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View of “Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light,” 2013. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar.

Henri Labrouste

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

View of “Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light,” 2013. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar.

THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY FRENCH ARCHITECT Henri Labrouste is best known today for designing places of learning: libraries of unsurpassed beauty, clarity, and drama, structured by a tense but serene rationality. Indeed, to prepare himself for the task, he staged a “revolution on a few elephant folio sheets of paper,” as his compatriot Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc described the heterodox reimaginings of ancient structures Labrouste produced while still a student at the École des Beaux-Arts. But if Viollet-le-Duc tested the limits of architecture as a textural practice with his famous ten-volume historical dictionary of the field, Labrouste maintained a Carthusian silence; “he never wrote anything to speak of,” offers the historian Neil Levine. It is Labrouste’s drawings, instead, that constitute an entire discourse unto themselves. His thoughts on everything—form and substance,

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