This paper is a study of the Beaux-Arts discipline of architecture, as it was established during the late nineteenth century in America. It focuses on trio particular modes of vision and representation that were at the heart of the discipline. The paper argues that Beaux Arts vision was centered on what may be called 'planar vision'; a mode of seeing through which the multiple aspects of the architectural design imbedded in the plan were read and re-interpreted. Similarly Beaux-Arts training in drawing required its student to draw within the multiple layers of historical traces; the new design being in effect a new layer placed on often unseen traces of monumental precedent. The theoretical basis of this practice was not based on history but on the concept of composition. Composition, in the French tradition was regarded more a matter of practice than theory. The Anglo-American discourse on composition, on the other hand, formed a body of theoretical literature based on formalist assumptions. There was, however, a fundamental gap between these formalist theories of composition and the 'layered' modes of vision and drawing involved in the design process. This practice leaned more on the modern romantic notion of 'intuition' for its theoretical basis, once again forming an immanent conflict with the mimetic practice of classical and historical architecture. The paper draws a picture of a discipline centered on a 'theory of the plan,' a potentially modern discipline integrated with classical forms and details. It was clearly effective as a practice. However, structured by conflicts between theory and practice, history and form, mimesis and intuition, the Beaux-Arts was unable to defend itself at the philosophical and theoretical level the modernists engaged their attacks on this system. At the same time, the paper poses the question of how different modern architecture is from this system. Is not the 'theory of plan,' in its many transformations and guises, still the central discipline of twentieth century modern architecture, and is it not structured by basically the same kind of conflicts and paradox that were immanent to the Beaux-Arts system.
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