Alphonse Alexandre Defrasse
Project for the Reconstruction of the Sorbonne, Facades on the Rue Saint Jacques, elevation

Project for the Reconstruction of the Sorbonne, Facades on the Rue Saint Jacques, elevation
Alphonse Alexandre Defrasse (1860-1939)
Project for the Reconstruction of the Sorbonne, Facades on the Rue Saint Jacques, elevation
Competition in 1882
Black ink, watercolour and wash
H. 71; W. 270 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Projet de reconstruction de la Sorbonne, façades sur la rue Saint-Jacques, élévation. [Project for the Reconstruction of the Sorbonne, Facades on the Rue Saint Jacques, elevation]


Almost all the governments from the First Empire to the Third Republic wanted to rebuild the Sorbonne. The most accomplished projects were those of Léon Vaudoyer and Louis Duc under the Second Empire, but it was the Third Republic which erected the new ‘Palace of Knowledge', homage to public education and the development of science in France.

The programme for the competition, published on 19 April 1882, was extremely precise. In a page of general remarks, we read "It may be desirable and suitable to concentrate near the Rue des Ecoles the academic administration, the public lecture theatres and various common departments, the library and its annexes, the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études [...]; the old College of the Sorbonne could be allocated to the arts faculty and the science faculty could find the spacious premises it now needs in the buildings overlooking the Rues Saint-Jacques, Cujas and Victor-Cousin." Many architects took this advice, including Defrasse, who put the science buildings along the Rue Saint-Jacques.

Twenty-eight architects entered the competition. Ten projects were awarded distinction and Henri Paul Nénot won first prize. The foundation stone was laid in 1885 and the entire complex was finished in 1901.

Defrasse's project was a very similar to Nénot's, "faced with stone, decorated with sculptures, topped with huge attics roofed with slate, bristling with chimneys and gable windows." It is the type of architecture chosen by Hector Lefuel for the facades of the New Louvre.
Very few projects for the competition to rebuild the Sorbonne have survived. This drawing is therefore an outstanding testimony to one of the largest building projects of the Third Republic.




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