Etienne-Louis Boullée

Dates1728 - 1799

Étienne-Louis Boullée's greatest architectural legacy is not what was built from his designs but the designs themselves. He never went to Italy, yet his theories greatly influenced the development of Neoclassical architecture there.

Boullée wanted to be a painter but switched to architecture at his father's insistence. He learned to make architectural drawings with painterly effects of light and shadow. Although few of his designs were ever realized, his drawings have always been admired for both their beauty and their invention.

By the 1780s Boullée focused only on his roles as educator, academician, and theoretician. Committed to ideas of symbolic power, he believed that architecture could elicit moral and emotional responses when the combination of forms suggested a union with divinity. He theorized that the abstract, geometric forms he used were the basis for beauty through their regularity, symmetry, and variety.

Boullée preserved his principles in a treatise, which he illustrated with magnificent drawings for public projects he designed between 1778 and 1788, but the treatise remained unpublished until 1953. Through his pupils as well as the architectural prize competitions for the Académie Royale, Boullée inspired generations of draftsmen, visionaries, and builders.