Born in Mauzun (Puy-de-Dôme) on 23 September 1840, Foulhoux studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1862 to 1870 and subsequently became an Architect-Inspector with the Compagnie des Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (PLM), one of the most important private railway companies in France.
In 1874 he left for Saïgon, where in the following year he succeeded Paulin Vial as Director of Civic Buildings. Then in 1879, following the establishment of the first civil regime in Cochinchina under Governor Charles Le Myre de Vilers, Foulhoux was appointed Architect-in-Chief, permitting him to focus exclusively on what he did best – designing civic buildings for the colony.
Foulhoux’s final work, the Hôtel des postes or Central Post Office, is widely regarded as his greatest, though unfortunately many local tour guides quote the Wikipedia article which erroneously credits the building to Gustave Eiffel. Built between 1886 and 1891 on the site of the former headquarters of the Commandant des troupes, it was constructed around a prefabricated cast iron frame, permitting the creation of a unique vaulted ceiling with wrought iron beams and columns reminiscent of industrial architecture.
5 The Hôtel des postes (1891)
It was later reported that Foulhoux’s intention was to capture the essence of human scientific and technical advancement, a theme which is continued on the Neo-Baroque façade with its window plaques bearing the names of leading scientists and philosophers like Descartes, Morse, Ampere, Volta, Ohm and Faraday. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that, a full 30 years before the inception of Hebrard’s Indochinois fusion-style architecture, the design also incorporates roof ridge decoration inspired by Khmer art. A statue of the Greek messenger goddess Iris once stood in the centre of the main lobby, but this was removed in the 1950s to create more space.
On 15 September 1891, the journal Architecte constructeur: Revue du monde architectural et artistique of 15 September 1891 commented: “The inauguration the new Saigon Post Office, which was held on July 14, had been postponed until the return of the Governor General. This monument, adorned with a most artistic façade, is particularly well laid out and well equipped for the different services to which it is intended; it does the greatest honour to the skill and talent of the distinguished Chief Architect of the Colony, M. Foulhoux."