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Andrés Caballero Lobera

Durand, Guadet and Wagner

The evolution of the compositive method between 19th and 20th Century

Fig. 1 - J.-N.-L. Durand. Come comporre un edificio. Prècis Vol I, Lam.21, 1819.

Fig. 1 - J.-N.-L. Durand. Come comporre un edificio. Prècis Vol I, Lam.21, 1819.

The 19th century was a time of upheaval in the development of architectonic thinking. As culmination of the enlightened thinking of the previous century it expressed itself through historical form, and as a reflection of modernity, it established the bases for a rationalist-based architecture that would construct its wish for form outside the margins of history. We highlight the teaching work of three professors and architects in the construction of that thinking: Durand, Guadet and Wagner.

With the start of the 19th century, and enlightened by the illuminism of revolutionary ideas, Durand defined a composition system, which, as a project method, would be destined to stay, beyond the century and until the first decades of the 20th century. The success of the method guaranteed its permanence, and during the 20th century it became a contemporary of other sensitivities that sought new means of expression. (1)
The composition method as a geometric support for the project action and usefulness as an ultimate purpose of architecture, were unchanging questions which, even today, remain in the project activity (img01). Formal language, constructed with the historical elements of the past to adequately express architecture, was the most fickle and also the language that succumbed to the inexorable passing of time.
In contrast to the nineteenth century modernity that had directly inherited a classicism that it decided to overcome, the 20th century avant-garde, bereft of history, made an effort to find a means of expression to call their own, a new language that would free them from their debt with the past. This transformation process would be defined by three professors - architects: Durand, Guadet and Wagner.

J.-N.-L. Durand (1760-1834)
After the 1789 revolution, and faced with the limited construction activity at the time, Durand took advantage of his work as a teacher at l’École Polytechnique in Paris, to focus on the theoretical study of architecture. At this institution he managed to draft a manual that would help students discover the architectonic elements, the laws to combine such elements, as well as the mechanisms for their composition (img.02).
The pedagogical undertaking of Durand took place in that social-political environment that favoured the education of Les Écoles Spéciales, a model to be copied in research organisation and technical-scientific teaching. Durant confronted the traditional architecture teaching system with which he had trained. For him, architecture required specialised study and a scientific method to organise the subject matter, from the simplest to the most complex elements. (2)
In Recueil et parallèle des édifices de tout genre, the first work published by Durand, we find a generic informative work, which continued the tradition of works such as Les ruines (3) by J.D Leroy and which contributed to the consolidation of a receptive intellectual atmosphere with the knowledge of other architectures.
Précis des leçons d’architecture données à l’École royale polytechnique was the key work in Durand's technical production. If the purpose of the  Parallèle was to be an instrument for consultation, the Précis was, right from the start, an eminently didactic text,  whose aim was to replace the pedagogical system of the Academy.  It was introduced as a study text at l’École Polytechnique, instructing the different generations of 19th century architects, and even architects who trained at the beginning of the 20th century (4). Its translation and  publication in other countries such as Italy or Germany favoured its dissemination, extending its influence to architects such as Leo von Klenze or Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
Durand wanted to formulate a method that would go beyond the specific comprehension of the particular and would reach the complexity of the general laws of the discipline. This method had already been developed in scientific thinking. Thus, then, this model of analysis that had been transformed into the basis for any possible science, was, in Durand’s eyes, valid for architecture, as in his opinion, this was not just an art, but also a science. (5)
In his enthusiasm to develop a scientific method, Durand broke down the complex body of architecture into its basic units and elements. Continuing the dissolution of the Baroque unit started by Ledoux (6), the forms that then configured architecture did away with everything that did not satisfy a necessary purpose, a practical utility.
Thus, the architectonic orders confined to an ornamental status, only remained in the decorative elements of the architectonic language; a prelude of the historicist rhetoric that would characterise the architecture of the last half of the century.
Thus, having abandoned the geometric abstraction inherited from Ledoux, “architecture [disappears as] an art of permanence” (7), and “the authority of simple and eternal geometrical form” (8) dissolve into an eclectic temperament that is able to take on the different forms that history provides us with, on an entirely new plane of equality. It was within this context, between the modernity of an industry that provided new materials for construction, and an architectonic language that was unable to abandon the forms of the past, that the architectonic and didactic work of Julien Guadet  took place. As Schorske indicated, “in 19th century Europe, history became a privileged form of construction of meanings” (9), and architecture expressed this historical affection with all the power that its formal arsenal placed at its disposal.

