Cast-Iron Marvels by Henri Labrouste at MoMA
Following its ceremonious debut at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine in Paris last year, “Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light” arrives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on March 10. The solo exhibition, spanning 200 works ranging from original drawings and watercolors to films and architectural models, marks the first time the celebrated architect’s work is displayed in the U.S.
Organized chronologically, the exhibit will open on Labrouste’s formative years from 1818 to 1838. During this time his philosophy on design evolved, influenced by an education at the storied l’École des Beaux-Arts and travel to the French Academy in Rome. Sketches of the Pantheon and imaginary reconstructions of ancient cities show how the past informed the architect in his youth.
The show’s second section focuses on Labrouste’s inspiring public works, most importantly la Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and la Bibliothèque nationale de France. The spaces are structural marvels, boasting high-vaulted ceilings flooded with sunlight from grand half-moon and circular windows. Cast iron takes on more than an architectural role as it is shaped into a decorative lattice running along the ribbing. The final section focuses on Labrouste’s influence on others, highlighting his immediate successors such as Louis-Ernest Lheureux and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and then moving on to more recent practitioners including Frank Lloyd Wright.
The exhibit portrays Labrouste as a progression toward modern architecture, a man with an unyielding fascination with space, material, and light. The results of his fascination are spaces that are truly magnificent, displaying, as the catalog says, his “strong inclination for boldness and innovation.”