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Léo SUN First Year – HTS (Term 1) Word count: ~1950

Ledoux is dead, vive Ledoux!

‘[...] one could indeed write a history of architectural history from the vantage point of Ledoux’s reception over the last two centuries’ (Anthony Vidler, 2005:10). Rather, one could say: ‘from the sole vintage point of Kaufmann’s reception’. Emil Kaufmann’s controversial treatise, Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (1933), was to be one of the first of its kind to suggest that the 20th century avant-garde had roots older than itself; thus opening the debate on the origins of modernism, and the relationship between architectural form and society in general (Vidler, 2008). For instance, where Colin Rowe looked at the ‘structural system’ as a common denominator to Palladio and Le Corbusier (1947), Kaufmann analyzed the ‘architectural system’ (1933; 1943) underlying Ledoux’s buildings (Fig.1). Both – one through observing proportion, plan, symmetry, and the other, the relation of the whole to each parts – made a bold statement on the continuity between two architects across distinct historical periods. However, as Schapiro pointed out in his critique of Kaufmann’s conceptual framework, the risk is great in ‘[disregarding] the interplay of social forces and conditions’ (1933:265)1. Taking Schapiro’s cue then, this essay is an attempt, through a (re)reading of Ledoux, at resuscitating the New Viennese School’s 2 initial aim in laying the basis for a scientific (‘wissenschaftlich’) analysis of architectural history; an analysis that I regard to be a materialist understanding of history. Just as Rykwert concluded in discussing Laugier’s Primitive Hut3: ‘it is the extreme revolutionary and the backward-looking academician, who see nature providing the conceptual model for the hut before the necessity of shelter forced men to build themselves huts’ (1981:73).


A. CONTEXT AND THE POSITION OF ARCHITECTURE In the decades leading to the outbreak of 1789, the monarchy, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, pleased the Third Estate with liberal reforms in order to gain its support for putting pressure on a nobility reluctant to pay taxes. These were the years of Mme de Pompadour, Anne Robert Turgot, Mme du Barry, and Jacques Necker, important statesmen and members of the court under whom intellectual and artistic life was relatively freer. This was reflected in the progressive erosion of the Royal Academy of Architecture’s conservativeness over architectural theory and production (Braham, 1980). From Laugier to Blondel, to Le Roy and Soufflot, a whole generation of


More recently, the authors of Pure Hardcore Icons (2013) have even embraced an architectural analysis detached from space, material, and especially, social and political considerations to the point of ‘architectural unconsciousness’ (Garcia and Frankowski, 2013:23) (Fig.2). 2

Less than a unified group, the New Viennese School was an intellectual evolution between the 1910s and 1930s. 3 The reference is all the more apposite as Ledoux himself references Rousseau’s Primitive Men and Laugier’s Primitive House.

architects more or less influenced by the then subversive ideas of the Enlightenment designed in the name of Reason, and with strict lines, firm forms, simple contours, in sharp contrast with the heavy ornamentation of late Baroque and Rococo (Jacques and Mouilleseaux, 1988). But less than a sudden manifestation of architectural genius or rebellion, new ideas had room to develop in a context where fashions more extreme than in the past gained support from the monarchy’s immediate circle; thereby alienating the aristocracy not only through unpopular taxes, but also taste. B. FROM LEDOUX’S TRAJECTORY TO THE SALINE By 1762, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux was already a highly-placed architect of the court, receiving commissions from powerful patrons for hotels, pavilions, châteaux, theatres...; even coming under the aegis of Mme de Barry, Louis XV’s official mistress. Through time, we can observe the tendency in Ledoux’s patronage shifting away from Versailles and the court to the wealthy bourgeoisie (or institutions tied to its financial interests) (Fig.3). The Saline de Chaux in Arc-etSenans was precisely the product of that transition. The wavering power of the monarchy was first reflected in the very fact that a royal architect was commissioned to design a saltwork – as in, anything else than hotels, pavilions etc. –, upsetting the convenances of the ancien régime 4 . By the latter half of the 18th century, the early ‘dialogue’ between architecture and industry raised new questions and possibilities beyond solely technical considerations (Braudel and Labrousse, 1970); but also constraints. Second, in 1773, Louis XV conceded the centuries-old state’s monopoly over salt production and authorized the Manutention générale des Salines, a company owned by the entrepreneur Jean-Roux Monclar, to exploit the saltworks for 24 years 5 (Durand, 1971). This factual detail is of significant importance. Less than a ground-breaking transition from the Baroque system to an ‘architecture of autonomy’ (Kaufmann, 1933; 1943; 1952), the so-called iconic transformation of the initial square (Fig.4) courtyard to separate pavilions (Fig.5) was first and foremost the result of the new commissioner’s refusal of the first proposal (initially validated by the king) (Bergier, 1985). C. INDUSTRIAL ARCHITECTURE Working time and conditions, labor productivity and efficiency... i.e. the question of social organization was already widely discussed and brought architectural considerations on the table (Pollard, 1969). As Ledoux said for the Saline: ‘It is up to the architect to instill surveillance; he can stimulate industrial productivity, enhance the management of products, prevent costly maintenance; he can increase the treasury [read profit] by combinations which are best tackled by architecture’ (my translation and highlight; Ledoux, (1804:122). Previously, the fermiers généraux gained hefty bonus fees for collecting the gabelle on behalf of the king. Now, the Manutention générale had a direct stake in enhancing the quality and efficiency of salt production in order to guarantee profitability. The Saline was henceforth organized around a strict hierarchy – with a director, inspectors, clerks, porters, guards and overseers –, which enforced tight regulations on the time of mourning prayers and curfew, work procedures, the counting of outgoing and incoming products etc. (Durand, 1971). What did these changes meant for the architecture of the Saline in light of the new proposal?