Julien Guadet (1834 - 1908)
When Gaudet developed his didactic and theoretical work, the century had already assumed the lack of inhibition of an architectonic language that accepted the entire history of architecture that it had inherited. This historicist century par excellence made it possible to develop an eclectic spirit that characterised its entire architectonic production.
For Guadet, it is not possible to describe architecture without setting out its historical evolution. However, in its relationship with history, he expresses that eclectic spirit that equally admits the Greek, Roman or Mediaeval. (10)
In essence, J. Guadet’s work is less a modification or radical approach to teaching as it had evolved until then, than its modernisation. In this work he shows the end of a pedagogical model which, having started with the century, would succumb with it.
Guadet, who, before becoming a theory teacher, had managed a workshop at l’École des Beaux Arts, for 20 years, recognised the capital importance of the Elements of architecture and the Elements of composition, cornerstones for the “general and permanent principles of art” (11). For the teacher, composition is the architect’s most personal expression, it is his expression as an artist, and it does not form part of the scientific mechanism of teaching; it can only be exercised on it. Personal practice in the workshop was really what enabled a building to be “composed”, and in the last instant, create art. The elements of architecture or the elements of composition can be taught; but composition cannot. This is something left to the architect's individual ability as an artist.
The elements of composition change, they are a living material that can be updated at the same pace as the new needs generated by society. Other compositive elements are obtained from this evolution that permit regenerating the actual subject matter of architecture. Students should consider the elements of composition from the perspective offered by their knowledge in the course of history, implicitly recognising that, in architecture, the form is not free, that it has a meaning, and that it is consistent with the use designed for the building. Hence, the importance of knowing specific examples that the past can offer us.
The underlying disciplinary spirit in the actual essence of the composition method, was more successful and lasted longer than an expressive language intent on representing, with the trappings of history, an era that was seduced by the technical progress of industry.
Guadet represented those stuttering beginnings started by Labrouste at his Sainte Geneviève and National  libraries (img.03), to incorporate technical advances into architecture. His project for the Hôtel des Postes in Paris, represents that transition that makes an effort to incorporate a new voice into the chorus of historicist architecture. A voice, forced to show that architecture as an “industrial art” confined inside the building. Outwards, the modesty of a nude art was covered with the clothing of history.
In the hierarchy that classifies the elements of composition, the main ones correspond to types whose form was guaranteed by custom. The server elements, in contrast, formed a formal universe submitted to the architect’s ingeniousness. A world where inventing meant exploring all of Durand’s compositive variables. This process would be modified with modern architecture, where space breaks away from its geometric forms, to become a continuum, in an unceasing flow of space, full of movement.
But, before reaching that liberating moment of modernity when the chains that linked European culture to history burst, a final battle had to be fought on the field of arts. If the irrevocable destiny would be to construct a modernity bereft of history, its funeral had to be organised as a final celebration. Otto Wagner was one of the necessary characters in the drafting of the death certificate, where the change in cycle was accomplished with the change of century.

Otto Wagner (1841 - 1918)
His work reproduces the evolutionary process of 19th century architecture, from art based on the models of the past to the triumph of technique as an artistic expression. His person marks the decline of a century and concludes a relationship with history that the 20th century would definitely close.
In the years when O. Wagner trained, Viennese architecture continued to keep a firm hold on the expression of a historical past, identified with the Baroque that brought it splendour. The construction of the Ringstrasse represented that moment when architecture admitted all the styles of history as its own, and Wagner's professional beginnings continued that historicist tradition.
In 1894, after the death of Hassenauer, his name was put forward as tenured professor at the Special School of Architecture of Vienna. His brilliant key-note speech captivated students who were tired of banal historicism. His teaching work drove them to seek the modern arkitectur, and young people such as Olbrich, Hoffmann or Plecnik, trained under the umbrella of a way of thinking whose aim was to find the marks of identity of a new architecture. They all collaborated with him and they formed the Wagnerschule, a group of promising architects who, under his authority, took the first steps towards modernity.
Until then, the past operated in the architect’s mind, not only as a formal reference that made it possible to construct a language, but also as a supplier of models that could even be referred to literally.
From the 90s onwards, Wagner showed a decisive willingness to use technical means and construction materials as a way of expression, incorporating them into the architectonic language. There is no doubt that “the new style” that resulted from the “transition (convergence) of the tectonic form to the figurative form (12), was the start of a heroic victory, imposing itself over the inertia and prejudices of the 19th century tradition. Composition as a scientific tool of the project, as a product of reason that pursues usefulness, offers the project a skeleton that makes it invulnerable to the ups and downs of taste. Wagner recognises this value of Durand’s compositive system, and does not relinquish it in his search for the style that would represent the modernity of the new times. His effort would be aimed at replacing the trappings of an extenuated historicism that no longer expressed the feelings of the time, with a style that would adequately showcase the building within the context of a modern city. A city dominated by straight lines and occupied by people and vehicles, always in motion.
Wagner gradually incorporated all the expressive baggage offered by the tectonic elements of architecture into his architecture. And the pursuit of realism as an artistic ideal was materialised in an architecture that had finally managed to transform construction into an artistic expression (img04). The flat surfaces of the walls were bare of any unnecessary ornament, leaving just the hollows in the wall as basic elements, almost exclusive of architectonic language.
19th century architectonic tradition is summed up in O. Wagner’s work, and the future of modern architecture is devised, which, despite its angry renunciation of history, could not avoid being, per se, an updated continuation of that tradition.
The theoretic corpus that structured the teaching of architecture during the 19th century was represented in the examples of modernity, and through them, the academic composition models lived on in contemporary architecture in a renewed form (img05; 06).

