jenney symposium, Paris

I’m in Paris this week for a symposium sponsored by the Ecole Centrale honoring William Le Baron Jenney, who received his degree here in 1858. They’ve assembled a good range of presenters, whose expertise collectively points out what a polymath Jenney was. In addition to the iconic Chicago skyscrapers, Jenney was a rail and military engineer, a landscape architect, and a residential designer–his works in these last two spheres alone would have made him at least a moderately important name in American architecture.

Today’s session focused on the Ecole itself, which was something of an antidote to the better one own Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Jenney himself critiqued Beaux-Arts graduates as able to draw better than they were able to build, and the Ecole Centrale offered a far more practically-minded education. Their curriculum included dedicated building technology classes alongside those in classical composition, and there was a required public works track as well. We saw a bit of that in talks today, and I have to say their tech curriculum seemed awfully SCI-ECHy–single lectures on a lot of topics, followed by design problems that synthesized major ideas. Interestingly, these were issued as only exercises: they weren’t public competitions like those at the Beaux-Arts.

We get more into Jenney’s life tomorrow, and then Wednesday is full of American scholars discussing Jenney’s landscape and building work. I’ve enjoyed meeting historians and archivists from the Chicago Park District and the Art Institute today–collectively we have managed to work our way through the French presentations, which has been a bonding experience…

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