At the sight of Ledoux’s project, Louis XV commented: ‘why so many columns, they are only suitable for temples and palaces’ (Ledoux, 1804). 5 A situation similar to present day public-private partnership whereby the state, in lack of funds, allocates the construction and management of a building project to a private contractor. See Rich (2014) for a discussion on New Gurgaon, and more generally, David Harvey’s (1989) classical text.

First, and quite simply, programmatic differences between the first and the second project can be observed, as important additions to the latter included (see Fig.5) an accommodation for the director; accommodations for the deputies of the director; a courtroom; an office for the clerk of the court; a prison (‘justice’ in the legend). Second, if life inside the Saline was virtually that of a fortress, if not a concentration camp, the semi-circular panopticon (Fig.6; Fig.7), with the oculus of the director’s house as its center, was an architectural choice that carried significant symbolic weight, if not a disciplinary function (see Vidler, 1995:172). As much as all workers were subject to the surveillance of forest guards, Ledoux was also acting under constraints. But, as mentioned beforehand, this was also a period of possibilities, which Ledoux undoubtedly embraced. For instance, just as Le Corbusier was inspired by grain silos (1927), Ledoux’s own mentor, Jacques-François Blondel (1752) took an interest in the Gobelins Manufactory 6 (Fig.8). And yet none of the two applied their conception of proportion and harmony to a factory. Likewise, out of the three so-called ‘visionary’ architects, Boullée, Lequeu and Ledoux (Jacques and Mouilleseaux, 1988; Kaufmann 1952), perhaps none except Ledoux came anywhere as close to play the ‘pure game of geometrical forms’ (Vidler, 1995:185) in practice, if only out of having to organize the sheer functional geometry of the forge and the furnace 7 (Fig.9).


Mostly for lack of political stability and material means in this period of civil war, the Revolution put a stop to architectural construction (Jourdan, 1997). The only means for architects to acquire patronage from the newly-established Republican state was through the occasional concours. By then, however, Ledoux was discredited by his wealth and ties to the ancien régime, and in popular opinion, for having designed the Propylées – a wall commissioned by the Ferme Générale surrounding Paris to tax incoming and outgoing products – (Fig.10) and thrown into prison. In the aftermath of the Revolution, everything that constituted Ledoux’s social status crumbled. The traditional clientele of the nobility and the more conservative sections of the bourgeoisie, or those whose interests were more tied to the crown’s, emigrated, and the Académies were suppressed, (Braham, 1980). Then, after having miraculously escaped the guillotine, Ledoux found himself most of the time unemployed. Just as courtiers began to write their monographs, the architect began to assemble material for his L’Architecture (1804), in which he presents himself to posterity (until today) as an utopian upset by the very social order that edified his career. Both to answer the call for an ‘architecture parlante’ (Braham, 1980; Jacques and Mouilleseaux, 1988) – i.e. an expressive form of architecture which would convey ideas of patriotism, order, morality... during this post-revolutionary period – in the (propagandic) service of the new Republic 8, while also embracing the (perceived) possibilities opened by the birth of a new social order, Ledoux conceived a Cité Idéale in which all ‘buildings of the social orders’ (see opening lines; Ledoux, 1804) would be distributed across a comprehensive urban plan (Fig.11). A plan which incorporated all functions of urban and rural life in an equilibrated manner, and