1. The depletion of 19th century historicist language with which the Durand compositive method had been developed, favoured investigation into new ways of planning, less scientific now but, in contrast, more intuitive. In the work of F. Ll. Wright we can find the link between the picturesqueness of the 19th century and the organicism of the 20th.
2. “As reason dictates, in agreement with the methods in use in science and art schools, where students are taught to go from the simple to the complex, from the known to the unknown, in a way that one idea prepares the next, and that the latter infallibly recalls the former, we will increasingly stick to this study plan... ” Durand, J.N.L. (1981). Compendio de lecciones de arquitectura. Madrid: ed. PRONAOS. p. 20.
3. Leroy, J. D. (1758). Les ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Gréce, considérées du côté de l’histoire et du côté de l’architecture. Paris.
4. It suffices to remember some projects by L. Corbusier, or even L. Kahn’s work.
5.“Architecture is a science and an art at the same time: as a science it requires knowledge, as an art it requires talent”. Durand, J.N.L. op. cit. p. 109.
6. Kaufmann, E. (1982). De Ledoux a Le Corbusier. Origen y desarrollo de la arquitectura autónoma. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili. p 73 y 74.
7. Starobinski, J. (1988). 1789, los emblemas de la razón, Madrid: Taurus. p. 45.
8. Starobinski, J., op.cit.l. p.45.
9. Schorske Carl E. (2001). Pensar con la historia. Madrid: Taurus. p.18.
10. Guadet, J. (1909). Éléments et Théorie de l’architecture, Tome I, Préface. París: Librairie de la construction moderne. p. 10.
11. Guadet, J. (1909). Éléments et Théorie de l’architecture, Tome I, Livre II, Principes Généraux. París: Librairie de la construction moderne. p. 87.
12.  Wagner, O. (1993). La arquitectura de nuestro tiempo. Madrid: El Croquis editorial. p. 68.

- Durand, J-.N-.L.. Compendio de lecciones de arquitectura. Madrid: Ediciones Pronaos, 1981.
- Guadet, Julien. Éléments et Théorie de l’architecture, Tome I-IV. 3º ed. Paris: Librairie de la construction moderne, 1909.
- Kaufmann, Emil. De Ledoux a Le Corbusier: Origen y desarrollo de la arquitectura autónoma. Barcelona: ed. G.G., 1982.
- Schorske, Carl E.. Pensar con la historia. Madrid: ed. Taurus, 2001.
- Starobinski, Jean. 1789, los emblemas de la razón. Madrid: ed. Taurus, 1988.
- Wagner, Otto. La arquitectura de nuestro tiempo. Madrid: El Croquis editorial, 1993.

Architect since 1987 from the Higher Technical School (E.T.S.) of Architecture of San Sebastian (UPV/EHU). Since then and until the present time I have freely exercised the profession, carrying out building projects both for the private initiative and for the public administration.
In 1989, I was hired by the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) as associate professor, working part time at the E.T.S of Architecture in San Sebastian.
In 1994, I was attached to the area of Architectonic Projects of the Department of Architecture of the same centre, where I taught the Projects IV subject (5th year) until the 2013/14 academic year.
Currently I teach Projects I and II subjects at the aforementioned centre.
In February 2016, I presented my doctoral dissertation at the E.T.S. of Architecture of San Sebastian, entitled: “Victor Eusa-architect (Pamplona 1894-1990)”, under the guidance of Manuel Iñiguez Villanueva (Professor of Projects), which received “cum laude” distinction.

J.-N.-L. Durand (1760-1834)

J.-N.-L. Durand (1760-1834)