”

Article by Alan Riding, International Herald Tribune.

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