by Jean Paul Carlhian and Margot M. Ellis. Rizzoli, September 2014. 252 p. ill. ISBN 9780847843404 (cl.), $85.00.
Reviewed January 2015
Viveca Pattison Robichaud, Special Collections Librarian, Architecture Library & Institute for Latino Studies, Hesburgh Libraries, University of Notre Dame, firstname.lastname@example.org
Americans in Paris is a large and well-illustrated study of the influence that the École des Beaux-Arts education had on a century of American architects. Armed with their classical French training, these architects returned to the United States and built monumental public buildings that a growing republic with aspirations of greatness desperately needed: its capital's National Mall and monuments and its greatest cities' courthouses, libraries, and museums.
This volume aims to examine and assess these architects' education at the École and its lasting influence, rather than provide an exhaustive study of their works. Carlhain, a French-born and École-trained architect who practiced in America for over fifty years, is, in the words of Philip Johnson, "the only living soul" qualified to comment on this architecture and provides the reader with a thorough picture of how the École education functioned (Introduction, p. 11).
Americans in Paris is broadly divided into two parts: the first covers the architects as students at the École and the second studies their practice after graduation. The thorough description of the curriculum pays particular focus on the choice of atelier, where all design education and instruction took place, as well as the entrance competition, where only the forty best students would be awarded placement in the École. The benefits gained through admittance are clearly demonstrated, and the authors do a comprehensive job of describing this unique education.
Over 500 Americans were accepted as students to the École and their names are catalogued, both alphabetically and chronologically, in the appendix. Also included in the appendix are listings of American students who gained entrance through winning the Paris Prize as well as those students, 144 to be precise, who were awarded a diploma. Throughout this first part, individual assignments are discussed and numerous works from these American students are showcased, including designs from lesser-known graduates.
The second half of the volume is devoted to the more famous graduates and their firms, including Richard Morris Hunt, John Russell Pope, and McKim, Mead and White, and it highlights key projects and buildings by these architects (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Boston Public Library). The authors make it clear in their discussion of each building or competition that although the architects left the École, its curriculum never left them. Each section of the book is richly illustrated, with plans, sections, elevations, and, when available, photographs of the built works.
The journey for these students to Paris was a long one, but this volume illustrates the immense payoff that the École had on many of their careers. It would make a tremendous addition to any art, architecture, or architectural history collection.