In the deathwatch of the 2008 banking crisis, architectonics begin itself aback at the drafting table. Audience got abashed (or went broke), architectonics ante plummeted in the United States and Europe, and adolescent architects in accurate had to acquisition new means to work. And so this accomplished decade has greeted a delight of agenda projects, performances, pop-up designs and “paper architecture,” by practitioners built-in too backward for big budgets.
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These adolescent architects are brood to a abysmal attitude of architectonics aloft architectonics — and appropriate now they can ascertain one of the greatest cardboard architects of a time afore AutoCAD. Jean-Jacques Lequeu, added than two centuries ago, additionally saw his career chaotic by political accouterment and bread-and-butter crises: in his case, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. He, too, had to achieve for a career of beneath scope, cutting out maps and renderings for a acreage anthology appointment and added bureaucracies.
But afterwards hours, abandoned in his little Parisian bolt-hole, Lequeu (1757—1826) birthed on cardboard an architectonics of agrarian grandiosity. Styles collided. Historical epochs attenuated together. European forms circuitous with those of Asia and the Middle East. Classical abstemiousness gave way to sensuous, sometimes animated ornament. Barrio became affected with bodies: sometimes animal ones, sometimes those of behemothic acreage animals.
Nearly 60 of his voluptuous, accurate pen-and-wash assets (out of some 800) accept catholic from the Civic Library of France for “Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect,” a adorable exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum. (The appearance follows a beyond appearance at the Petit Palais in Paris; addition adaptation was apparent aftermost year at the Menil Cartoon Institute in Houston.) These assiduous sheets, arbitrary or perverse, steeped in crumb dejected and bleary rose, are a arresting accomplishment of the afterwards Enlightenment — and yet they accept abundant added to action adolescent architects today than a cartoon lesson. When the architectonics affairs dry up, you apprehend your one accurate applicant is desire.
‘Draftsman’s Tools,’ 1782
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Lequeu was built-in in Rouen, in the arctic of France, into a ancestors of carpenters. As a jailbait he entered into a cartoon school, area he won several prizes, and afterwards abashed to Paris to assignment for a neoclassical architect. In 1780, afterwards his angel died, the unemployed Lequeu began authoritative assets that he absurd could serve as a array of arbiter he alleged “Civil Architecture.” Actuality he shows us a bowl aerial and beeline on, like the plan and acclivity of a building, as able-bodied as his brushes, compasses and straightedges. In the top-right corner, amid added affluent annotations — Lequeu would anon become bedeviled with captions — is a catholic shout-out to Chinese atramentous ink.
In the years afore the Revolution, Lequeu seems to accept had on-and-off application for aloof clients, whether as an artist in his own appropriate or alone as a draftsman. We apperceive he oversaw the autogenous architectonics of this Paris hotel, admitting alike actuality he was address assets that would never be realized. This active room, with its abundant red curtains and behemothic caryatids framing the chimney, was one of several that was ultimately scrapped.
‘Tomb of Isocrates, Athenian Orator,’ 1789
Outside his door, peasants complained about the amount of bread; up the road, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison. But central his little attic abreast the Louvre, Lequeu in 1789 was axis to a wilder and added amusing array of architecture. This eyes of an age-old Greek funerary cairn draws from a description by Plutarch — but he got the adaptation wrong, and somehow accepted that the tomb had a behemothic sheep on top. It’s one of abundant examples of animals actuality subsumed into bean and mortar; later, Lequeu would architectonics a dairy in the appearance of a behemothic applicant cow.
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Lequeu entered the accessible works administering afterwards the Revolution, and, with Louis XVI’s arch carted off, he seems to accept aboveboard accepted the ethics of the new republic. He began designing monuments to martyred revolutionaries and abstruse temples to adequation — and alike as their rational forms (the sphere, the column) embodied Enlightenment virtues, he tricked out their facades and interiors with bouncy ornament. This massive all-around temple, committed to “Supreme Wisdom,” would accept featured a massive representation of the angel on its exoteric and the blast on its ceiling.
For a man who congenital about nothing, Lequeu was awfully anxious with accessible recognition. He larboard to what’s now France’s civic library abundant self-portraits like these: one with his aperture indecorously agape, addition assuming his argot like a accommodating at the Charenton asylum. Are these pictures of an individual, or reductions to a cerebral type? Self-loving, self-loathing? Lequeu’s self-portraits have, aloft all, an obsessional detail that he additionally brought to his amative drawings, area he depicts ballocks with as abundant analytic detail as Corinthian columns and august doorways.
The Morgan’s show, sadly, has alone a little X-rated Lequeu, but it’s not absolutely prudish; you’ll acquisition one burdensome abstraction of a woman’s rear end, her thighs and buttocks agreeably labeled. And there are strange, admirable architectural drawings, like this one of a bow-shaped alcove from which a nude woman leans out to chargeless a songbird. (The drawing’s appellation appears as a affected age-old inscription: it’s French, but accounting with Greek letters.) From one angle she may aloof be a classicized amazon model, but accede additionally the four mascarons at basal that anatomy the aerobatics nude. This is an architectonics in which beef and marble get abashed for one another, and bodies become enwrapped in the congenital environment.
He was hardly the aboriginal cardboard architect: anticipate of Giovanni Battista Piranesi with his black abstract prisons, or Étienne-Louis Boullée with his apparitional absolute libraries. But Lequeu went further into the realms of the abstract than any of his aeon — and area Piranesi and Boullée adopted shadows, Lequeu reveled in ablaze and pleasure. This architectonics for a guingette, a affectionate of burghal bar and cabaret, appearance columns in the appearance of wine barrels and corners like wedges of cheese. To its appropriate you’ll acquisition a anchorage accomplished by a braiding ladder, and two lovers authoritative actual acceptable use of it. Lequeu, in the caption, alike specifies the trunks on either side: Assyrian angel trees, address bake-apple of “an absurd sweetness.”
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Lequeu’s cardboard architectonics additionally apparent a all-around curiosity, and he drew abundant absurd barrio that brought calm European, Middle Eastern and Asian motifs — such as this Mughal-influenced tower, topped by a absurd minaret, whose walls Lequeu pictured slathered with milk and sugar. But, except for an aboriginal cruise to Italy, he about never larboard Paris. Afterwards his retirement from the Civil Service in 1815 he withdrew into his imagination, amalgam temples, building and adulation palaces for a added abiding apple than the one alfresco his tiny studio. Outside, the basic rumbled from republic to authority and aback to monarchy. Central Lequeu had congenital absolute cities, area animalism and argumentation go duke in hand, and architectonics is a alliance adventure amid the academician and the body.
Through May 10 at the Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-685-0008, themorgan.org.
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