Two blocks from the stately columns, arches and sculptures of Grand Central Terminal, a rogue band of architects is engaged in a retrograde venture: They’re teaching a new generation how to draw and paint the elements of classical architecture — all those columns, arches and sculptures — with nothing more than pencils and paints on paper. No computers. Ever.
“If you don’t understand the tradition profoundly, you can’t turn it on its head,” said the program’s director, Richard Cameron.
The Beaux-Arts Atelier, a one-year program inaugurated in September, is run by the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, a 20-year-old nonprofit devoted to keeping the classical tradition alive. Located on West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues—a block lined with such notably classic facades as the New York Yacht Club and the Harvard Club—the Institute houses both the Beaux-Arts Atelier and the Grand Central Academy of Art, a four-year art school founded in 2006 with a focus on methods taught from the 15th to 19th centuries.
The Beaux-Arts Atelier has capacity for just 12 students. The inaugural class includes eight pioneers (some applicants deferred for next year) who will study an academic, figurative method that has its roots in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the French school of art and architecture that dates to the 17th century. Their courses, taken in five six-week terms, will include Geometry and Proportion, Study of New York Buildings, and Drawing and Drafting. They’ll learn how to draw and sculpt the human form from instructors within the Grand Central Academy of Art.
While a formal architecture degree takes years to obtain and trains students to design buildings, this one-year program teaches them how to be artists, with a working knowledge of classical forms, in the service of design. Though this was once standard training in architecture, it began to recede from academia as the modernists of the early 20th century rejected it.
“The Bauhaus and its followers thought it was a terrible way to train. They systemically got rid of it,” said Mr. Cameron. “In addition, they indoctrinated their students to believe that it was a bad thing.”Follow @arquitectonico