6 ‘This edifice, though irregular, will nonetheless be useful as a lesson for the future, especially in the composition of buildings, the convenance, greatness and diversity of each constituent parts’ (my translation)’ (Blondel; 1752:97). 7

Forms which were reproduced as illustrations in Diderot’s Encyclopédie (a synthesis of all scientific knowledge of the time and often considered as a cornerstone of the Enlightenment). 8 ‘Walls need to speak; through multiple treatments, our edifices need to become the places of morality’ (Dufourny, 1794; cited in Jacques and Mouilleseaux (1988).

altogether centered, both geographically and politico-economically, around industrial production, i.e. the Saline. This, I argue, serves a dual purpose. Put side to side in L’Architecture, both the Saline and the Cité Idéale appear as being one and the same project, as if the ideals, though not realized, of the later project always permeated his work. Having to submit to the new social order, by will or by force, it would not be too far-stretched to think that changing his culottes of the nobility to become an ‘architect of the people’ would have been necessary, should he have the ambition of practicing architecture (ever) again. For obvious reasons, Ledoux had to detach himself from past projects which were seen as too tied to the ancien régime. Just as the working class and the peasantry were the motor (though not the head) of the Revolution (Soboul, 2006; Rudé, 1988), the edification of a new society, and perhaps a new genre of human beings, would naturally be centered around production. This implies a new form of architecture and a new role for architects (Annexe 1). The leap from industrial architecture to an architectural theory integrated to an urban organization with production as its motor is, for both the contemporaries of the time and ourselves, a valuable lesson in understanding the dialectics of architectural practice and theory. If Ledoux became an urban theorist despite himself, he would have, at the very least, left something for future generations of architects to think about – in the spirit of ‘a good lie is better than a bad truth’.

Ledoux is dead, vive Ledoux! are we tempted to chant at the end of this study.

As a critique of an individualistic and idealist conception of the role of the architect, in this case Ledoux, it is argued here that his work was very much set in the context of his time, and that theory, rather than following spontaneous genius, was most probably posterior to practice. And yet, as paradoxical as it may sound, only through exposing the constraints that Ledoux had to face could we truly appreciate the extent to which he successfully embraced the possibilities that were offered to him in a time of great social upheaval. The real issue with blurring the Saline with the Cité Idéale, as Ledoux did in his publication (most probably driven by necessity), and as it’s still being done today (harshly, we may say by intellectual laziness), is that it leaves under the shade how architecture is actually done. If anything, this attempt at a materialist (re)reading of Ledoux brings to forth the argument that ideas evolve and are shaped through practice while confronting the social and economic realities of a given time. And that it is through maneuvering between constraints and possibilities that architects formulate new solutions. ‘Matter’ (matière), in that sense, rather than acting as a brake, is but the motor of avant-guard thinking.

Figure 1. Von Maison du Directeur (1775) bis Villa Savoye (1928-31).

Figure 2. Von Mosque bis BoullĂŠe bis pyramid.

Date of construction




Presidente Hocquart

Chaussée d’Antin (Pavilion)


Marquis Anne-Pierre de Montesquiou-Fézensac

Château de Mauperthuis


Eaux et Forrêts

Churches, wells, bridges, fountains, schools


Colonel Franz-Joseph d’Hallwyll

Hôtel d’Hallwyll


Duc d’Uzès

Hôtel d’Uzès


Marquis de Livry

Château de Bénouville


Prince Montmorency

Hôtel de Montmorency


Pavilion d’Attily


Madame du Barry

Pavilion de Musique


Ferme Générale

Gernier à sel


Ferme Générale

Saline Royale


Georges-Tobie de Thélusson (Banker)


Charles-André de Lacoré (of the big Parisian bourgeoisie)

Théâtre de Besançon


Ferme Générale

Propyléees aux barrières

Figure 3. List of Ledoux’s built projects, dates and commissioners. Purple: aristocracy. Red: nonaristocratic commissioner.

Figure 4. Saline, first project (1774).

Figure 5. Saline, second project (1775).

Figure 6. Saline (1775). House of director. Oculus in the pediment.

Figure 7. Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon (1791).

Figure 8. Gobelins Manufactory (from the EncyclopÊdie) (1751) and Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture (1927).

