Thierry W. Despont
One can easily tell-and not only from his accent-that Thierry Despont was born, raised and educated in France. He draws, paints, speaks, decorates, builds and, of course, even dresses with a flourish and grandeur. Few, if any, architects but Mr. Despont can build classical houses with programs and budgets as large as shopping malls and resolve every room to seem as if the house had existed, if only in a dream, for generations.
In fact, Mr. Despont emphasizes the dreamlike quality of his work with filtered photography. "We have lost many commissions because of our fuzzy pictures," the architect admits. To protect the privacy of his clients, the best of these images will never be published; and what little of Mr. Despont's work has appeared in the design press portrays him more as a decorator than as a master architect. Yet he has most often played the latter role, including performances as associate architect for the centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty; restorer of Clayton, the Frick family mansion in Pittsburgh; and, most interestingly, collaborator with reigning modernist Richard Meier on the design of galleries at the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles.
Mr. Despont says he draws and paints "constantly," a propensity for elaborate presentations that he developed as a student at the École Nationale Superiéure des Beaux Arts in Paris. He maintains offices in both in both New York and Paris-and feels strongly that architects should specialize to maintain a consistently high standard of work. Mr. Despont therefore has no intention of taking on any major commercial projects, despite his graduate training in urban design and city planning from Harvard University.
His pursuit of authenticity, both in the methods and materials of construction, fully transcends bland and flattened evocations of the antique. Mr. Despont honors the lessons of his predecessors at the Ecole with buildings that seem wholly contemporary, if not radical, in their brave advance of classical tradition.