Paul Philippe Cret

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Paul Philippe Cret
Paul Philippe Cret portrait 1910.jpg
Born(1876-10-23)October 23, 1876
Lyon, France
DiedSeptember 8, 1945(1945-09-08) (aged 68)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Paul Philippe Cret (October 23, 1876 – September 8, 1945) was a French-born Philadelphia architect and industrial designer. For more than thirty years, he taught at a design studio in the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Lyon, France, Cret was educated at that city's École des Beaux-Arts, then in Paris, where he studied at the atelier of Jean-Louis Pascal.[1]


Main Building at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, one of 20 campus buildings that Cret designed

In 1903, Cret came to the United States to teach at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. After having settled in the U.S., Cret was visiting France when World War I broke out. He enlisted and remained in the French Army for the duration of the war, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and made an officer in the Legion of Honor.

Cret's practice in the U.S. began in 1907. His first major commission, designed with Albert Kelsey, was the Pan American Union Building, (he headquarters of what is now the Organization of American States, in Washington D.C., which was built between 1908 and 1910,[2] a breakthrough that led to many war memorials, civic buildings, court houses, and other solid, official structures.

His work through the 1920s was firmly in the Beaux-Arts tradition, but with the radically simplified classical form of the Folger Shakespeare Library, built between 1929 and 1932, he flexibly adopted and applied monumental classical traditions to modernist innovations. Some of Cret's work is remarkably streamlined and forward thinking, and includes collaborations with sculptors such as Alfred Bottiau and Leon Hermant. In the late 1920s, he was brought in as design consultant on Fellheimer and Wagner's, which is the present-day Cincinnati Union Terminal, built between 1929 and 1933 during Art Deco's peak of popularity in architectural style in the U.S. In 1927, Cret became a U.S. citizen.

In 1931, the regents of the University of Texas at Austin commissioned Cret to design a master plan for the campus, and build the Beaux-Art Main Building, which was constructed between 1934 and 1937 and is the university's signature building structure. Cret went on to collaborate on about 20 additional buildings on the University of Texas at Austin campus. In 1935, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an associate member, and became a full academician in 1938.

Cret's contributions to the railroad industry included designing the side fluting on Burlington's Pioneer Zephyr, which debuted in 1934, and the Santa Fe's Super Chief passenger cars, which were completed in 1936.[3]

He was a contributor to Architectural Record, American Architect, and The Craftsman. He wrote the article "Animals in Christian Art" for the Catholic Encyclopedia.[4]

Cret won the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects in 1938.[5] Ill health forced his resignation from teaching in 1937. He served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1940 to 1945.[6]

Cret's work was displayed in the exhibit, From the Bastille to Broad Street: The Influence of France on Philadelphia Architecture, at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia in 2011. An exhibit of his train designs, All Aboard! Paul P. Cret's Train Designs, was displayed at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia from July 5, 2012 to August 24, 2012. With a collection of 17,000 drawings and more than 3,000 photographs, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia has the largest archive of Cret's work.


After years of limited activity, Cret died in Philadelphia of heart disease on September 8, 1945. He was interred at The Woodlands in Philadelphia.


Cret designed historical markers for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, whose successor organization put up this tablet to mark Cret's former home at 516 Woodland Terrace in Philadelphia.

Cret taught in the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania for over 30 years, and designed the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, the master plan for the University of Texas at Austin, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, one of the primary bridges across the Delaware River between Philadelphia and South Jersey, and the Duke Ellington Bridge in Washington, D.C.

Cret's students included Louis Kahn, who studied under him at the University of Pennsylvania and worked in Cret's architectural office in 1929 and 1930. Other notable architects who studied under Cret include Alfred Easton Poor,[7] Charles I. Barber,[8] William Ward Watkin,[9] Edwin A. Keeble, Alfred Bendiner, and Chinese architect Lin Huiyin.[10]

Cret designed war memorials, including the National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Historical Park (1914–17), the Pennsylvania Memorial at the Meuse-Argonne Battlefield in Varennes-en-Argonne, France (1927), the Chateau-Thierry American Monument in Aisne, France (1930), the American War Memorial at Gibraltar, and the Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial in Waregem, Belgium (1937).[11] On the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Cret's Eternal Light Peace Memorial (1938).

For the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, the predecessor of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), Cret designed plaques that would mark places and buildings in Pennsylvania where historical events had transpired.[12]

Following Cret's death in 1945, his four partners assumed the practice under the partnership Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson, which for years was referred to by staff members as H2L2. The firm officially adopted this nickname as its formal title in 1976. H2L2 celebrated 100 years in 2007.

Witold Rybczynski has speculated that Cret is not better known today due to his influence on fascist and Nazi architecture, such as Albert Speer's Zeppelinfeld at the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg.[13]

Major projects[edit]



  1. ^ White, Theo B., editor, John F Harbeson, forward, Paul Philippe Cret: Author and Teacher, The Art Alliance Press, Philadelphia PA 1973 p 21
  2. ^ Scott, Pamela and Antoinette J. Lee, Buildings of the District of Columbia, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991 p 208
  3. ^ Johnston, Bob; Welsh, Joe; Schafer, Mike (2001). The Art of the Streamliner. New York: Metro Books. ISBN 978-1-58663-146-8.
  4. ^ "Cret, Paul Philippe", The Catholic Encyclopedia and Its Makers, New York, the Encyclopedia Press, 1917, p. 36Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ Wilson, Richard Guy, The AIA Gold Medal, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1984 p 162
  6. ^ Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013): Appendix B, p. 542.
  7. ^ Art of the Print – Alfred Easton Poor. Retrieved: 17 May 2011.
  8. ^ Knoxville Historic Zoning Commission, Lyons View Pike Historic District, c. 2002. Retrieved: 16 May 2011.
  9. ^ Handbook of Texas Online – William Ward Watkin
  10. ^ Peter G. Rowe, Seng Kuan, Architectural Encounters With Essence and Form in Modern China, MIT Press, 2002, p. 48.
  11. ^ Nishiura, Elizabeth, editor, American Battle Monuments: A Guide to Military Cemeteries and Monuments Maintained By the American Battle Monuments Commission, Omnigrap p 22, 49, 50, 82
  12. ^ Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, Volume XL, Number 4, Fall 2014, A Century of Marking History: 100 Years of the PA Historical Marker Program, by John K. Robinson and Karen Galle
  13. ^ Rybczynski, Witold (21 October 2014). "The Late, Great Paul Cret". T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
  14. ^ Maryland Historical Trust

External links[edit]

Media related to Paul Philippe Cret at Wikimedia Commons