Figure 9. Illustration and section of a Glasswork in Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751)

Figure 10. Ledoux’s Propylées destroyed by the Revolution.

Figure. 11. Cité Idéale de Chaux. What permeates Ledoux’s work, in my view, is the idea that 1. architects carry a responsibility towards society, 2. that architecture should be accessible to all, and 3. that people can change, morally-speaking, if given the means (i.e. through architecture) 1. ‘Where does excess, indignation to humanity comes from? From architects. [...] their negligence results in all kinds of disorders’ (my own translation; Ledoux, 1804:59). 2. ‘ [...] humanity would gain so much, if architecture softened misfortune, embellished the dwelling of the poor, improved the fate of the small man, while enhancing the pleasures of the great [...]’ (my translation; Ledoux, 1804:119). 3. ‘The public good would gain much if workers took part in the activities of intellectuals. [...] Which worker would not be inflamed by the wonders of Archimedes’ (my own translation; Ledoux, 1804:97). En passant, if there was a comparison to be made between Le Corbusier and Ledoux, it would be less in the manner of style, form, or ‘architectural system’, but an architectural theory undetachable from an overarching theory of society. Le Corbusier (1927): 1. ‘[...] the lodging is hideous, and his mind not sufficiently educated to use all these hours of liberty. We may well say then: Architecture or demoralisation–demoralisation and revolution’ (Le Corbusier, 1927:275). 2. ‘[...] the ‘House-Tool’, the mass-production house, available for everyone, incomparably healthier than the old kind (and morally so too) and beautiful [...]’ (; Le Corbusier, 1927:237)

Annexe 1. Citations of Ledoux and Le Corbusier on the role of architecture and the architect.


Blondel, J. (1752) L’Architecture Française, Paris: Jombert. Braham, A. (1980) The Architecture of the French Enlightenment, London: Thames and Hudson. Bergier, J. (1985) L’Etonnante Histoire des Salines Royales d’Arc-et-Senans, Fribourg. Braudel, F. and E. Labrousse. (1993) Histoire économique et sociale de la France, vol.2 (1660-1789), Paris: Presse Universitaire de France. Durand, Y. (1971) Les Fermiers Généraux au XVIIIè siècle, Paris. Garcia, C. and N. Frankowski (2013) Pure Hardcore Icons: A Manifesto on Pure Form in Architecture, London: Artifice Books. Harvey, D. (1989) ‘From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: the tranformation in urban governance in capitalism’, Geografiska Annaler, 71, 1, 3-17. Jacques, A. and J. Mouilleseaux (1988) Les Architectes de la Liberté, Paris: Gallimard. Jourdan, A. (1997) ‘Politique artistique et révolution française (1789-1800): la régénération des arts, un échec?’, Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française, 309, 401-21. Kaufmann, E. (1933) De Ledoux à Le Corbusier. Origine et Développement de l’Architecture Autonome, Paris: Edition de la Villette. Kaufmann, E. (1943) ‘Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, inaugurator of a new architectural system’, Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians, 3, 3, 12-20. Kaufmann, E. (1952) ‘Three Revolutionary Architects, Boulle, Ledoux and Lequeu’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 42, 3, 431-564. Ledoux, C. (1804; republished in 1983) L’Architecture Considérée Sous le Rapport de l’Art, des Moeurs et de la Législation, London: Princeton Architectural Press. Rich, N. (2014) ‘Globally integrated/locally fractured: the extraordinary development of Gurgaon, India’, in P. Dreamer (ed.) Architecture and Capitalism: 1845 to the Present, London: Routledge, 172-86. Rowe, C. (1947; republished in 1976) The Mathematics of the ideal villa, and other essays, Cambridge: MIT Press. Rudé, G. (1988) The French Revolution, London: Weidenfield and Nicolson. Schapiro, M. (1933) ‘The new viennese school’, Art Bulletin, 18, 2, 258-66. Soboul, A. (2006) La Révolution Française, Paris: PUF. Stoloff, B. (1989) L’Affaire Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, Liège: Pierre Mardaga. Vidler, A. (1995) L’Espace des Lumières, Paris: Picard.

Vidler, A. (2005) Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, Basel: Birkhäuser. Vidler, A. (2008) Histories of the immediate present: inventing architectural modernism, 1930-1975, MIT Press.

Leo sun  

Ledoux is dead, vive Ledoux

Leo sun  

Ledoux is dead, vive Ledoux