Engineering Fantasies

Ultimately, Lequeu’s skills as a draftsman helped him earn a living. He worked in the offices of the national land registry from 1793 until 1815 and at the École polytechnique from 1795 to 1796. His meticulous knowledge of geometry and perspective and his facility in producing exacting wash drawings proved useful in designing maps and representing machinery.

The designs Lequeu made in the first two decades of the nineteenth century are some of his most inventive. He turned his imagination to everything from gardens to temples, from theater interiors to subterranean chambers. Perhaps most striking are the designs in which a building’s form and decoration announce its function, a genre later known as architecture parlante, or speaking architecture. These varied and imaginative designs reveal that Lequeu continued to develop ambitious schemes throughout his bureaucratic career, long after he was forced to retire in 1815 and had abandoned any hope of seeing his creations realized. Anticipating his place in history, he even designed his own tomb.