Margot Ellis will be in Boston to discuss her book Americans in Paris, co-authored and inspired by the late Jean Paul Carlhian, who died before its completion. Carlhian was a Frenchman who attended L’École des Beaux-Arts – the subject of the book along with its Yankee grads – moved to America after WWII, taught at the Harvard GSD and was long an architect at the Boston firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, known for its founder, Henry Hobson Richardson, also a L’École graduate, and who probably spins in his grave for a lot of reasons, not least perhaps the contemporary work of the firm now known officially as Shepley Bulfinch, which today has offices in Phoenix, too.
Ellis spent 15 years researching and writing Americans along with Carlhian. I met the architect several years ago at an event honoring Shepley Bulfinch’s extensive library of architectural books and papers, sponsored by the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which is sponsoring Friday’s event. It will begin at 6 p.m. at the College Club of Boston, 44 Commonwealth Ave. You may see more details and make a reservation at the ICAA chapter website.
The book, whose title brings to mind Gershwin’s musical – and whose subtitle is “Foundations of America’s Architectural Gilded Age” – has been published by Rizzoli and has a wealth of illustrations of buildings influenced by the classical education received in Paris by their architects. These include Richardson, Richard Morris Hunt, Charles Follen McKim, John Merven Carrère, Thomas Hastings, James Gamble Rogers, John Russell Pope, Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck and others.
Who knows what the graduates of the school produce today! Like almost every other school of architecture, L’École des Beaux-Arts has been kidnapped by those who have kidnapped architecture and architectural education around the world.
Unlike many other problems that face humanity, creating a beautiful world again could be so easy. Unlike abolishing poverty, hunger and war, the virtual abolition of ugliness from our surroundings was once done routinely – indeed, often by rote except for the occasional outcropping of genius, or the invention fostered by the classical orders. I doubt that Americans in Paris delves much into that, but it’s worth looking deeply, via the book and Friday’s lecture, into possibilities that are, in fact, ours for the choosing.