Architecture almost ignored rococo. Styles change less readily in building than in decoration, for the requirements of stability are less fluid than the tides of taste. The Académie Royale de l’Architecture, organized by Colbert in 1671. was now led by inheritors of the Louis XIV traditions. Robert de Cotte continued the work of Jules Hardouin-Mansard, who had completed the Palace of Versailles; Germain Boffrand was a pupil of Mansard; Jacques Jules Gabriel and his son Jacques Ange were collateral descendants of Mansard; so the stream of talent obdurately dug its bed. These men preserved the baroque, even the semi-classical, exteriors of the grand siècle with columns, capitals, architraves, and cupolas; but many of their constructions allowed a frolic of rococo within.
The decline of faith left little stimulus for new churches; two old ones, however, had their façades renewed. Robert de Cotte faced St.-Roch with classical columns and pediment (1736), and Jean Nicolas Servandoni provided St.-Sulpice (1733–45) with a massive two-storied portico of Doric and Ionic colonnades in somber Palladian style. But it was secular architecture that expressed the spirit of the age. Several of the palaces built in this period later became national ministries or foreign embassies: so the Hôtel de Matignon (1721) became the Austrian embassy, and then the home of the prime minister; the Palais-Bourbon (1722–50) was partly incorporated into the Chambre des Députés; the Hôtel de Soubise (remodeled in 1742) became the Archives Nationales.
Under the Marquis de Marigny as commissioner of buildings a large number of architects, sculptors, painters, and decorators prospered; he found lodgings and commissions for them, and saw that they were adequately paid. His favorite architect was Jacques Ange Gabriel, who accepted wholeheartedly the classical tradition. After the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) Edme Bouchardon was engaged to cast an equestrian statue of Louis XV, and Gabriel was asked to design the entourage for this monument. Around an open space between the Jar-dins des Tuileries and the Champs-Élysées he placed a ring of balustrades and sunken gardens; on the north side he raised the present Hotel Crillon and the present Ministry of the Marine, both in purely classic form; and to adorn the square he set up four mythological figures, which the Parisians soon named after the royal mistresses—Mailly, Vintimille, Châteauroux, and Pompadour. The square was named Place Louis Quinze; now we call it Place de la Concorde. It is a comfort to know that there were traffic jams there two hundred years ago. This same James Angel Gabriel in 1752 built the perfectly proportioned École Militaire, whose Corinthian columns are as graceful as any in the Roman Forum.
It was not only Paris that had its face remodeled in this reign. At Chantilly the Duc de Bourbon engaged Jean Aubert to set up for his horses and dogs stables so palatial as to invite contrast with the cottages of the peasants. In Lorraine Stanislas Leszczyński made Nancy one of the fairest cities in France. There Boffrand finished the cathedral that had been begun by his master Jules Hardouin-Mansard. Emmanuel Héré de Corny laid out (1750–57) the “New City” at Nancy: a rococo Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall; the Place Stanislas, leading through a public garden and a triumphal arch to the Place de la Carrière and the Palais du Gouvernement; and Jean Lamour guarded this Place Stanislas with iron grilles (1751–55) that are the finest of their kind in modern art. Lyons now gave itself the Place Louis-le-Grand; Nantes, Rouen, Reims, and Bordeaux each opened a Place Royale; Toulouse raised a noble Capitole; Rouen provided lovely fountains; stately bridges beautified Sens, Nantes, and Blois; and Montpellier spread out its promenade. Between 1730 and 1760 Jean Jacques Gabriel transformed Bordeaux into a modern city with open squares, wide avenues, airy parks, a handsome waterfront, and public buildings in majestic Renaissance style.
Finally French architecture crossed frontiers; French architects were commissioned to build in Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Russia, Italy, Spain. By the middle of the century, when France was declining in military power and political prestige, she reached the height of her influence in manners and art.