Sketch | Hooked on classics

Why I spent my summer immersed in New York’s classical architecture

Why do we still study classical architecture? Taking a look around New York City and sketching some of the city’s prime examples of classical design, the better question might be Why don’t we study classical architecture more than we do?

This summer, I spent four weeks in New York City immersing myself in classical architecture. I applied for and won the scholarship for a four-week course in the classical language of architecture at the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. The ICAA was not my first introduction to classical design, I studied architecture at the University of Notre Dame, where the emphasis is on classical and vernacular architecture, so I have a strong background in traditional building design.

But this summer program was the further enrichment I needed. With attendees ranging from undergrad architecture students and artists to furniture designers and other professionals in the design field, I had more classical background than most. We were immersed in classical architecture in daytime classes and evening lectures from practicing architects and professors. We talked about urban design, how to study a space, the tectonics of buildings and practiced making measured drawings.

Based near the New York Public Library, we studied the late 19th and turn-of-the-century buildings of McKim, Mead & White and John Russell Pope up close, and examined the detailing and planning of nearby Bryant Park.

Which buildings made an impression on me? I admired the attention to detail from macro to micro at The Morgan Library and the Flatiron remains one of my personal favorites. There’s a reason people pause and admire the iconic Grand Central Station. It’s a timeless space that manages to be as functional and beautiful today as the day it was built.

As an early career architect working on a classically-inspired project at VOA, Now Stantec the course reaffirmed classical architecture’s continuing relevance.  We can learn a lot from understanding how these grand structures were designed and built in the classical era. And creativity is always about continuing ideas, drawing back to precedents and synthesizing concepts from different eras.


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