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Etienne-Louis Boullée

Architect, theorist, accomplished draughtsman and artist-philosopher, Etienne-Louis Boullée (1728-1799) left us an extensive architectural legacy, which includes such buildings as the Hôtel de Montville, the Hôtel Alexandre or Hôtel Soult, the château de Chaville, the Hôtel de Pernon and the Hôtel de Brunoy. Despite originally wanting to be a painter, Boullée made his biggest impact as a teacher who actively promoted the idea that architectural forms should express their functional purpose. His need to theorise and explore the doctrine of architecture ultimately led him away from practical commissions to designing imaginary projects that would never see the light of day. However, his influence continues to inspire LE GRAMME and contemporary architects such as Aldo Rossi.
Boullée’s work is often considered utopian and, for its time at least, impossible to realize. Nevertheless, his vision towers above it all, an ideal of architectural works designed to communicate a new set of social values. At the end of the Age of Enlightenment, art – be it painting, sculpture or architecture – began to take on a more instructive role, revolutionizing established aesthetic norms. In such a time, each of Boullée’s visionary imaginings represented an aspiration to the well-being of all humanity. Boullée’s vision was informed by two radically opposed impulses: his classical and neo-classical academic training on the one hand, and his desire for a revolutionary aesthetic balancing rational abstraction and poetic artistry on the other. His grand designs remodelled and reimagined the Palais-Bourbon, the Hôtel des Monnaies, the Opéra, the Château de Versailles and the Bibliothèque Nationale. He even put forth proposals for a utopian metropolis and an imagined cenotaph dedicated to Newton. Characterised by abstract, geometric forms and repeating elements, each of Boullée’s projects resonates with the aesthetic vision of LE GRAMME. The bold, revolutionary ideas he espoused could have cost this visionary his life, such were the tumultuous times he lived in. Indeed, his book on architecture arguing for an emotionally committed neoclassicism was published only in 1953.
Boullée’s relation to light (which anticipated later applications by Le Corbusier) and his meditations on the interplay of light and shadow are also ideas shared by LE GRAMME, for whom the distribution of light and affinity with the metal underpin the creation of its designs.
LE GRAMME shares with Boullée a quest for ideal beauty and a form of universality that has the power to move. The only difference: the LE GRAMME project comprises 10 collections that have translated that ideal into reality.

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