A Grand Detour

Jenny French Jenny French cofounded French 2D with Anda French in 2008. She is a recipient of Harvard’s Julia A. Appleton Traveling Fellowship, and has been a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. She has previously worked for SHoP Architects, and been a visiting professor at Tufts University and the Boston Architectural College. The following article is the result of a yearlong, fully funded traveling fellowship endowed by Charles McKim in 1909, as Harvard’s version of the Rome Prize. This project is an examination of architectural pilgrimage, and its relationship to representation. The work was exhibited at Harvard GSD in 2013.
This is a story predicated on a simple question: How do you take a trip to see things that aren’t really there?

Architecture’s pedagogy is biased toward the site visit as pilgrimage, histori- cally manifest in the Grand Tour. As there also exists a disciplinary history of the unbuilt project, a disjuncture is created — and with it an opportunity. The 18th- and 19th-century Grand Tour was motivated by a need to instruct through observation when secondhand representations would not suf ce. A grand tour of absence, rather than physical presence, would instead mobilize and engage with the provocative unbuilt proposals that serve as our precedents and question the division between architecture’s parallel worlds: that of the drawing and that of the building.

As the discipline xes its sights on the rapidly growing cities of a new frontier, let us instead revisit what is left of the old frontiers, of places and proposals unrealized, if not forgotten. These unbuilt projects reveal themselves not to be lost, but embedded, in spirit, in their intended homes. The result of this tour, spanning continents and three centuries of architectural history, is a catalog of napkin-drawn explanations and mythologies, illustrated as they might be seen in the mind’s eye.

The reality of the built world accommodates and absorbs dynamic change, but is quick to forget projects that haunt architecture’s imagination — proposals that, although of recurring relevance to design education and practice, leave no trace in the physical environment. This disjuncture calls for a projective archaeology of site, holding the real and the imagined in a simultaneous visual space. The following projects were chosen for their recurring or emerging signi cance in the discipline today. While these projects haunt designers and theorists, might they also haunt physical space?

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