The Art of Architecture : A history of exhibitions

by Richard Cameron

Join us for the opening reception of 'Art of Architecture' - A Celebration of the Traditional Approach to Architecture. 


March 2-April 7;  Opening: March 2, 6-9PM

Eleventh Street Arts  - 46-06 11th St (at 46th Ave), Long Island City, NY 11101


Artists & Architects Included: 
Atelier & Co. | Steve Bass | Anthony Baus | Patrick Connors | Niki Covington | Andrew Dodson | Ferguson and Shamamian Architects | Fairfax and Sammons Architects | David Genther | Michael G Imber Architects | Peter Pennoyer Architects | Corey Strange | Abigail Tulis | Charlotte Worthy Architects | and more...

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   Section Rendering of the portico of a villa by Irina Shumitskaya, Atelier & Co.  Irina is a graduate of the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg. The Repin is, as far as we know, the only school in the world to have maintained a continuous practice of teaching the art of academic architectural drawing.

Section Rendering of the portico of a villa by Irina Shumitskaya, Atelier & Co. Irina is a graduate of the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg. The Repin is, as far as we know, the only school in the world to have maintained a continuous practice of teaching the art of academic architectural drawing.

Atelier & Co. is dedicated to continuing the practice of hand drawing and rendering in architectural design. Since the Renaissance, architects were trained first and foremost as painters and sculptors. The art of architectural drawing grew out of the artistic practice of the studios of the 15th and 16th centuries. Though architectural practice evolved into an independent profession, the training of architects continued to emphasize painting and drafting in the schools.

This tradition - which reached its apex in the late nineteenth century at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris - was carried into the 20th century by graduates of the École in the United States. With the arrival of the European modernists at the start of the second World War the teaching and practice of academic architectural painting declined until it had all but disappeared by the 1970’s.

Since that time a number of key exhibitions and publications helped generate a revival of interest in the subject. Many of us who have carried this on today, got our inspiration from these shows and books. Included here are some highlights: 

1.     The Museum of Modern Art is not the first place you would think of crediting with the revival of interest in the art of traditional architectural painting. But from October 29 1975-January 4, 1976 MoMA put on a small but remarkably influential show entitled ‘The Architecture of the École des Beaux Arts’. Curated by Arthur Drexler, it introduced to the public and to many in the architecture world the amazing achievements of the architects­ –French and American­–who had been trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.


2.     I was too young to see the MoMA show (anyone who did, please write in and leave us your impressions in the comments section) but in 1983 the IBM Gallery in New York put on the first of several important shows organized by the École de Beaux-Arts in Paris of the work of the Grand Prix laureates at the Villa Medici in Rome. A group of us drove down from Toronto to see it. It was the most inspiring and influential exhibition I saw during my time as an architecture student.


3.     This was followed by another exhibition in 1986. Drawings made of the major archeological sites in Rome and their restorations were equally astonishing and inspiring, giving me a lifelong passion for the antiquities of Rome and the great work done throughout the nineteenth and early 20th by the best architects of the École.


4.     In 1986 Leon Krier published an edition of the Archives d’Architecture Moderne (AAM) on the work of John Blatteau. This was the first time I had seen the work of a contemporary architect consciously reviving the techniques of watercolor wash rendering practiced by the École. When I was a graduate student at Princeton I wrote to John and had the privilege of working for him in his office. John had fallen in love with the École while he was a student at Penn and had taught himself the rendering techniques form some of the key books. As far as we can find out there is no online record of this publication nor does it seem to be available from any of the book dealers. (If anyone knows of a source for this book please let us know!)


5.     Classical America made it a central part of their mission to publish important books from the École. First republished in a Norton edition with an introduction by John Blatteau and Christiane Sears, this student edition of the volumes published by Hector D’Espouy of the Grand Prix drawings from the École is an indispensable and affordable introduction to the greatest drawings by the Prix de Rome winners.


6.     Of the many great books that were published on the École drawings, this is one of our favorites! The quality of the reproductions is very high. It shows a range of renderings in full color from large scale details to building complexes in plan, elevation and section, and covers much of the history of the École. It is beautifully hardbound (unlike the exhibition catalogues whose bindings tend to come apart over time).


7.     One of the most recent books on the subject is Jean Paul Carlihan and Margot Ellis’s great book on the many Americans who went to the École at the end of the nineteenth century and through the middle of the twentieth. The book has superb illustrations of the work of the American students-from sketch problems through finely finished architectural wash renderings. The tradition of attending the École that began with Richard Morris Hunt and H.H. Richardson helped transform American architects into artists of international stature–and American architecture went from a parochial eclecticism to the splendor of the White City when cities large and small across the country were given their most beautiful buildings.