This talk will adopt the premise that architectural training as it was conceived in France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was aimed more directly at producing drawings than buildings. The relatively limited existing scholarship on architectural drawings in a pedagogical context has been dominated, however, almost exclusively by concern for the subjects assigned—which is to say the final, built result. This approach has failed to address the question of the drawings as objects rather than illustrations and more particularly their status as the product of a complex institutional apparatus that taught and rewarded a codified system of architectural representation. This talk considers not only the questions of why and how a French Beaux-Arts model became dominant in dialogue with shifts in institutional structures but also the story of its discontents when alternate means of representation that the Beaux-Arts system had suppressed were revived and explored by those outside the academic establishment.
Architects trained with Legeay and deeply influenced by Piranesi, legitimated a separation between the representation and the actual project itself and taught students to draw ‘des tableaux d’architecture’. Students of the Académie de France à Rome in particular began to make use of expressive techniques that were until then considered exclusively the domain of the pictorial or plastic arts. Variations in ornamentation or distribution were conveyed through affective juxtapositions of color and daring application of pigment that held little to no relationship with the realities of the projected building. The proximity between architects and painters in the second half of the eighteenth century became institutionalized after the Revolution at the École des Beaux-Arts, where architects were trained in the same building as painters, sculptors, and engravers and where draftsmen across media shared life and perspective drawing classes.
During the first years of the nineteenth century, and particularly during the Napoleonic Empire, a reaction against such dramatic pictorial effects encouraged students to restrain their chromatic palette, to refine their lines and to lay stress on the precision with which they represented ornaments and sculpture. Monochromes were prized, resulting in a new value placed on mastering shading and wash, which was to become one of the defining characteristics of the Beaux-Arts style. Over the course of the century wash would provide an arena for experimenting with conventional uses of color and the production of abstract forms that tread carefully between providing a satisfying degree of detail without distracting the viewer or compromising a harmonious whole. In the ateliers of Vaudoyer, Percier and Lebas, students were taught how to animate the surroundings (notably natural elements, such as water, lawns, isolated trees, etc.) in order to produce the most affective architectural renderings of the century. While their most dominant features had little to do with the structures depicted they would emerge as the key models of academic architectural training at the end of the nineteenth century throughout Europe and the United States.