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Henri Labrouste: “Structure Brought to Light”

Published on
April 11

As students, one of our central architectural experiences is the library. Butler is a prime symbol of the classical education, with the great writers of Western civilizations carved upon its entablature and the large hall of 209 with neat rows of study tables. As an architect who is known for his libraries, 19th century French architect Henri LaBrouste’s first solo exhibition at the MoMA, “Structure Brought to Light” should resonate with many students at Columbia University.

LaBrouste’s most celebrated works, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and the reading room of  Bibliothèque Nationale de France are his two masterpieces the exhibition centers around. As you walk into the first gallery hallway of the exhibit, you are greeted with a series of Labrouste’s beautifully and meticulously drafted drawings of various studies of classical buildings and some reconstructed works of ruins. Both rendered in watercolor and simple pencil, they show the tremendous draftsmanship of the architect, which must be appreciated to its fullest extent in person.

His two libraries, which have an entire room of the galleries dedicated to them, lead the use of iron construction and are seminal in their incorporation of new technology in architecture. The curator commissioned a series of wooden drafting tables which are laid out in the middle of the room to display various sketches and plans for the two libraries; however, the tables can appear to be a bit gimmicky since the materials are all set in glass cases to sit on top.

Outside of the immensely detailed drawings of LaBrouste, the exhibit also features models of the two libraries that were constructed for the purpose of the show. Although the models provide a nice three dimensional reference of the details of his two buildings, the most exciting parts of the exhibit are LaBrouste’s sketches and documentation that he did leading up to the construction of the libraries

The exhibit concludes with a survey of Labrouste’s legacy, featuring his various pupils and more contemporarily, architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. There is no doubt that LaBrouste’s influence can be seen all throughout the architecture of New York. His use of iron and glass paved the way for works such as Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Seagram building, thus a survey of his work being brought to New York has great relevance to the built environment that surrounds all of us.

“Structure Brought to Light” will be running till June 24 so head down to the MoMA to view LaBrouste’s exquisite drawings in person.